Fans dressed in red gathered at Milan Bergamo Airport, hoping to get a glimpse of their victorious heroes on the way back to Manchester. Their team had just won a European title, evoking memories of Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo doing the same.
Only the devotees weren’t there to greet a team exuding the world’s biggest stars, instead they were waiting for the uncontested Manchester United, who in June won the inauguration. Phoenix Cup European competition for semi-professional and amateur clubs.
In doing so, FC United – a breakaway club from Manchester United fans in 2005 and currently in the seventh tier of English football – has earned a special status.
“We were the only English club to win a European Cup last season, so I’ll accept that,” laughs Reds manager Neil Reynolds.
“Bringing the trophy home via the airport and having my kids see us win, it was unbelievable. We can say we won a European Cup and no one can take it from us.
“Our fans have seen it happen with Manchester United, and now they’ve seen it with FC United.”
The idea of the Fenix Cup was first brought up in late 2020 by Alessandro Aleotti, the head of Italian non-league side Brera FC.
Allotti founded Brera FC in 2000 with the aim of becoming Milan’s third football club. He saw European competition as a perfect step toward that goal, so with the help of his son Leo, Brera’s general manager, he set out to create one.
The name Fenix is an acronym that represents the tournament’s core values: friendly; European. creative unprofessional; and xenial, derived from the ancient Greek word xenos, which refers to a generous attitude toward strangers.
The Aleottis simply didn’t want any old clubs to become a member of Fenix, and they began looking for non-professional outfits from across the continent to match their criteria.
While there were certain logistical and competitive factors to consider – such as proximity to a major airport and ensuring teams play between the sixth and eighth tiers in their respective countries – Liu says they want to “find exceptional and creative clubs at some level who have given a vision for non-professional football”.
For arrivals in the past year, this has meant clubs with a rich past but tough times, or clubs with a clear social or community purpose, such as being fan-owned like FC United.
Among the competitions were two-time Belgian champion KSK Beveren, who lost to Barcelona in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals 1978-1979, DWS Amsterdam, who won the Eredivisie title in 1964 and Count Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard as a youth team. graduates.
Brera also has his own connection to history thanks to their home, Arena Civica. The stadium was first opened in 1807, making it the oldest stadium in continental Europe, and was the former headquarters of both Milan’s big clubs before they moved to the San Siro.
At the other end of the scale is the Prague Raptors, a team based in the Czech capital that prides itself on providing an all-inclusive environment.
“We weren’t in the first division of the clubs Breira spoke to and we think we were the last to come close to him,” said Prague Raptors boss Das Moss, who founded the club in 2017 with the whims of five years: old son Lucas.
“We were chosen because we did a project a few months ago with AKS Zly, a Polish team that was in the championship last year, to get more girls into football, because we want to break down barriers and support diversity.
“It was great for us. It brought to light all the things we try to do. It really helps in terms of people noticing us and even just t-shirt sales, we’ve seen a rise in countries that we’ve been involved in.”
Last year’s tournament saw two groups of four players play each other at home and away, with the winners from each division coming together for the final in Rimini, Italy, in June. The other six teams also attended to play matches based on their group standings to determine the final standings.
And while FC United triumphed in the final with a 2-0 victory over the Prague Raptors to lift the trophy, it was the human stories and moments created by the competition that stood out for the founders of Fenix.
“It was amazing and everyone was so excited,” says Liu. “We had a very diverse lineup of players coming from all over the world and with every kind of experience, from UPS drivers to college students.
“For some players playing in another country it was amazing. For some it was a once in a lifetime experience and I remember one person I saw from Gambia who almost cried when he got on a plane to play in Poland.
“It was his first time on a plane, so gaining that experience because he was playing in the Fenix Cup is the best competition show you can do.”
For the FC United winners, this was a chance to grab a special piece of the trophy and give their fans, some of whom used to travel across Europe for Champions League nights with Manchester United, a chance to relive those memories in their new team. Star.
Fitting in extra matches and traveling in an already crowded schedule outside the league have come with challenges for part-time Reds players, but few have been complaining.
Playing in Milan on Wednesday evening, we took off on Wednesday morning to fly, played the game and flew again on Thursday afternoon. We got home on Thursday night, the boys had to go to work on Friday and we were flying three hours to play Morpeth away on Saturday.
“It makes me laugh when I hear these Premier League managers grumble about European matches and the league.
“It’s full and there is no time to rest, especially for those boys who are engineers or electricians, and they don’t take advantage of a massage or a pool to help recover between matches, but they will never forget the experience. No matter how difficult and demanding it is, we will not change it for the world.”
The second edition of the Fenix Cup is about to kick off, and its size has already grown, with nine clubs now participating in the first stage of three groups before this summer’s final tournament.
FC United’s defense kicks off against KSK Beveren on November 15, with Spanish side Cuenca Mestallistes completing their group.
Leo Alliotti of Brera is happy with the progress the competition has made so far, but has ambitions to grow even more in the future if budgets allow.
“There are three new teams and two new countries coming in this year, but there’s plenty of room for growth and improvement,” he says.
“This current format is great and as long as we keep the numbers for 12, 15 or 18 teams, we can implement the three-team group format, although at some point we will need to move to another type of format – perhaps the knockout stage – that enables us to Get a much wider network.
“A big part of the choice is the financial capacity of the clubs, and it is difficult for those from the less affluent regions of Europe to finance themselves in four or maybe six matches every year.
“There has to be a financial incentive for those who move to the next stage to be able to afford the additional games, which is a setup I see for the future, although I don’t know how far that future will be. It’s the goal we have to aim for because it’s the way to cover More land.
Despite the purity of the competition in the Fenix Trophy Championship, finances are key to truly taking the tournament off on a much larger scale. So did Leo have any potential sponsors in mind?
“Because the tournament is self-funded, we depend on low-cost airlines, so maybe Ryanair should be our sponsor at some point,” he jokes. “We have a lot of pictures of teams standing in front of the planes, and they definitely have to look at them.”
Get a donor on board and the sky will truly be the limit for the Fenix Cup.