A number of ex-professional footballers, including Colin Hendry and Paul Gallagher, came together yesterday to partake in the Northern Area Finals of the Generation Cup – a tournament that celebrates the early years of the FA Cup and the origins of modern football in Northern England.
The Cup requires participating teams to only field five players between the ages of 17 and 39, and play a minimum of three over-50s.
Preston North End, Blackpool, and Bolton Wanderers were represented in the finals, as well as non-league Darwen, Turton, and Liverpool Ramblers.
The WEC Group Anchor Ground, home of Darwen FC, hosted the finals, and some English footballing royalty was in attendance.
Ex-Blackburn Rovers defender and Premier League winner Colin Hendry donned the tangerine of Blackpool, whilst former PNE midfielder Paul Gallagher played for The Lilywhites, and ex-Bolton captain Mark Patterson ran out for his hometown team of Darwen.
Hendry, who played for Scotland in Euro ’96 and captained his country at the 1998 World Cup in France, wanted to get involved with the tournament because of its “different and unique” appeal.
The 57-year-old said: “I wanted to come for a game, it’s good to keep fit. I still play loads – on any Sunday I get off work I jump straight into any game I can.”
Sam Allardyce, ex-Bolton, Blackburn, Blackpool, and England manager, was on hand to manage a team representing Turton. ‘The Tigers’ squad included Ricardo Gardner – a player Allardyce worked with during his eight-year spell at the University of Bolton Stadium.
When asked about the importance of the FA Cup and whether it’s important to keep in touch with the history of the national game, Allardyce said: “Absolutely, it’s important. Our national game is played across the whole of the country every weekend. It’s what everybody looks forward to when they wake up on a Saturday morning.
“Football is an engulfing sport that we all love – not just to participate in but to watch as well.
“The more and more we can promote our game, the more we can keep it healthy.”
The six clubs partaking were split into two groups: A and B. In Group A, was Preston, Turton, and Liverpool Ramblers. In B, Blackpool, Bolton, and Darwen.
After 37 goals had been been scored over the course of six one-hour games, Preston and Blackpool qualified from their respective groups to advance to next month’s National Finals, which will be held at St George’s Park.
The Cup was only founded last year, and its organiser, Jonathan Hunter, said the growth of the tournament has “exceeded all [his] expectations”.
“Last year, we invited all the teams that played in the very first FA Cup in 1872, and this year we thought ‘what are we going to do next?’ So we thought we’d invite those from the next decade.
“Darwen were one of the first teams to go down south and take on one of the school teams – the Old Etonians, which was the subject of the Netflix series, ‘The English Game’.
“So when I knew that they were happy to host it, and they’ve got a 3G pitch as well, so you could guarantee it would be on as well, it seemed the best place to come.
“The clubs being represented here today are the origins of football itself.
“Of all the places in the world, this great game, it started here.”
The teams representing Preston and Blackpool will contest the National semi-finals with The Royal Engineers, and one of The Civil Service, Oxford University, Clapham Rovers, and Upton Park FC on Sunday March 12.