Harrogate Veterans returned from South East Asia as world champions once again, following another successful trip to the Seniors World Cup on behalf of England.
Paul Bell’s team have been chosen by the Football Association to represent the nation at the annual tournament for the past 11 years and picked up their fifth title, beating Scotland 4-0 in the 2018 final at Hua Hin Stadium, Thailand.
Harrogate’s coaching staff and several of their key players form 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.
This latest triumph is the side’s third in succession and comes less than a week before Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions team travel to Russia for the 2018 World Cup.
The victory also meant that the English had, for the first time, won all of their five fixtures during the week-long competition.
Having already secured first place in Group B and qualified for the last four, Bell’s men put paid to New Zealand’s hopes of progression with a 2-1 win in their final group game, local player Jonny Haigh and Barry Hayles the goalscorers.
The semi-final saw a repeat of last year’s final against Iran, who were stunned by a first-minute Hayles goal.
That strike was just the start of what was an excellent performance that saw England eventually romp home 4-0 with further goals from Steve Jones, Harrogate reular Peter Beagrie and Rod Thornley.
Iran were reduced to 10 men during the second half after a foul on Hayles, which not only resulted in ex-Fulham striker being off, but meant that he subsequently missed the chance to play in the tournament final for the second successive year.
In the other semi- final, Scotland stunned the Group A winners Australia, also by a 4-0 scoreline, to set up an mouthwatering showdown final with the auld enemy.
England and Scotland had already met in the opening game of the tournament, with Bell’s charges running out 2-1 winners.
Their second clash promised to be a cagey affair and so it started, with both sides showing each other a great deal of respect during the opening exchanges. England eventually took the lead on 27 minutes, however, central defender Mark Saunders heading home from a Nicky Southall corner.
The Three Lions weren’t able to add to their lead until 12 minutes into the second period, when Jason Price - who was playing his football for Harrogate Railway at the start of last season - scored following good work down the right by Jones and Lee Elam.
The game was then wrapped up in a two-minute spell midway through the half when England scored a quick-fire double to take the game away from the Scots.
Elam scored England’s third after a move he started with Southall, finishing after a deft flick by Jones had split the Scottish defence.
Within seconds of the re-start, former Burnley striker Jones had a goal for himself, picking up a high ball over the Scottish defence and converting the one-on-one with Derek Barnes.
Bell, who was in charge for his eleventh consecutive tournament in Thailand reflected: “This is a wonderful achievement for our team.
“No country has won this tournament five times, and to win three in a row is very special indeed.
“The squad has given everything for me, five games in six days at any age is gruelling, but to do it in this heat, particularly for the over-50s in the group, is quite something.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this England squad, let’s hope the veterans have started something in Thailand that our senior team can finish in Russia.”