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McNicholas: Arsenal have a winning formula

Arsenal about an hour ago
Read
Jun 19, 2011

Rolling back the years

The hairs were slightly greyer, the waistlines a little wider and the legs not quite as fast as they had once been. When the whistle blew, though, the competitive fires burned just as brightly as they did back in their day.

Yorke and Cole on Manchester United

Last weekend, the inaugural Barbados Football Legends tournament, featuring eight teams packed with former Premier League stars, took place at the Kensington Oval in the island's capital, Bridgetown, where it was watched by almost 6,000 fans over two days of competition.

Many of the players involved remain well-known figures in the English game. Manchester United featured five of the 1999 treble team, including Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole. Among Chelsea's number were Gianfranco Zola, Frank Leboeuf, Gus Poyet and Roberto di Matteo. Meanwhile, Alan Shearer led the line for Newcastle and Teddy Sheringham was Spurs' star turn.

For Blackburn, Matt Jansen led the group stage scoring with eight goals in three games. The PFA all-stars were represented by Iain Dowie and Graham Stuart, while the man who won the league for Arsenal in 1989, Michael Thomas, turned out for the Gunners.

Liverpool, meanwhile, boasted a ringer in their ranks. Brian Lara is no stranger to one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world, and one of the greatest to ever play that game showed plenty of signs that he is no slouch with a bigger ball. The home crowd relished his presence along with that of Yorke and another favourite son of the Caribbean, Newcastle's Shaka Hislop.

Though Lara's presence could not inspire Liverpool past the group stage, the local hero got involved in the knockout rounds by pulling off one of football's rarest feats. Not since Allenby Chilton, in 1938, has a player transferred from Liverpool to Manchester United - Phil Chisnall, in 1964, was the last to go in the opposite direction - but Lara made the switch look as straightforward as dispatching a half-volley through the covers.

Meanwhile, while many in attendance now make their living in coaching or the media in England, there were others who fall into the 'where are they now?' category. For example, former Arsenal and Sunderland man Stefan Schwarz currently lives in Portugal and runs a football academy in Ghana, while Jan Age Fjortoft is a television presenter in Norway.

Overseeing the action, together with local officials, were Premier League referees Mark Clattenburg and Mark Halsey. With the exception of sorting out one or two instances of 'over-competitiveness' - Tommy Mooney, playing for the PFA all-stars, managed to fall out with the entire Tottenham team at one point - theirs was the simple task of letting the game flow.

For some, the rigours of the tournament took their toll and resulted in a variety of knocks. The on-duty physio, Arsenal's Gary Lewin, became one of the hardest-working men on the island, at one point responding to yet another request for treatment by suggesting the afflicted player 'collect a ticket at the counter' and wait his turn!

One man with no such worries was Darren Anderton, who showed stamina - and made a mockery of his 'sicknote' reputation - by going straight from the post-tournament party to the airport to fly to Miami for game six of the NBA finals between the Heat and Dallas Mavericks.

Generally, the exertions of match action were contrasted greatly by the various methods of recovery adopted in-between games. Relaxation was the order of the day, as some chose the golf course while others walked the handful of yards from their hotel room to the beach, where a little liquid refreshment was always available to help overcome the exertions of the previous night.

After each side had played their three group games, the first semi-final saw Manchester United take on Blackburn, which created a unique situation for Rovers goalkeeper and current United employee Alan Fettis.

The Northern Irishman works with the reserves and youth teams at Old Trafford but, with Jansen unable to maintain his scoring touch, he could not claim bragging rights with victory as Cole, himself a former Blackburn player, scored the only goal of the game.

The scorers were more troubled in the other semi-final, as Chelsea saw off Tottenham in an eight-goal thriller. The Blues' main source of inspiration was Zola, who would later be named player of the tournament having dazzling the crowd with an array of skills, which showed little sign of having been diminished by retirement.

Zola did not add a winners' medal to his trophy collection, however. Chelsea began the final against Manchester United as favourites, having seen off the Red Devils in the group thanks to two goals in the final minute of, arguably, the game of the tournament.

United had their revenge the following day and, in doing so, ensured the outcome in Barbados reflected the current state of play in the Premier League. Their 4-1 triumph was achieved thanks to a Ronny Johnsen brace as well as goals from David May and Jesper Blomqvist.

Champagne flowed at the subsequent presentation ceremony, which was overseen by men on stilts and dancing girls. With the games completed and the demands for autographs and pictures sated, it was time for another rum punch or two, the traditional drink of the island flowing as freely as the laughs and banter from the tournament's participants.

Andrew Hush is an associate producer for ESPNSoccernet Press Pass, which has been airing features and interviews from the Barbados Legends tournament. Watch the clips online here

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