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About 60 footballers and I were staying at the Almond Casuarina Beach Resort, with its great beach and views. Former Blackburn Rovers star Matt Jansen was asked if he’d like a special rum punch.
“What’s the difference between that and an ordinary one?” he asked. “The special one has more rum in it,” came the reply.
They weren’t just any footballers. Besides the aforementioned, the PFA had attracted the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo, Dwight Yorke and Franck Leboeuf.
They could all still play a bit. In at least one case - Zola - they should still be playing. Which made the standard of football on the hallowed turf of Kensington Oval perfect for television, too.
Petra Roach has incredible inﬂuence in her home country. That’s how we were able to turn one of the cathedrals of world cricket into a football stadium with two six-a-side pitches for the two-day event. Upwards of 14,000 fans paid homage to their heroes. For many, it was their ﬁrst glimpse of the players they’d been following for years via satellite television.
For their part, the footballers were loving it. As Iain Dowie said: “If a certain beer company did football trips, this would be the one...”
On day one we skipped football and headed for Apes Hill, one of the world’s most exclusive golf clubs.
Apes Hill boasts a world-class course as well one of the planet’s leading polo clubs. And apes? They are the free-roaming monkeys who have been known to make off with the odd ball.
The next day our coaches headed for Kensington Oval, with a police escort. We got there in time to put on a real show. There were eight teams - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle, Tottenham, Blackburn and a PFA Allstars squad. And one ringer.
Cricketing genius Brian Lara explained: “Dwight Yorke rang me and asked me to play and I thought, ‘Why not?’. We used to play in the same national team as schoolboys. He was always better than me so I stuck to cricket.”
Once the leading Test scorer of all time, Lara has hit four centuries at Kensington Oval. On the ﬁrst night he came on as a sub for Liverpool and scored inside eight seconds. Later, he turned out for United and scored for them too. Then revealed himself to be a Spurs fan, although by then the north Londoners were out of the competition.
Chelsea were the early stars of the event - Zola, Leboeuf, Poyet, Di Matteo and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing stuff that made you wonder why any of them had retired. But they were hampered somewhat by forgetting to bring a keeper. Step forward one Mark Armstrong, a local goalkeeper and Chelsea fan who did a sterling job, despite having eaten a few too many pies and being at least six inches short of the 6ft mark.
It didn’t help when he was late for the second day because the security guards refused to let him in because they didn’t believe he was a player.
Chelsea faded late on day two: injuries and a bit too much golf on the morning of the ﬁnal all playing their part. Nevertheless they reached the ﬁnal, courtesy of a win over Spurs. In the other semi, United proved too strong for Blackburn. And too strong, as well, for Chelsea in the ﬁnal, running out winners by four goals to one.
But perhaps the best part of the tournament was saved for last. The interaction between the players and crowd was terriﬁc, close to humbling for a football hack used to a more cynical view.
Premier League stars posed for photographs, chatted with fans and kicked balls into the stand, while Zola organised an impromptu Crossbar Challenge as the barbecue party kicked into gear. It took him half an hour as the local kids queued for their chance, with the wide-eyed winner taking home the great man’s boots.
Barbados certainly had an effect on most of the participants. Roberto Di Matteo said: “I had never been to the island before this event, but I can’t wait to return in May for the next one.
“I’m already looking at the possibility of returning with my family in the summer. The hospitality and warm welcome I received from everyone on the island was unbelievable and I’m sure that Barbados will become one of my regular holiday destinations for years to come.
“All we had time for was golf, football and restaurants, but I am looking forward to relaxing on the beautiful beaches when I return.”
To a man, the players have agreed to do it all again this year, although I’m not sure Sir Alex Ferguson will add one fan’s judgment to his ﬁnal CV: “19 titles, one six-a-side…” Z
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