On a mostly waterlogged pitch which would surely have been declared unplayable if the opposition had travelled from, say, Romford instead of Rome, England fully deserved their 4-1 win over the Italian Serie C Under-21 side. Stronger and more experienced, the home team adapted far better to the conditions and produced a display full of purpose and commitment.
Cheltenham Town's Neil Grayson was rewarded for a hard-working performance up front for England with two fine goals, one a diving header and the other a shot calmly lifted over the Italian goalkeeper.
After Grayson's strikes early in each half, England took a three-goal lead when Thierry Cavazzana slid the ball into his own net under pressure from Dale Watkins. Hayes' Lee Charles delighted the home crowd by leaping high to head in a fourth goal before Vincenzo Iaquinta's well-struck shot provided the Italians with a deserved consolation goal.
In recent years, the England semi-pro side has provided some distinguished graduates, such as Leicester's Steve Guppy, Birmingham's Paul Furlong and West Bromwich Albion's Lee Hughes. A similar supply of young talent from the current England team seems much less likely, though, due to the selection by the manager, John Owens, of a number of experienced former Football League players.
Grayson, formerly of Northampton and Chesterfield, was joined in the England side by Mark Yates (Cheltenham, ex-Birmingham), Warren Patmore (Yeovil, ex-Northampton), Gary Butterworth (Rushden, ex-Peterborough), Gary Patterson (Kingstonian, ex-Shrewsbury) and Andy Comyn (Hednesford, ex-Aston Villa, Derby and Plymouth). All are unlikely to return to League football.
When it was put to Owens that his representative side might be better served by players with more of a genuine non-League background, he said: "The selection criteria is not fixed. There is no age limit and I want to mould the squad into a team fit to represent England." The manager added that Grayson had been "full of energy and enthusiasm" and, like his team-mates, was eager to play for his country - an opinion that the watching Cheltenham manager, Steve Cotterill, proudly agreed with.
"I thought Grayson was outstanding and, for me, he was vying with Butterworth for man of the match," Cotterill said. England have two more internationals this season: away to the Netherlands on 30 March in Genemuiden and a home game at a venue not yet fixed against Wales on 23 May.
ENGLAND SEMI-PROFESSIONAL XI (v Italy) (3-5-2): Book (Cheltenham); Danzey (Woking), Smith (Stevenage), Ryan (Southport); Shaw (Doncaster), Patterson (Kingstonian), Butterworth (Rushden), Yates (Cheltenham), Underwood (Rushden); Grayson (Cheltenham), Patmore (Yeovil). Substitutes: Charles (Hayes) for Patterson, 55; Watkins (Cheltenham) for Patmore, 55; Wormull (Dover) for Shaw, 74; Comyn (Hednesford) for Danzey, 74; Gothard (Dagenham & Redbridge) for Book, 74.