The Fenix ​​Trophy: A new chance for European glory for semi-professional clubs and amateurs

FC United of Manchester celebrate winning the Fenix ​​Trophy
FC United beat Raptors Prague 2-0 in Rimini to win the inaugural Fenix ​​Trophy in June

Red-clad fans gathered at Milan Bergamo Airport to watch their victorious heroes return to Manchester. Their team had just won the European trophy, bringing back memories of Sir Bobby Charlton, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo doing the same.

Only the congregation wasn’t there to greet a side with the world’s biggest stars, they were waiting for Manchester United FC, who won the opening match in June. Phoenix Trophyexternal link – European competition for semi-professional and amateur clubs.

In doing so, FC United – a runaway club founded by dissident Manchester United fans in 2005 and currently in the seventh tier of English football – achieved a unique status.

“We were the only English club to win the European trophy last season, so I’ll take that,” laughs Reds boss Neil Reynolds.

“Bringing the trophy home from the airport and seeing my kids win it was amazing. We can say we’ve won a European trophy and nobody can take that away from us.

“Our fans have seen that with Manchester United, now they’ve seen it with FC United.”

The idea of ​​the Fenix ​​Trophy was raised at the end of 2020 by Alessandro Aleotti, the president of the Italian Brera FC team.

Aleotti founded Brera in 2000 with the intention of becoming Milan’s third football club. He saw that the European competition was the perfect step towards this goal, and therefore he set out to create one with the help of his son Leo, the CEO of Brera.

The name Fenix ​​is ​​an acronym that represents the tournament’s core values: friendly; European; unprofessional; innovative; and xenial, which comes from the ancient Greek word xenos, denoting an attitude of hospitality towards strangers.

The Aleutians didn’t want any of the old clubs to become members of the Fenix, and began looking around the continent for non-professional outfits that fit their criteria.

Although there were a number of logistical and competitive factors to consider – such as the proximity of a major airport and ensuring teams played between the sixth and eighth tiers in their nations – Leo says they “wanted to find clubs that were exceptional on one level, iconic on another level”. . gave visibility to non-professional football”.

For last year’s participants, this means clubs with a storied past but have fallen on hard times, or have a clear social or community purpose, such as fan ownership like FC United.

Competitions included two-time Belgian champions KSK Beveren, who lost to Barcelona in the 1978-79 Copa del Rey semi-final, and DWS Amsterdam, who won the Eredivisie title in 1964 and counted on Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard as a youth team. former students

Brera also has its own connection with history thanks to their home, the Arena Civica. The ground first opened in 1807, making it the oldest stadium in continental Europe, and was home to two of Milan’s biggest clubs before moving to the San Siro.

At the other end of the scale are the Prague Raptors, a side based in the Czech capital that prides itself on providing an inclusive environment for all.

“We weren’t in the first batch of clubs that Brera was talking about and we think we were the last ones to approach,” says Daz Moss, the English president of the Prague Raptors, who founded the club in 2017 on his five-year whim. older son Lukas.

“We were selected a few months ago with the Polish team AKS Zly, the Polish team that was in last year’s tournament, because we did a project to include more girls in football, because we want to break barriers and because we are in favor of diversity.

“It was amazing for us. It highlights all the things we’re trying to do. It really helps in terms of people noticing us and also in terms of shirt sales, we’ve seen an uptick in our countries. to have been involved.”

Phoenix Trophy
Brera and FC United met at the Arena Civic in April 2022 – the English side won 3-1

Last year’s tournament saw two teams of four play each other at home and away, with the winners of each division meeting in the final in June in Rimini, Italy. The other six teams also attended to play matches according to their group classification, to decide the final classification.

And as FC United triumphed in the final beating Prague Raptors 2-0 to lift the trophy, it was the human stories and moments created by the rivalry that stood out for the Fenix ​​founders.

“It was great and everyone was really into it,” says Leo. “We had a very diverse lineup of players from all over the world and all kinds of experience, from UPS drivers to college students.

“For some players it was great to play in another country. For some it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I remember seeing a Gambian boy almost crying to get on a plane to play in Poland.

“It was his first time catching the plane, so getting that experience of playing in the Fenix ​​Trophy is the best projection of the competition you can do.”

For the victorious FC United, it was a chance to get their hands on a special piece of silverware and for their fans, some of whom used to travel around Europe on big Champions League nights with Manchester United, to relive those memories. appearance

Fitting extra games and travel into an already busy league schedule presented challenges for the Reds’ part-time players, but few were complaining.

Says Reynolds: “Playing Milan on Wednesday evening, we flew out on Wednesday morning, played the game and came back on Thursday evening. We got home on Thursday evening, the boys had to go to work on Friday and then travel three hours to play away to Morpeth on Saturday.

“It makes me laugh when I hear these Premier League managers complaining about European and League games.

“It’s packed and there’s no time to rest, especially for these guys who are engineers or electricians, and they don’t have the benefit of a massage or a pool to recover between games, but they’ll never forget the experience. As tough and demanding as it is, we wouldn’t change it for the world.’

The second edition of the Fenix ​​Trophy is about to begin, and it has already grown, with nine clubs taking part in the first stage of three groups ahead of this summer’s final tournament.

FC United’s defense will begin on November 15th against KSK Beveren, and they will take on Spanish side Cuenca Mestallistes.

Brera’s Leo Aleotti is happy with the competition’s progress so far, but plans to grow even more in the future if budgets allow.

“This year there will be three new teams and two new countries, but there is still a lot of room for growth and improvement,” he says.

“This current format is great and if we keep the numbers at 12, 15 or 18 teams, we can set up this three-team group format, although at some point we’ll have to jump to another format – maybe a knock-out stage – which allows us to cast a much wider net.

“A big part of the selection is the financial availability of the clubs and it is more difficult to finance playing four or maybe six games every year for those in the less developed regions of Europe.

“There must be an economic incentive for those who pass to the next stage to be able to pay for additional games and it is a configuration that I see for the future, although they do not know how far that future is. We should achieve the goal, because it is the way to cover much more territory.”

Despite the pure competition of the Fenix ​​Trophy, finances are the key to growing the tournament on a much larger scale. So does Leo have a potential sponsor in mind?

“Because it’s a self-funded tournament, we’re counting on low-cost airlines, so maybe Ryanair should be our sponsor at some point,” he jokes. “We have lots of pictures of groups posing in front of planes, they should definitely consider it.”

Get a benefactor on board and the sky’s the limit for the Phoenix Trophy.