Blackburn Rovers Sports College took their place on the podium after a third place finish as England's representatives in the Urban Zone Football Tournament in Sofia this afternoon.
A sterling effort from all eight members of the squad saw Rovers return as medal winners from the Bulgarian capital in the five-a-side football element of a multi-sport and cultural festival that brought together youth groups from 15 European countries as part of the EU's Erasmus programme.
The Sports College side were invited to attend as guests of the European Football for Development Network (EFDN) - which has been of great benefit to Blackburn Rovers Community Trust in our first year of membership - and hopefully they will have been seen to have done the network and our country proud as the only western European team in the football competition.
Starting out on Tuesday with the round-robin action, Rovers made light work of their opposition in Group One, with convincing 13-2 and 9-1 victories against representative sides playing as 'Romania' and hosts 'Bulgaria' respectively.
That granted a safe passage into the second day's action and a semi-final against Eli Academy representing Slovakia; a specialist small-sided squad who play in Prešov's five-a-side TOP Liga.
Rovers were better value than the 2-2 half-time scoreline suggested, but struggled to come to terms with two referees alternating and sumultaneously undertaking the officiating, with contradictory application of the tournament rules throughout the half.
Having failed to overcome the unusual combination of circumstances that continued into the second half, Rovers succumbed to a 3-2 defeat and missed out on the final, but made up for the disappointment by defeating another Romanian representative side 4-2 in the third-place play-off in the pleasant and sun-kissed surroundings of the Borisova Gardens.
North Macedonia were crowned the event winners, with Goce Delcev University from Štip beating Eli Academy 4-1 to take the title. Though the football element is now over, the trip is far from done, with a packed calendar featuring events as diverse as arm wrestling, 3v3 basketball, yoga and karate on the schedule before their return to the UK on Friday.
Having also had plenty of opportunity to take in the attractive sights of Sofia and even a trip to a Bulgarian second division fixture to see Septemvri Sofia extend their 100% winning record against Hebar on the first day of the trip, it has been an enlightening and memorable visit to eastern Europe for all involved.
The Community Trust's media officer, Matt Sillitoe, who is with the squad in Bulgaria, explained: "All the lads have been a credit to the club in what has been a very interesting and unusual opportunity to head somewhere that most of the squad would never have imagined visiting.
"It's a very pleasant city to explore and the hosts have been helpful in guiding our way around the city. The players have been very patient with myself and Andy Eminson-Smith, their coach, as we get our head around the directions in Cyrillic!
"The event has been played in a great atmosphere and the quality of football we played was very enjoyable to watch.
"Though we didn't get to play against Goce Delcev University, they looked like worthy winners and were a very friendly team, despite neither of us being able to speak each other's language, so it was nice to pose for celebratory photos with them after their win.
"We're looking forward to a successful conclusion to the trip and hope that the lads get to enjoy some different experiences in the final day of events, thanks to the options like sport orienteering, Taekwon-do and parkour that we have the option of taking part in before the closing ceremony and awards tomorrow night.
"We'd like to say a big thank you to the EFDN for inviting us and we hope that there will be further opportunities for visits like this again in the future, because it's such an amazing life experience for all involved."
Further overseas trips are already being lined up for Blackburn Rovers Sports College students, with an option for up to 30 of the current cohort to visit Club La Santa in Lanzarote for a sports development visit, later in the academic year.
Current year 11 pupils who want to gain access to similar opportunities during the 2020/21 academic year are urged to come and take a look at the Sports College open night on Thursday 26th September from 6pm-8pm in their Darwen End classrooms to discover what the BTEC in Sports courses at levels one to three could mean for them.
Please call 01254 508131 or email email@example.com if you'd like to learn more... in both senses!