UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce is hoping that the UEFA Regions' Cup will continue to grow.
By Jim Wirth in Krakow
The sun is raking down over the players' hotel at the UEFA Regions' Cup final, just as it has been with implacable force since uefa.com arrived in Poland on Saturday.
Contested every two years by Europe's best amateur sides, UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce is ready to admit that, with the heat proving a constant over the last two finals, the six-day Regions' Cup tournament might be too short for the players involved to do themselves justice.
Boyce would like to see a couple more rest days inserted into the programme to allow players and referees to recover from their exertions. "[The tournament is] normally played when the weather is hot and asking amateur players to play four matches in six days is asking an awful lot," he told uefa.com.
'Over the moon'
However, the weather has not dampened the ardour of the players. "These lads are over the moon to be playing in such a tournament," said Boyce. "It's not the [FIFA] World Cup or the [UEFA] European Championship but every team here are trying to win it and they make a lot of friends.
"The matches we have seen so far have been very competitive and have been played in a great spirit," added the Irish Football Association president. "UEFA are to be applauded for introducing this tournament and the amateur associations involved are very grateful."
Arguably the smallest of UEFA's tournaments, one could argue that the Regions' Cup is also the most important, representing as it does the 95 per cent of Europe's registered footballers who are amateurs - not the great men, but the great many. As Boyce said: "It represents the vast majority of players and it is giving them an opportunity they probably thought they would never have."
For some, it could also be a first step to a professional career. Many of the sides have been picked over by scouts from professional clubs long before they reached the finals in Malopolska, and Boyce is well aware that more could join the professional ranks after the finals.
"There's a lot of lads here who have no interest in professional football - they have good jobs - but in the game between South-West Region-Sofia and JMKFS Brno I saw two or three players who wouldn't be found wanting in professional football," said Boyce. "For people who are young and have ambition, it's a great place to get spotted by scouts."
The presence of scouts is another indication that the competition is beginning to get a reputation, but for Boyce, there is still work to be done in spreading the word. "Once you mention the word amateur, people really don't want to know which is a great pity," he said. "The majority of people really don't know what the Regions' Cup is because it doesn't get enough publicity."
However, in Malopolska the competition remains big news. Boyce was only too aware of the groundswell of interest, saying: "I have no doubt that should the Polish team get to the final, they would get three or four thousand spectators and for amateur football that is impressive."
But regardless of the crowds, Boyce maintained that the main beneficiaries of the tournament were still the players themselves. "Here we have a lot of lads from different countries coming together and making new friends," he said. "In those circumstances, there really are no losers."