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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
Only the cream for Milk Cup
Real Madrid star David Beckham
David Beckham won the Milk Cup with Manchester United
On the eve of the Milk Cup, BBC Sport NI's Alvin McCaig has fond memories of the year he graced the pitches of the north coast.

Beckham, Rooney, Cole...and McCaig. Yes, the Milk Cup role of honour reads like a who's who of international football.

Or in the case of McCaig - just who?

The youth tournament was only in its third year when I took off for a summer adventure with the Antrim Town U14 team in 1985.

A magical week started as soon as we arrived at our homely seafront B&B in Portrush.

The opening parade past applauding locals on the streets of Coleraine induced delusions of grandeur, but that was topped by hearing your name booming from the tannoy as the teams were announced before the opening game in Castlerock.

We played five games in three days, finishing second bottom in a less than illustrious group comprising Shamrock Boys, Craigavon United, San Francisco United and Donegal Schools.

We conceded seven against eventual winners Craigavon and made our exit with a 10-0 humiliation at the hands of Crewe Alexandra in the Plate competition.

The days were numbered for teams like Antrim Town and their committed but limited players (like me).

By 1992 the only Antrim taking part was the county team.

The Milk Cup is now a truly global concern and only the cream of young footballers take the stage.

Just two teams from outside the UK and Republic of Ireland ventured over for the inaugural tournament, but this year there will be over 20.

The reach of the Milk Cup is astonishing with literally all four corners of the world (USA, New Zealand, Chile and Russia) coming together for the 2006 competition from Monday through to the finals next Friday.

The tournament has retained its winning formula - its unique appeal with the public.

Grant Cameron

Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich top the bill while Northern Ireland can expect fervent support in the U19 Elite Section involving national sides.

It has become a major media event and this year's Premier and Elite finals will be live on BBC2.

The roll-call of superstars who have graced the tournament includes Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Joe Cole, and no doubt one or two gems of the future will be on show next week.

Coleraine-based journalist Grant Cameron has been there since the start and has chronicled the rise and rise of the Milk Cup.

"It was all very much an experiment in 1983 with eight Northern Ireland based teams and an equal number of visitors," said Grant.

"Big names have come and gone, players have developed and become household names but the tournament has retained its winning formula - its unique appeal with the public.

"Administration and accommodation have both been stretched but over the years the organising committee has always managed to surmount the problems."

The Milk Cup has always been a work in progress - an U14 section was added in 1985 and seven years later Northern Ireland county teams were introduced to strengthen the local challenge.

The Elite section brought national teams into the fray in 1995 and the tournament has also expanded geographically with the Ballymena Showgrounds now hosting games.

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney played for Everton in the Milk Cup

"It is the Milk Cup's ability to adapt and change without losing its traditional formula that has ensured its continuing success," added Grant.

"The pro-active nature of driving forces such as committee chairman Victor Leonard cannot be overlooked.

"The need to be fresh and vibrant in the ideas department as well as solid and sensible when it comes to the challenges of administration, transport and ironing out the myriad of problems which crop up before, during and after the week-long event is a constant demand on time and resources.

"But the men and women in the background simply roll up their sleeves and do what has to be done."

I have a habit, according to my work colleagues, of declaring that I once played in the Milk Cup - of mentioning the names Rooney, Beckham, Cole and McCaig in the same sentence.

With the tournament growing in prestige each year, I think it could be a hard habit to kick.

SEE ALSO
Wales U19 set for Milk Cup action
10 Jul 06 |  Internationals


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