Another good showing from our three squads on our 2019 European adventure with Walking Football Tours in the Italian Masters.
With two balanced 50+ teams and a 65+ team entered, plus a number of wives/partners tagging along, 29 of us headed for the sun to enjoy the football, the Italian food, the sun, the drinks and each other's company.
This year's tournament was a 5 a side format for the 50+ and 6 a side for the 65+.
The 50s played two groups of 6 teams for the qualifying round followed by two groups of six in the cup competition (top 3) and the plate competition (bottom 3).
The 65+ lads played in a league of 5 teams playing all four other teams twice. Once on the Friday and the next on the Sunday.
50+ Qualifying Round:
The Stamford Stroller Reds opened the qualifying games in the morning and despite playing some good passing football the first game set the order of the day with little luck in front of goal and a few mistakes in possession. Despite having the lions share of the ball the opener finished a disappointing 1-1 draw against the Portici Italian team.
This frustration continued against the next opponents, another Italian outfit, Bassano del Grappa. The game ended 0-0 with the Reds having two penalties well saved by an excellent keeper.
Next up were the Scottish outfit Arbroath. Again the Reds enjoyed most of the possession but were unable to capitalise on it and lost 1-0.
The fourth opposition of the day brought up a clash with Arsenal. A tight well fought game ensued and the Reds worked a good goal rolled in a goal to put us 1-0 up. Shortly afterwards a bizarre incident saw Jez score in an empty net with the Arsenal keeper nowhere in site. He had gone to fetch the ball for the match on the adjacent field.
A quick discussion with referee and players and the Reds sporting 'did a Leeds' and from the kick off allowed Arsenal to score an uncontested goal to bring game to 2-1.
It looked like the Reds would then ride out for a 2-1 win but a howler from keeper Taff Lovesey as he mis-controlled a back pass, the ball spinning out of the restricted goal area, allowed Arsenal to equalise with the last kick of the game.
The final qualifying game pitted the Reds against a good Italian team, Cosmos WS. With heads a little down at the results and deflated after the late Arsenal equaliser, the Reds struggled to get any game going and the Italians ran out 2-0 winners.
With just 3 points from the 5 games the Reds were placed in the Plate competition on finals day.
It was a very different story for the Stamford Strollers Whites. From their first game against a good Mansfield team they showed that they were well an truly on their game and goals from Pete Wilkinson and Gary Wildsmith brought in the first win of the day in the 50s categories for our teams.
Confidence high after a good opener, and with a strong and in form triangle of Gary Wildsmith, Tim Marsden and Pete Wilkinson at the core, the Whites were even better in the next game and the shape of the entire squad settled and all the players gelled. Salcom were fairly easily overcome with a comfortable 2-0 win, both goals scored by the impressive Gary Wildsmith.
There was no stopping them now and the lads again were dominant against the team from Cove, one of the pre tournament favourites winning by a well take goal from Tim Marsden.
Next up was a tough game against Italian side Coste WS (the eventual tournament winners).
This was the biggest challenge on the day for our lads but they dug in and fought out a 0-0 draw, although keeper Sergio Aschettino was called upon to make some very good saves, including one where ball and Serge's bald head became one as he headed it to safety. This was enough to see them through to the Finals Day cup competition.
Last up for the Whites were the Italian side Quelli. Our players never looked like losing this one and cruised through with a controlled performance. Good finishes from Pete Wilkinson and another from Gary Wildsmith saw this one finish 2-0 in our favour.
Unbeaten the Whites breezed into the Cup competition on finals day.
65+ League Day One
A tough start for our 65+ seniors as they faced favourite Mansfield Reds in the opener. Our guys weren't going to roll over and gave a good account of themselves although they fell to a single goal defeat.
Next up for them was the 65+ team from Cove. The seniors weren't going to be outdone this time though and pulled off an impressive 1-0 victory, unlucky not to notch a few more.
Their third game of the day saw them fall again, this time to the Jurassic Coasters a 2-0 defeat in a game marked with a few errors from our defence.
The final game of the first day was against Mansfield Seniors. A spirited game played in good nature and lots of goals as the teams finished 2-2.
So a haul of 4 points on the first day. Despite giving good performances the guys were a little frustrated and they were determined to pick it up and pull things back on day two.
After a day of relaxation all the teams came back together again on the Sunday to play the Cup and Plate tournaments and to finish the 65+ league.
50+ Plate Competition Stamford Strollers Red
The squad were bruised by their performance from the qualifiers and stormed into the first game determined to have a better day.
From the first game against Mansfield they looked more in tune and although it needed a penalty from Scott Sawers to settle it, the Reds were well in control of this game.
Next up were our group opponents from the first round, Arsenal. Another very tight and well contested game saw some excellent defending from Mike Geldard as the game ended 0-0.
The next game against Salcom contained the worst part of the day for the Reds as our stalwart and reliable back man, Kurt Garbutt had to be helped from the field following a recurring hip problem. It didn't take long for the Reds to get back in the swing though and a goal from man of the match Scott Sawers saw another win for their rejunevated Reds.
