Followers in purple gathered at Milan Bergamo airport, hoping for a glimpse of their victorious heroes on the best way again to Manchester. Their crew had simply gained a European trophy, evoking reminiscences of Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo doing the identical factor.
Solely the congregation wasn’t there to greet a facet oozing with the world’s largest stars, as an alternative they have been ready for non-leaguers FC United of Manchester, who in June gained the inaugural Fenix Trophy – a European competitors for semi-professional and novice golf equipment.
In doing so, FC United – a breakaway membership arrange by dissenting Manchester United followers in 2005 and at the moment within the seventh tier of English soccer – had earned themselves a particular standing.
“We have been the one English membership to win a European trophy final season, so I am going to take that,” laughs Reds boss Neil Reynolds.
“To convey the trophy residence via the airport and having my youngsters see us profitable it was unbelievable. We will say we have gained a European trophy and no one can take that away from us.
“Our followers have seen it occur with Manchester United, now they’ve seen it with FC United.”
The thought of the Fenix Trophy was first mooted in late 2020 by Alessandro Aleotti, chairman of Italian non-league facet Brera FC.
Aleotti established Brera in 2000 with a imaginative and prescient of turning into Milan’s third soccer membership. He noticed European competitors as the proper step in the direction of that purpose, so with the assistance of his son Leo, Brera’s common supervisor, he set about creating one.
The title Fenix is an acronym representing the match’s core values: pleasant; European; unprofessional; progressive; and xenial, which comes from the Historic Greek phrase xenos, indicating an angle of hospitality in the direction of strangers.
The Aleottis did not merely need any outdated golf equipment to turn into a Fenix member, although, and began looking for non-professional outfits from throughout the continent that match their standards.
Whereas there have been sure logistical and aggressive elements to contemplate – resembling proximity to a serious airport and making certain groups performed between the sixth and eighth tiers of their respective nations – Leo says they wished “to seek out golf equipment who have been distinctive, iconic on some degree and gave visibility to non-professional soccer”.
For final yr’s entrants, that meant golf equipment which have a storied previous however have fallen on onerous occasions, or ones with a transparent social or neighborhood purpose, resembling being supporter-owned like FC United.
Among the many competitors have been two-time Belgian champions KSK Beveren, who misplaced to Barcelona within the 1978-79 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final, and Amsterdam’s DWS, who gained the Eredivisie title in 1964 and rely Netherlands greats Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard as youth-team alumni.
Brera even have their very own hyperlink to historical past because of their residence, Area Civica. The bottom first opened in 1807, making it the oldest stadium in mainland Europe, and was the previous residence of each large Milan golf equipment earlier than they moved to the San Siro.
On the different finish of the dimensions are Prague Raptors, a facet based mostly within the Czech capital that prides itself on offering an inclusive surroundings for all.
“We weren’t within the first part of golf equipment Brera have been talking to and suppose we have been the final ones they approached,” says Prague Raptors’ English president Daz Moss, who began the membership in 2017 on the whim of his five-year- outdated son Lukas.
“We have been chosen as a result of we would accomplished a venture a couple of months earlier than with AKS Zly, a Polish facet that have been in final yr’s match, to get extra ladies into soccer, as a result of we need to break down obstacles and are very pro-diversity.
“It was wonderful for us. It shines a light-weight on all of the issues we’re attempting to do. It actually helps when it comes to folks noticing us and even simply all the way down to shirt gross sales, we have seen an increase in nations we have been concerned with.”
Final yr’s match noticed two teams of 4 play one another residence and away, with the winners of every part coming collectively for the ultimate in Rimini in Italy in June. The opposite six sides have been additionally in attendance to play matches based mostly on their group standings to resolve a last rating.
And whereas FC United triumphed within the last with a 2-0 win over Prague Raptors to elevate the trophy, it was the human tales and moments the competitors created that stood out for the Fenix founders.
“It was wonderful and everybody was so enthusiastic,” Leo says. “We had a really numerous composition of gamers coming from all around the world and with each type of expertise, from UPS drivers to college college students.
“For a number of the gamers to play abroad was nice. For some it was a once-in-a-lifetime expertise and I keep in mind there was one man I noticed from Gambia who was virtually crying when he received on a airplane to play in Poland.
“It was his first time catching a airplane, so to get that have as a result of he was enjoying within the Fenix Trophy is the very best projection of the competitors you may make.”
For victors FC United, it was an opportunity to get their fingers on a particular piece of silverware and provides their followers, a few of whom used to journey throughout Europe for large Champions League nights with Manchester United, a chance to relive these reminiscences of their new manner.
Becoming the additional matches and journey into an already busy non-league schedule did include challenges for the Reds’ part-time gamers, however few have been complaining.
Reynolds says: “Taking part in in Milan on a Wednesday night, we set off on the Wednesday morning to fly over, had the sport and traveled again on Thursday afternoon. We received residence on Thursday night, the lads needed to go to work on the Friday and we have been touring three hours to play Morpeth away on the Saturday.
“It makes me chortle after I hear these Premier League managers moaning about European and league fixtures.
“It is full on and there is no time to relaxation, particularly for these lads who’re engineers or electricians, and do not benefit from a therapeutic massage or a swimming pool to help restoration between matches, however they’re going to always remember the expertise. As onerous and demanding as it’s, we would not change it for the world.”
The second version of the Fenix Trophy is about to get underneath manner, and it has already grown in dimension, with 9 golf equipment now collaborating in a three-group first part earlier than the finals match this summer season.
FC United’s protection kicks off in opposition to KSK Beveren on 15 November, with Spanish facet Cuenca Mestalistes finishing their group.
Brera’s Leo Aleotti is proud of the competitors’s progress up to now, however has ambitions for it to develop even additional sooner or later if budgets permit.
“There are three new groups and two new nations coming into this yr, however there’s a lot of room left to develop and enhance,” he says.
“This present format is nice and so long as we maintain the numbers to 12, 15 or 18 groups, we will implement this three-team group format, though in some unspecified time in the future we’ll have to make a bounce to a different sort of format – maybe a knockout part – that permits us to have a a lot wider community.
“An enormous a part of the choice is the monetary affordability of golf equipment and it is tougher for these from the much less rich areas of Europe to self-fund enjoying in 4 or possibly six video games every year.
“There must be a monetary incentive for many who undergo to the following stage to have the ability to afford the additional video games and it is a setup I see for the longer term, though I do not understand how far-off that future is. It is a goal we should always goal for as a result of it is the best way to cowl much more territory.”
Regardless of the Fenix Trophy’s purity of competitors, funds are the important thing to the match actually taking off on a a lot bigger scale. So has Leo received any attainable sponsors in thoughts?
“As a result of the match is self-financed, we’re relying on the low-cost airways, so possibly Ryanair ought to be our sponsor in some unspecified time in the future,” he jokingly ponders. “We’ve so many footage of groups posing in entrance of planes, they need to positively contemplate it.”
Get a benefactor on board and the sky actually is the restrict for the Fenix Trophy.