They may have to collect their shorts en route, but West Auckland are on their way to play Juventus. Helen Smithson reports.

NOT even a last minute hitch with the team’s new shorts could stop the players smiling yesterday.

The lads of Northern League minnows West Auckland FC, in County Durham, were finally on their way to Italy to face one of the world footballing giants, Juventus, minus the bottom half of their kit – their shorts are still at the suppliers.

However, the coach taking them to Turin was due to make an impromptu stop at Cambridge services, where the suppliers of the commemorative strip were to hand over the shorts.

West Auckland’s present day side are marking the 100th anniversary of the club’s greatest moment when it won the first football World Cup in Italy.

In 1909, a team of workingclass men from the area, lifted the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy in Italy, defeating Swiss opposition Winterthur in the final.

They returned heroes, and repeated the remarkable feat two years later in 1911, this time defeating Juventus 6-1.

The original players overcame many hardships – selling furniture to fund the trip and sleeping rough in train stations during the tournament, many unsure whether they would have a job to return to.

The atmosphere at West’s Darlington Road ground was buzzing with anticipation yesterday as players, club officials, and fans – including Alan Hogg, whose greatgrandfather Charlie Hogg was in the 1909 line-up – set off for Turin just after noon.

Many other fans are making their own way to the match against a youth team from the Serie A side, which kicks off at Chiusa Pesio, in northern Italy, at 5pm Italian time tomorrow. Speaking before their departure, club chairman Jim Palfreyman said: “It’s something we never thought would happen. We thought it was a bridge too far.

“But for Juventus to reply, and want to put the game on, is absolutely brilliant.”

General manager Stuart Alderson echoed his enthusiasm, and said: “It has taken a year to organise, but it’s definitely been worth it. The players are fit and really fired up.

They’ll never get a chance like this again. It’s keeping history going, and will be a tremendous weekend for everybody involved.”

Team manager Brian Honour, who took on the role in June, praised his players for starting pre-season training early in preparation for the match. Their gruelling training regime included running up sand dunes, and through woods. “They’ve worked really hard to get in shape,”

Mr Honour said.

“Everybody is really excited.

The lads have been like kids on Christmas Day.”

Midfielder Martin Young, 20, who joined the club last month, will wear the captain’s armband.

He conceded the chances of victory were slim, but said: “It’s brilliant for West Auckland to be playing such a massive club.

“We are just going to enjoy the experience, and hopefully get a few shots on goal.”

Whatever the outcome in Italy – just like their 1909 counterparts – they are sure to return home as heroes.

To keep up to date with the team read West Auckland FC’s blog here.