England C enjoy an experience of a lifetime
AS BACKDROPS go, the South Atlantic Ocean isn’t one Non-League players are used to let alone in front of two record-breaking crowds.
But when it’s taken you 16 hours to travel 16,000 miles for a game, then it’s not an ordinary game of football.
Just as the 16 players from Step 3 to 5 selected by Paul Fairclough for the special FA Representative matches in the Falkland Islands recently found out.
The squad, led by England C manager Fairclough and joined by Mick Payne and Steve Johnson of the RNFA played two fixtures, winning 31 against the Falklands Islands team and defeating a British Forces South Atlantic Islands side by 3-2.
Both victories saw the largest spectator turnout for any football match played on the Falklands.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Buxton defender Alex Brown said. “One of the sides of the pitch backed onto the sea so you only had a foot back to take a throw-in!
“It was a real privilege. When you’re in the moment you are just concentrating on the games and getting through them – it would have been a scalp if we’d lost so you’re making sure you concentrate on getting the wins.
“But when you sit back now and realise what you’ve done and where you’ve been it is a real experience you’ll always talk about.”
Goals from Chalfont St Peter’s Alex Payne, Hanwell’s Ibraham Olutade and Lever- stock Green attacker JJ Lacey helped the FA XI to victory in the first game.
And a double from Bracknell Town’s Liam Ferdinand and Reading City’s Mitchell Parker helped them to the win in the second game having fallen two goals behind.
In addition the squad had a reception at Government House, attended a Remembrance Day parade where Fairclough laid a wreath on behalf of the FA. And the players also helped put on coaching sessions at three schools as part of a busy schedule.
“Everyone enjoyed it, Paul had emails from the headteachers saying how well we did,” Brown said. “We were like celebrities out there, signing autographs for the kids and having photos taken. It was a big thing.
“It was the biggest attendance for a sporting event in Falklands’ history and I think it was broken twice across both days. That just shows how big it was and great to be a part of.”
Brown says the squad gelled together from the beginning and will all keep in touch going forward.
And for Fairclough, the experience is something he believes will stay with the young group forever. Fairclough added: “While the football matches resulted in victories performed at a high technical level, it was the overall impact on the community and our travelling squad that had the most profound effect. “The young squad, with an average age of 21, have had an experience that money cannot buy. “Throughout the short stay, their development as young people was evident to see by all. The Football Association has left a profound legacy on the Islands that will never be forgotten.”
SEA BREEZE: England C players shake hands with their hosts before kick-off before cooling down in the ocean, below