On the way to Almelo
Chapter One – Is this the Way to Almelo?
As the first rays of light bathed the Dock Tower in a murky grey wash, a lone seagull circled, squawked loudly and deposited a white creamy substance onto Freeman Street. This was the long anticipated omen that the day had come when a football team from the South Bank of the Ancient River Humber would at last depart on an adventure into Europe . . . a destination many in Grimsby had just voted to leave !
The planning and organisation had far matched any needed for Brexit Negotiations or possibly even the D-Day landings. Grimsby Ancient Mariners Walking Football team were actually sending a squad to an international football tournament in Holland involving squads from VW Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen, Gold Star Heracles and twenty-eight other football teams from across the European Union. Even more worrying the squad were destined to stay in an all inclusive hotel.
After entering, many important decisions had to be made early in the process. How would we get there? Walking was cheap but there was a channel to cross! The ferry was a possibility but that involved travelling through dangerous areas north of the Humber, into Yorkshire with no back-up. So flying it had to be!
The group of players responded with an intensive education programme to reassure themselves that flying was indeed much safer now than when they first taken to the air in Zeppelins. Desperate not to let the town down through lack of fitness, they took to intensive strolls down the beach at Cleethorpes to a soundtrack from “Chariots of Fire.” Some even continued the relentless physical rigour at home and rumour says one member was quoted as saying, “It’s alright love, I will take my own cup through to the kitchen because it is part of my training schedule for the Walking Football.” Not to be outdone The Club played its part by the purchase of a Virtual Reality Headset for the Playstation so the prospect of playing in front of other people would not detract from their performances.
Next followed many heated discussions about Ancient Mariners protocol on appearance. The Club policy on haircuts was particularly vague. The prima donnas voted to go to a “ SALON" to have their hair styled, spiked and gelled. Thankfully tradition won out in the end and a group price was agreed with Cyril the barber for a team rate for short, back and sides with an optional dollop of Brylcream. The early photos of Stan Matthews gave Cyril a good idea of the retro look we hoped to achieve. By comparison the adoption of standard white y-fronts under the shorts caused nothing but murmurs of approval.
So finally the seagull had spoken and the day of departure had arrived. The squad met at their spiritual home of Bradley with suitcases and packed lunches in hand. The Great Adventure was about to begin! The cars were packed, the passengers on board and the procession set off to Robin Hood Airport in the wilds of Doncaster and yes, still in Yorkshire. Proposed boundary changes it is hoped that we can steal this airport into Lincolnshire and then we will donate Humberside to Hull, a present from the Grimsby Ancient Mariners.
As we approached the roundabout at the Bradley Pub all the players were deep in thought about the glory to be won and the all inclusive bar, when suddenly Pat Lince of first car pulled over beside an innocent bystander, wound his window down and enquired, “ Excuse me mate my SATNAV is playing up . . . "Is this the way to Almelo?"
Chapter 2 - Getting out of the country
Our drivers, Rob Andrew and Pat Lince, decided to make the trip from Bradley to Robin Hood Airport an audition for replacing The Stig in future episodes of Top Gear but despite their best efforts we arrived safely and well within the time frame. This lulled the trip manager into a false sense of security.
Next the gallant band passed through the Flybe check-in and passport control without a hitch but his sense of achievement and well being were about to be heavily challenged when the group arrived at security to have their hand luggage scrutinised and cleared.
Things went well at first and several members of the team marched straight through the body scanners with no problem but one or two had real difficulty with the concept that coins are often made of metal or that watches had metal parts that might cause a problem.
However the flash point came with the hand luggage going through the scanners. First Big Al Nilsen roused the suspicions of the security guards by failing to realise that a family economy size bottle of shampoo did in fact exceed the 100ml limit for liquids but after having his tube of toothpaste tested for its explosive qualities he was eventually allowed to progress through to the departure lounge.
Sadly that was more than Aboukir Al Beilby managed. As his lonely canvass bag bobbled along the conveyor belt there was a sudden blur of motion amongst the normally disinterested and placid security staff. A gaggle of guards would have been blown up for running as the y approached Mr Beilby and his Walking Football Organiser.
"Have you anything in your bag that could be construed as being an offensive weapon, Sir," was their urgent appeal.
"No," replied Alan with a blank expression and without a second of hestitation.
"What about this knife then sir?" they quizzed.
The explanation that the knife had been brought in the hand luggage in case he required it to make any sandwiches during our Walking Football Tournament was apparently acceptable.