Having already played against Bassano in the qualifying group where two saved penalties resulted in a draw, the Reds were confident of overcoming the Italians. Another good performance and a goal from Paul Blakemore saw three more points in the bag.
With just one more game left in the group the Reds knew a win would see them lift the Plate Cup. The lads were in no mood to mess around and tore into a stunned Quelli Del Po, notching up one of the biggest wins of the tournament, 4-0 with goals from Paul Blakemore, Scott Sawers and a couple from Jez Norris.
So disappoint from the previous round was changed to elation as the Reds lifted the Plate trophy. After two horrible errors the previous day skipper and keeper Taff Lovesey was over the moon; "Really excited to win the Plate. Haven't had that many clean sheets since I was 12."
50+ Cup Competition Stamford Strollers White
After their impressive performance in the qualifiers expectation from the squad and those watching was high. The Whites were a solid squad who had shown some excellent teamwork to reach this stage.
Sadly lady luck was not on their side on this day. After hitting the post three times in the first few minutes two quick goals had Cove ahead. Our lads seemed to let their heads go down as this was undeserved and sure enough Cove took advantage and notched two more goals. A consolation from Gary Wildsmith not enough to pull us back into it. A frustrating game for the lads as this was actually a very even game and they had already beaten Cove in the qualifiers.
Next up were the strong Italian outfit Coste. Still reeling from the first game the Whites struggled to find any rhythm and and once again fell to a defeat; 0-2.
The gentlemen from north of the border were next up as Arbroath took to the field and found that our lads had finally recovered some of their composure. The Whites were starting to link better and Mick Peasgood was unlucky not to score at the far post close in to goal. Sadly the resulting collision saw Mick (like Kurt earlier) needing assistance from the medics with a turned ankle and bruised ribs and that was the end of his day. The game ended 0-0.
The fourth game promised to be another tough one with the lads facing a lively Cosmos side, the team that had beaten the reds convincingly in the previous round.
However, Cosmos found the Whites a little tougher to crack and after falling behind to a Gary Wildsmith goal, needed a piece of lady fortune to equalise.
A second injury for the Whites, Pete Wilkinson turning his knee, changed the course of this one and even though the Whites continued to press for a winner, a mixup over a touchline kick in left an Italian wide open in front goal and he smashed the ball in. Another undeserved 1-2 defeat.
An inspiring team talk before the final game from the skipper saw the remaining five players knuckle down in the last game and they deservedly notched up their first win of the day with a 2-0 victory over I Portici; the goals from Tim Marsden and a side foot finish from Stuart Craig.
A bit of a frustrating afternoon for our Whites but who should be proud of finishing 5th in the competition overall and having played some of the best passing football.
65+ League Day Two
A fired up squad went out to play their second set of games against the same opponents.
Perhaps our lads were a little too fired up in the opener against favourites Mansfield Reds though as they fell to a heavy 0-5 defeat.
Heads down but inspired by skipper Colin Kirby the lads eventually found some form again and had a good 1-1 draw with Cove in their next game.
Spirits now high and with determination to go out on a high in the last two games they upped their game and reversed the defeat of the last round against Jurassic Coats, finishing 1-0 victors.
Our lads are still amazed and not sure how they managed to only draw in their final game, a 1-1 battle with Mansfield Seniors.
A good showing though given our guys were a mix from various clubs and a solid 3rd place finish for them
Stamford Strollers Red
Taff Lovesey (capt/gk), Paul Blakemore, Jez Norris, Mike Geldard, Scott Sawers, Kurt Garbutt, Grahame Robinson
Stamford Strollers White
Sergio Aschettino (gk), Gary Wildsmith (Capt), Mike Peasgood, Peter WIlkinson, Tim Marsden, Mark Youds, Stuart Craig
Stamford Strollers Seniors
Steve Brine (gk), Colin Kirby (capt), Mike Herring, John Phythian, Brian Keates, Brian Dunkerley, Bob Lear, Steve Loosemore
D1-1 Portici (Scott Sawers)
D0-0 Bassano gel Grappa
D2-2 Arsenal (Jez Norris x 2)
L0-2 Cosmos WS
W2-1 Mansfield Reds
W2-0 Quelli Del Po
Plate Competition 50+ (Reds)
W1-0 Mansfield Reds (S Sawers)
W1-0 Salcom (Scott Sawers)
W1-0 Bassano (Paul Blakemore)
W4-0 Quelli (Jez Norris x 2, Paul Blakemore, Scott Sawers)
Cup Competition 50+ (Whites)
L1-4 Cove (Gary Wildsmith)
L1-2 Cosmos (Gary Wildsmith)
W2-0 I Portici (Tim Marsden, Stuart Craig)
L0-1 Mansfield Reds
L0-2 Jurassic Coasters
D2-2 Mansfield Seniors
L0-5 Mansfield Reds
W1-0 Jurassic Coasters
D1-1 Mansfield Seniors
Goalscorers: John Phythian 3, Steve Loosemore 1, Brian Dunkerley 2