Divided by allegiance, united by passion, two teams of fans embarked on an epic journey across Amsterdam to win 'The Race' and a dream trip to the UEFA Europa League final.
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'The Race', an action-packed contest to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the 2013 UEFA Europa League final, reached a thrilling denouement in Amsterdam on Tuesday.
A Herculean series of head-to-head challenges stood tantalisingly between our teams – each comprising two devoted supporters of this year's finalists – and the Amsterdam ArenA on 15 May. Having negotiated the streets of the Dutch capital and overcome a stringent examination of endurance, ingenuity and speed of thought against the clock, the first contestants to enter the showpiece venue and lift the UEFA Europa League trophy were crowned winners.
Hand-picked from hundreds of entries, Chelsea FC contingent Jamie Horton and Adam Davis and SL Benfica representatives André da Fonseca and Nuno Pascoal, had barely caught their breath before 200 UEFA Europa League match balls descended from a bulging net, raised 600cm above ground level. Only two featured the crest of their respective clubs; they just needed to draw the proverbial needle from the haystack.
The next leg would take on a distinctly Dutch flavour, with both teams boarding tandem bikes at the Museumplein, a vibrant cultural hub encompassing three major art houses – Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Rembrandthuis. If this challenge required steely determination and navigational craft, the next – at Nieuwmarkt square – demanded technique, audacity and an abundance of skill.
The innately gifted duo of world freestyle football champion Andrew Henderson (representing Chelsea) and former world No2 Gautier Fayolle (Benfica) provided just that. In addition to mesmerising onlookers with a jaw-dropping repertoire of tricks, both men attempted to buy their teams vital seconds by landing footballs inside a stack of Hankook tyres, lying in a barge traversing one of the city's quintessential canals.
The following obstacle seemed decidedly simple; to transfer a ball across the cobbled streets of Thorbeckeplein and find the net. Serene confidence soon succumbed to dizzying freneticism, however, as supposed innocent bystanders revealed their true guise to form an obstinate five-man defence. Skewering this back line would eat up valuable time in the quest for glory with each second counting towards a head start in the final dash to the Amsterdam ArenA.
The route to AFC Ajax's famous home offered a welcome moment of respite as anthems from both UEFA Europa League finalists reverberated around the metro, travelling from Spaklerweg to Bijlmer station. Once the train had reached its final destination, the camaraderie evaporated and 'The Race' ran a breathless last leg, with a famous guest lying in wait for the winners.
To discover which team won 'The Race', watch the day's drama unfold here.