Obviously GCHQ had been given prior knowledge of the implications of letting the Grimsby Ancient Mariners take part in an international event. At this point the Organiser was forced to urgently seek out the nearest public convenience to avoid an embarrassing accident cause by uncontrollable laughter at the sequence of events.
Having survived the rigours of the passport and security checks with our hand luggage being allowed into the departure lounge the squad headed for the nearest watering hole.
Pints of liquid nectar was the order of the day but even then after ordering the local specialised beer only to demand a replacement brew after trying to explain to a very young and inexperienced barmaid that the brew appeared to be a bit on the sour side, so lagers it was to be.
We boarded the plane without further incident and then spent the next hour sitting on the runway waiting for clearance to take off. Apparently weather conditions in Amsterdam had caused one runway to be closed so there was a backlog of flights.
It seemed rather harsh to me to blame the Management for weather conditions but the big cheese is always there to shoot at. Finally we did get into the air, Pat generously bought a round of coffees while the rest of us tied our shoelaces and we landed in Schippol safely but a little late although our pilot, Biggles, managed to claw back 10 minutes as we had a tail wind.
Our hosts had very kindly allocated us two minibuses and drivers to ferry us to the Hotel at Almelo and, despite the lengthy delay, they had waited patiently for our squad of finely tuned athletes.
The journey was pleasant but there was one light bulb moment. Over the years I have watched the Eurovision Song Contest and always assumed that the voting was rigged against the United Kingdom because all the countries voted politically for their friends, to avoid a Russian invasion or just because they didn’t like the arrogant British.
However to my great surprise, having listened extensively to the music played by a succession of Dutch bus drivers during our stay, there is a genuine desire to sing along with 1950’s cabaret singers. So the answer would to be to get Brotherhood of Man or Marmalade for next years entry.
Nearly two hours later our gallant band of brothers arrived safely at their hotel, Preston Palace, and are about to explore the possibilities it offered during their stay.
Our hosts had patiently waited for our arrival and without hesitation sent us straight into the dining room for some much warranted refreshments while they organised our check in, a fantastic response to our long but enjoyable journey.
Now the adventure can really start but I think that what happened during an eventful stay at The Preston Palace Hotel should probably stay in Almelo but maybe that is what Chapter 3 will reveal.
Chapter 3 – The Tournament
So with the blooms of the bulbs swaying gently in the morning breeze on the flat fields of the Netherlands, the squad of Grimsby Ancient Mariners wandered lonely as a cloud down to breakfast. Bleary eyed and dressed as Mexicans we were the only team to realise that the Mayor of Almelo would require the participants to adopt fancy dress for the Civic Welcome. The entire squad agreed that Carl sporting a sombrero and large droopy moustache had led to a more pleasing appearance for him and that he should maintain it when returning home to his wife.
After being dropped off by coach on the outskirts of the Almelo Market we made our way on foot to the Town Hall. Happily local children have now received therapy and, in many cases, recovered fully after being approached by elderly Mexicans insisting on presenting them with plastic Harry Haddocks. The local Town Crier welcomed us to the Town of Almelo in a booming voice and with a dry sense of humour. He further agreed to appoint Allan as his apprentice providing he worked very hard on his sense of humour but the loud voice was already in place. Speeches were delivered and our team gifted the Mayor with a Grimsby Shield on behalf of our very own Civic Leaders. Sadly there were no signs of a wooden clog coming back our way. Photographs were taken and the serious business of The Almelo City Cup was ready to begin.
The Management of the Team was exemplary, in my opinion anyway. Our leader had spent hours consulting data, watching videos and listening to experienced Walking Football Internationals before deciding on the tactical plan that was work of pure genius. I ask you, Can he be held responsible if the low ability levels, lack fitness or low intelligence quota of his squad ? The level of detail in the tactical planning was immense, down to an idiots guide to positions for the tournament. :
As there were no designated goalkeeper the stopper was defined as a larger member of the squad who would stand between to the two white posts so there wasn’t room for the ball to get past him and enter the goal. The qualifications for this role did not include high degrees of mobility but it was important they had the self-discipline not to move. Unfortunately we forgot to dig a hole in the middle of the goal and plant the feet of our stopper to prevent him deserting his post. The result was our stopper frequently failed to overcome his obsession with attacking and was consequently nearer to the opposition goal than our own. Totally guilty of going AWOL !
Big Man At The Back
The job description for this role always started with “A Big Unit “and went on to use adjectives like aggressive, close marking and ruthless. This player was meant to keep the Stopper company by standing so close to the opposition centre forward that the fumes from the previous nights alcohol would leave the other team’s striker intoxicated and incapable of participating in the game in any meaningful way. However, all too often our big man at the back was closer to Belgium than he was to their centre forward and about as aggressive as a Telly Tubby.
