The Home Nations Masters football tournament arrived in Liverpool, with the All-Irish Masters running away with the title in convincing fashion.
The night started with England v Wales. The England team consisted of, more famously (in my generation anyway) Nigel Winterburn, Ray Parlour, Michael Thomas and Lee Sharpe. The remainder was made up of Goal Keeper Fraser Digby, and outfielders Mike Marsh, Graham Stewart, Peter Beagrie and Craig Hignett.
Meanwhile, The Welsh team was made up of Ian Rush, Andy Dibble, Andy Johnson, Andy Melville, Kit Symons, Clayton Blackmore, Andy Legg, Iwan Robert and Darren Barnard.
The game finished 3-3, and if it wasn’t for moments of brilliance by Ray Parlour and Lee Sharpe, England probably would have lost. They looked like they didn’t really want to be there and were content with playing at an average pace. Considering the gulf in quality between the two sides, England should have had no problems in dispatching Wales to an early defeat. However, it was an entertaining game in the end with six great goals being scored.
The second game was All-Ireland Masters v Scotland Masters. All Ireland actually had a decent team, which is probably why they ended up winning. It included Kelham O’Hanlon in goal, Mark Kinsella, Ian Nolan, Steve Staunton, Curtis Fleming, John Durnin, ex-Tranmere legend David Kelly, Owen Coyle, and Liverpool and Tranmere’s Jason McAteer. Scotland lined-up with Henry Smith, Tommy Boyd, Derek McInnes, Kevin Gallagher, Darren Jackson, Kenny Black, Don Hutchinson, Gordon Durie and Billy Dodds.
This was another high scoring affair, but unfortunately for Scotland it was at their expense, losing 4-1 to a firing All-Ireland team who looked really up for it, a refreshing change from what we had witnessed in the opener. The half-empty Echo Arena had a little bit more atmosphere by now, and we were ready to see England do the job and beat All-Ireland to give us a bit more hope of reaching the final.
Again though, we were left disappointed. England folded just like the Scots had, with Ireland recording a convincing 3-1 victory. An equalising goal from Lee Sharpe was not enough to spring England into any sort of momentum and they continued to play average football. This virtually guaranteed the Irish a place in the final, so England had to beat Sctoland and have Ireland beat or draw with Wales to stand a chance of facing them in the final.
Next up was Scotland v Wales which, like the first game, was another six goal thriller, ending in a 3-3- draw.
Then came the crunch match, the two old rivals re-united on a 6-a-side pitch in the Echo Arena (exciting hey!), England v Scotland. Both teams had to win to stand any chance of getting through to the final. The crowd were beginning to make themselves heard at this point, we wanted to see results, we wanted better value for our money (‘we’ being the majority English contingent of course!), and most of all we actually wanted to see England win a game. And what a game it turned out to be, England were finally victorious, just edging past the Scottish in an eight goal classic, winning 5-3.
There was a huge lift in the atmosphere of the crowd and we were now ready to see favourites Ireland beat Wales to send us through to the final. However, Wales took a shock lead early on. Everyone expected the Irish to pull it back, but, with their place already secured in the final, we began to see a much more relaxed performance from the Irish. This was confirmed when Wales scored another, with Johnson lobbing the keeper to make it 2-0. There was a stunned silence around the arena, as if England had just crashed out on penalties in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Well, not quite, but people were certainly becoming restless.
When Jason Mcateer pulled one back three minutes from time, a bit of hope was restored. However, it was not to be and the Welsh victory sent England crashing out in third place. Of course, now came the pantomime booing from the audience, who wanted to see England in the final.
The final was now the same game that we had just watched, Ireland v Wales, but Ireland were a lot more interested in getting the job done this time. It was a formality really, despite being booed at every touch of the ball, the Irish ran out 2-1 victors, with Kinsella scoring two stunners. No=one stayed for the celebrations except for a handful of Irish students.
It was a good night of football, and let’s face it, these Masters competitions aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, they’re just a bit of light sporting entertainment. Overall it was a good night out, but I imagine the Mersey Masters in June will be a much more exciting and engaging affair.
By Mark Easton, Chief Sub-Editor
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