They came, they saw, they…got hammered 7-1.
Mike Amos joined the minnows of West Auckland on their Juventus adventure.
THE longanticipated World Cup rematch between West Auckland and Juventus ended in bitter farce at the weekend after the Italian hosts enjoyed a slap-up post match meal and the Northern League side – having endured a 28-hour, 1,100-mile coach journey – were left on the pavement with a bowl of crisps.
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The incident was the ultimate disappointment for the shoestring County Durham football club after a series of snubs from the mega-rich Italians.
British consular officials, identifiable by their Union Jack carrier bags, appeared neither able to consult nor console.
West Auckland, having expected the best of both worlds, ended up unwilling extras in Juve Been Framed, beggars at a rich man’s feast.
The club is now expected to make an official protest to Italian top brass.
“It was just like they didn’t want us there in the first place,” said West’s general manager Stewart Alderson.
“To be honest, I don’t think many of them had any idea why we were there. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life.”
Other setbacks included a complete absence of official welcome at the end of their gruelling journey, no hospitality at the match – not even a half-time cup of tea – and the insistence that club chairman Jim Palfreyman’s wife, Anne, pay ten euros admission.
West Auckland officials are also convinced that the planned pre-match exchange of gifts was put back to halftime because Juventus had brought nothing to the occasion.
In the event, they received a blank plaque and two books on Italian flowers.
“Just what we always wanted,” said Mr Alderson.
To make matters worse, the 40-strong party – carrying their nonnegotiable World Cup – arrived at the Holiday Inn outside Turin to find both bar and restaurant closed for the month of August and the promised swimming pool didn’t exist.
The hotel, swiftly nicknamed the Holiday Inncompetent, also lost the passports belonging to Mr and Mrs Palfreyman. They still haven’t been found.
The Italian greats, fielding a mainly under-19 side, beat their North-East visitors 7-1 “I hate to think what would have happened if we had won, they would have probably thrown us in the dyke,” said Mr Alderson.
Mrs Palfreyman, eventually reimbursed after a protest, was philosophical.
“I was just afraid they were going to ask me for my passport as well,” she said.
The match, planned for a year, marked the centenary of the first time that West Auckland won the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy – dubbed the first World Cup – in Turin in 1909.
Two years later, they won it again, beating Juventus 6-1 on their home turf, and were allowed to keep the trophy.
Juventus, it is fair to say, have in the succeeding 100 years come rather closer to world domination than West Auckland have.
The evening before Saturday’s game, they had beaten Real Madrid 2-1 in a European qualifier; West Auckland only escaped relegation from the Northern League First Division because another team dropped out.
The rematch was sponsored for £10,000 by the English FA and £5,000 from Unilever, successors of the Lipton Tea Company.
Retired senior Unilever executive John Wotherspoon, who has written a book on the first games and was at Saturday’s match, said that Sir Thomas was famous for trying to do things properly. “He would have been rather disappointed at what has happened today. Courtesy is important and we have travelled over 1,000 miles and seen very little of it.
“It’s a bit of an insult to make your guests pay an entrance fee and then not even give them a cup of tea and a biscuit. There is a lot more I could say, but now isn’t the proper time.
“The professionals haven’t been very professional at all.”
Keith Hutchinson, who scored West Auckland’s consolation goal, said that only two Juventus players had shaken his hand at the final whistle.
Team manager Brian Honour, named Hartlepool United’s player of the 20th Century, said that Juventus players had even been reluctant to exchange pennants.
“Eventually I had to take them over to the dug out.
They will probably be in a bin liner somewhere by now.
“A little bit of good manners goes a long way, and I don’t think we have seen much of that this weekend. They must think it’s the sort of thing we do every week and not appreciate the sacrifices that have been made to get here.”
Saturday evening’s game was played in 28 degree heat in a stadium 40 miles from Turin. After waiting for half an hour afterwards, the party was advised to walk to a nearby bar where both teams had gathered on the pavement. After a lot of pressure, they brought our lads crisps and pop, like kids, but the officials got nothing at all,” said Mr Alderson.
“After a few minutes a bell rang and the Juventus players disappeared to tuck in to their fresh salmon. We were left with our crisps.”
The party is due back from Turin at teatime today.
■ Read The Italian Job – a Backtrack special on West Auckland’s Juventus trip – in tomorrow’s Northern Echo.