The Harrogate Veterans FC squad representing England at the 2017 Seniors World Cup in Thailand have reached the semi-finals of the competition.
Paul Bell’s team have been chosen by the Football Association to fly the flag for the nation at the annual tournament for the past 10 years and have lifted the trophy no fewer than three times, most recently in 2016.
Members of Harrogate’s regular side, including local man Mark Baranovsky - who has just completed his first year in veterans football - have been rubbing shoulders with some very experienced ex-professionals who have joined up with the team to bolster their ranks.
Included in their number are the likes of ex-Swansea City forward Lee Trundle, former Fulham striker Barry Hayles and Jamie Cureton who was playing in the Football League for Dagenham & Redbridge as recently as last year.
Former Harrogate Town players Colin Hunter, Lee Elam, Mark Clifton and John Deacey are all in the defending champions’ squad, as is Mark Smitheringale, who has made the trip as Bell’s assistant manager.
And Bell’s troops made the perfect start to this year’s tournament, becoming the first country to secure a semi-final berth, after recording victories in their opening two games.
The draw was kind to the English as they faced a USA side on Monday afternoon that that had only just arrived in Phitsanulok 24 hours previously, whereas the Three Lions had been preparing in the hot and humid conditions for four days.
England got off to a flyer when Nicky Southall fired home after just two minutes, with Cureton and Trundle giving them a three-goal lead by the break.
Mark Saunders scored a fourth and Lee Elam rounded the keeper for number five before local boy Colin Hunter netted a half-volley and Hayles completed a 7-0 rout.
Although Cureton gave the Seniors a first minute lead against New Zealand the following evening, and doubled the advantage just before half-time, the game became a trickier affair as the Kiwis pulled a goal back early in the second period.
With the woodwork denying them on four occasions, and another Cureton effort ruled out, a third goal didn’t arrive, however their narrow 2-1 triumph was enough to see England through to the last four as the only country to secure six points after day two of the competition.