Kids' stuff for Real

Ian Whittell watches the youth of Stevenage take on Europe's finest
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The Independent Online
Elliott Titre shuffled nervously on to the stage at Huddersfield Town Hall on Friday night and pulled the name PSV Eindhoven out of a glass bowl to the groans of his teenage teammates in the audience. The group of death was complete.

Titre and his colleague from the Symonds Green youth football club in Stevenage are playing this weekend in the Nike Premier Cup, a world-wide under-14 tournament, whose finals have brought together 24 teams from as far afield as Indonesia and Chile .

The opening ceremony, complete with brass band, choir and dancing girls (teenage, obviously) was not kind to the English underdogs. Not only did Elliott - an honorary participant in the draw because today he celebrates his 14th birthday - place his team in the same group as PSV, but Symonds Green also found themselves in the company of Real Madrid and the Danes of Aarhus.

Still, pre-match anxiety was not the main problem for Richard Collins, the Symonds Green coach, at the team's luxury hotel on the eve of the two-day tournament. "They were up until 2am, larking around," he admitted. "It's the first time a lot of them have ever been away from home - boys will be boys. They were raiding each other's room, phoning each other up. I bet Terry Venables doesn't have this to contend with."

The morning after, tournament title-holders Madrid were first up and the Spanish, masterminded by a superb midfielder called Ernesto Gomez, strolled to an 8-2 victory.

Francisco Jimenez, the Real coach, said, somewhat unkindly: "The English were very weak. But we have our players in four days a week for two, two and half hours at a time and three, four, maybe five of our players will get to the professional level."

Symonds Green offer something of a contrast. Collins explained: "We have them for an hour, if we're lucky and get them all together. An hour a week, that is. We're just a typical youth club, 168 kids playing every week, and everything run by volunteers."

While England's other representatives, Arsenal, found themselves on the receiving end of a shock 1-0 defeat from Indonesia's PSMS Medan, PSV were providing more of the same medicine for Symonds Green, although pacey striker Wayne Roscoe scored Green's first goal of the competition in a battling 2-1 defeat.

The Dutch and Real produced the game of the day, in a 2-1 win for a quite superb PSV team - the names Ayhan Evren and Mohammed Chamlal are ones to remember - in a possible preview of tonight's final.

While the two European giants were locking horns, Symonds Green were battling for pride against Aarhus. Thanks to another goal from Roscoe, they picked up their first point in a 1-1 draw and ensured they finished a highly creditable third in the group.

But Collins will be looking for improvement today when they play a further three matches in the consolation group. He said: "I thought we should have done better today. It's been a long tiring day, they had to be up at six and all that fooling around caught up with them. It will be early to bed tonight."