UEFA Youth and Amateur Committee chairman Jim Boyce was glad to see Europe's top amateurs thriving at the UEFA Regions' Cup, explaining: "It's their UEFA Champions League."
Article top media content
Veneto got their hands on the trophy, but the UEFA Regions' Cup finals in Italy were another great victory for amateur football too, according to UEFA Youth and Amateur Football Committee chairman Jim Boyce.
"I have been a great advocate of the UEFA Regions' Cup," explained the Belfast-born FIFA vice-president, who left the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals in Turkey to watch the action in Saturday's final in Abano Terme. "UEFA deserve a lot of credit for thinking up such an idea. I met some of the Northern Irish players from this tournament at the airport and they were very impressed by the organisation here. It is a wonderful opportunity for these players to play in a European competition."
The essential ethos of the competition is to give the foot soldiers of European football – the players who turn out in amateur leagues simply for the joy of playing – a chance to meet and compete with the best of their peers. "It's their UEFA Champions League," Boyce told UEFA.com. "These are the guys who usually turn out to play on a Saturday afternoon for fun. They never dreamed they would be getting on aeroplanes and playing in a European competition."
The words 'amateur football' may conjure up images of beer bellies for some, but the standard of football here in Veneto showed once more the talent that thrives at this level. Many of the players here are happy to enjoy the game as a hobby, but as Boyce knows well, some of the best players at past tournaments have gone on to successful professional careers – UEFA Regions' Cup alumni include individuals who have gone on to become senior internationals and UEFA Champions League contenders.
"There are many players who have featured here and gone on to be signed by clubs of a higher standard," said Boyce, who has seen enough football in his time to judge talent. "The standard is very good in the tournaments I have seen. I know the preparation, for example, that the Eastern Region side put in before they came here: the number of matches they played and the number of training sessions they have had. The professionalism of sides here has been there for all to see."
Boyce himself has had a remarkable career in football since his playing career was ended at the age of 14 by a bout of pleurisy. He recalled: "That was very serious at the time and I was advised by doctors to stop playing, but I have been involved in football all my life – I was a ball boy at Cliftonville FC at seven years of age. Now I've been at UEFA for 17 years and it's a great honour for me and the Irish Football Association (IFA) for me to be here – and it's thanks to them that I am here."
And it is thanks to UEFA that once more these passionate amateur players have had an unforgettable ten days in Veneto. It may be the smallest of UEFA's competitions, but when it comes to football in its purest form, there is definitely romance in the UEFA Regions' Cup.