A JUBILANT team of schoolboys from Hartlepool sailed across the North Sea and tasted some Dutch delight to savour for the rest of their lives.
The Hartlepool Schools Under-15s stunned their rivals in Holland by returning to the North-East with the increasingly popular Amsterdam Cup in their luggage.
It was a two-day tournament packed full of incident, excitement, banter and a bit of controversy, but ended in style courtesy of the success of the team in the Dutch capital.
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Hartlepool, captained by Paul Braithwaite, stayed unbeaten in the showpiece by winning four and drawing two of their league format fixtures – leaving their coaches beaming.
“It was fantastic and we are exceptionally proud of their achievements,” said coach Adam Palmer, who also teaches a number of the children at the town's Dyke House Sports and Technology College.
“From the first moment to picking the boys up to the last when we returned home they can all be extremely proud of both their achievements and their behaviour. They were an absolute credit to the town and to have come back with the Amsterdam Cup capped off the weekend.”
Organisers of the competition had placed Hartlepool’s Year 10 boys in the Under-17 age group due to the known strength of the side.
The team secretary and coach of Hartlepool Schools FA, Danny Evans, said: “To have been put in that higher age group meant the defenders had to be strong throughout the competition and they were indeed magnificent.
“By the end of the tournament they had not only shown that they could compete with the older players they actually displayed a team spirit and character which was fully deserving of the trophy itself.”
After slipping behind in their opening game against Liverpool's Health Through Sport - who have former Everton boss Joe Royle as their patron – they responded emphatically. Despite giving away size advantage, Hartlepool came back to start with a 1-1 draw thanks to Elliott Beddow's goal.
“If we thought that was tough, then the second game was against Sporting Galatasary, from Turkey, and they brought along a fanatical set of parents and a fiery squad of players who subjected to our lads with spitting and diving,” said Mr Evans.
But a clever free kick from Callum Wood ended with a Liam Wright headed goal at the far post to win the match for the Hartlepool boys.
Mr Evans added: “Even after the final whistle their players, manager and even linesman acted disgracefully and as the competition progressed they would end one match with nine players and were involved in a brawl with the Liverpool team.”
But that triumph paved the way for further success. Hartlepool completed day one at the top of the table with a comfortable 2-1 victory over Alexandra Park from Watford thanks to goals from Beddow and Jake Jenkins.
Then the following day Hartlepool produced a superb performance against Dutch team RKSV that resulted in a 4-0 win. Liam Wright smashed the opener from the edge of the area before a brace of goals by Jason Blackburn and Sam Nixon adding the other. And not even the hosts of the tournament, Sporting Martinus, could do anything to stop them when they were silenced with two more goals for Nixon and a Wood header to claim a 3-0 win.
All that was required to secure the trophy was to avoid defeat against Littleton FC Under 18s. The game ended goalless, Hartlepool played some superb football and were unfortunate not to win.
The job, though, had already been done. “It was just brilliant and the boys' parents should all be proud of what these boys have achieved and the way they have achieved it,” said Mr Palmer.
Mr Evans added: “It was a great experience for the team who travelled over to Holland on the ferry, visited the Ajax Arena, Amsterdam city centre and even had time to boss the karaoke in a local bar and have a sing off with a set of West Ham fans.
“But the most pleasing aspect were comments made by quite a few people on the conduct and attitude of the squad, which again shows Hartlepool in a very positive light.”