This was the player nominated to patrol the middle of the pitch with the aim of dominating our stile of play and neutralising the opponents’ playmaker. It required high levels of fitness, a feel for game and a high degree of peripheral vision. Our mid-field generals did their best but had to confine their contribution to verbally pointing out to the rest of our team how they weren’t doing the job they had been allocated. This meant the work, skills and vision elements of the role were never fully achieved. He did gallantly offered to take no further part in the tournament when his tactical reading of the game was challenged.
The player that nominated by himself to operate exclusively in a corridor two metres from the touchline. He mastered the skill of constantly shouting for our players to feed him with the ball so that he could shoot from an impossible distance and angle into the fields just outside the stadium. Luckily the opposition’s defence did tire as they kept retrieving the ball Evidence also suggested our wide man suffered from an allergy of returning to his own half or getting too close to any member of the opposing team. Tracking back was an considered a job for lower grade player.
The player allocated the role of being our most advanced player in the forlorn hope that the other players would hit the “target” with a pass. Perhaps if we had given them a shirt with a bulls eye on then things would have been different, possibly not. Some target men are magic and every things sticks to them some are simply static and everything bounces off them.
Our goal tally suggests this was a mythical creature that never existed in Holland.
I could list the results and give a match report for each game with a minute by minute commentary but I think it would achieve little so I will summarise :
We played eight…….won five……..lost three
We finished in the middle of the pack
We managed to do something that few English Teams have achieved . . . beat a German team in a penalty shoot out.
Gaz took the first penalty from the halfway line and four minutes later as it approached the goal line it didn’t have the legs to make it into the net. Our opponents were panicking about getting their train back to Germany if the remaining penalties took as long..
As the penalties went into the net from both sides Pete was beginning to pannick as it could go down to the last players but thankfully one of our German opponents did a "Gaz" and missed the goal - we're through to our final
Gaz won our top scorer award but finished at the bottom of the completed passes stat!
An International Referee of Footsal allegedly told Allan Nilsen that his goal was one of the best he had ever seen (Allan claims he has a witness to this outstanding exaggeration).
“Keep it tight to start” usually saw us concede a goal in the first 30 seconds.
In despair at our tactics Neil declared he was never playing in a tournament again so we didn’t try to change his mind.
Carl only had a single prima donna moment in eight games and four whole days, although it started at Doncaster airport and lasted until we boarded the plane home.
Rob danced through the entire opposing teams and then panicked in front of goal. He could have challenged Gaz as top scorer if he had taken half of the chances the others created for him.
Pete patiently listened to Carl explaining his high world ranking at Pool and experience of world class Pool Events and then beat him using the wrong end of the cue.
Alan Beilby broke down the wing and kept going . . . and going . . . and going . . . before sliding the ball into the net from an impossible angle as the rest of the team were screaming for him to pass.
Substitutions proved to be a massive problem and we needed to work on them. At one stage our substitute was offering strong vocal encouragement from off the pitch despite the fact we had brought him on three minutes earlier.
Some sights just can’t be removed from your subconscious . . . after a sudden downpour on Day Two the sight of two members of our squad stood in the Café in nothing but their soggy underpants will require many hours of therapy.
To complete a successful trip our own Pat lost his passport and wallet at the airport on the way home. A long discussion then took place as to who could drive Pat's car home (he was a designated driver) as we envisaged him having to wait at the airport until Monday morning when the British Consul's office opened to get a replacement. Who would have thought we might find it in the bar?
As The Tour Manager, Ken awarded himself the Manager’s Star Player of the Almelo Cup Award and gleefully accepted the bottle of whisky donated by his travelling compatriots for all the excellent work he did to make this our first European adventure such a tremendous success.
From the other eight members of the GAM Expeditionary Force, a big thank you very much.
Heanor from Derbyshire won the Cup. At the presentation ceremony Neil commented that it could be use next year if we remained sober long enough to compete, no chance of that ever happening.
Next Year's Almelo City Cup is scheduled for 30th May until 1st June. As we entered this year we are guaranteed one place but we have asked if there is a possibility of an extra place. There will be a list on the board to sign up very shortly.
To end on a serious note, an excellent experience of how walking football has developed over the last few years and we would encourage anyone to give the trip a go, so watch out for details for next year's tournament.
Grimsby Ancient Mariners Walking Football Club is proud to be associated with Lincs Inspire, inspiring people to lead more active and healthy lives through a wide range of sporting, leisure, cultural and learning services in and around North East Lincolnshire.
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