On the same weekend that saw England’s under-20s achieve global success, a Harrogate Veterans side flying the flag for their country retained the Seniors World Cup in Phitsanulok, Thailand.
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 now lifted the trophy four times, including in 2016.
Harrogate’s coaching staff and several of their key players formed the core of the group, but their enhancement by several other ex-professionals from around the country has enabled them to compete with other nations who have similar squad profiles.
Among this year’s number were Harrogate regulars Peter Beagrie, Colin Hunter, Lee Elam and Mark Baranovsky, but they were joined by some quality newcomers including ex-Swansea City forward Lee Trundle and Jamie Cureton who was playing in the Football League for Dagenham & Redbridge as recently as last year.
England had no difficulties in their opening match of the group stage, seeing off the USA 7-0, before beating New Zealand by a 2-1 scoreline.
Their third game was against Scotland, and in a full-blooded clash it took a late headed goal by the ex-Fulham striker Barry Hayles to ensure a 2-2 draw which saw the English top their group.
Bell’s men met Australia in the semi-finals and some fine finishing saw them take a 4-0 lead into the interval thanks to a Cureton brace, an individual effort from Hayles and a well-struck volley from Rob Edwards.
Trundle then scored a second-half brace, before Australia netted a late consolation in a 6-1 defeat.
On the following evening a torrential downpour put the tournament climax against Iran in doubt, but the Phitsanulok FC stadium’s remarkable pitch drainage did its job, and the final was able to proceed with just a 30-minute delay.
There were no goals in the first half, but just five minutes into the second period Beagrie’s free-kick was headed in by Cureton before Trundle made the game safe and rounded off a 2-0 win late on.
A delighted Bell said: “I’m very proud. Winning the Seniors World Cup is a fantastic achievement because this competition just keeps getting stronger every year.
“The final with Iran was a fairly close game and although we had the better chances, it was a relief and a nice feeling when our second goal went in.
“The fact that we’ve got a number of ex-professionals in the side who have played hundreds of games in the Football League saying that this was was one of the best weeks of their career is fantastic to hear.
“Iran have also won the cup four times but now we have equalled their record there is every incentive to come back next year.”
Local Harrogate player Mark Baranovsky described the whole experience as “unbelievable”, while Andy Hessenthaler - the former Gillingham player and manager - who captained the team in the final summed up the feelings of his fellow ex-professionals in the squad.
“I’ve been involved in football for a long time like most of the boys, and we have all achieved a lot in our lives,” he said.
“But the last week has been one of the best in my footballing life .
“I was honoured and humbled to lead an outstanding bunch of lads out in the final.”