Aldershot Town this afternoon confirmed the Academy squad which will make history at the Aaha! Rara Gold Cup in Nepal in February.
The 16-man squad, which will be managed by Kevin Knights and coached by Marc Wardley, will enter the 12-team tournament at the Quarter-Finals stage, and thus become the first ever European team to enter the Gold Cup. Organised by the renowned Sahara Academy, and facilitated by Navin Gurung, the founder of its sister charity Sahara UK, The Shots will play at the Pokhara Rangasala Stadium (pictured), which hosts all matches including the Final on Saturday 14 February.
The 2014 Final was officially attended by 16,000 fans, but unofficial estimates place the crowd at over 20,000.
The squad includes Nawal Gurung, Captain of the Sahara UK team which plays in Division One of the Aldershot and District Sunday League, who, as Sports Therapist at Fulham FC, will also act as physiotherapist and translator. A former Tottenham Hotspur Academy member, Nawal has had trials for the Nepalese national team and played in the Gold Cup. Sahara UK have themselves competed in the Aaha Gold Cup four times.
Nawal, along with Pokhara-born Raygon Gurung, brings vital experience and local knowledge to the squad, as he illustrated in Monday night’s meeting with the squad and their parents. His memories of previous tournaments, where players are treated like Premier League stars with the levels of public and media interest, illustrated both the opportunity afforded to The Shots and the pressure they will be under from the moment they land at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport.
After a behind-closed-doors friendly against the Kathmandu Police, the squad will make the six-hour coach trip to their Pokhara base. Another warm-up match, against the Sahara Academy side, will precede the Quarter-Final tie which is scheduled for Tuesday 10 February. Victory would set-up a semi-final on Thursday 12 February, with the Final following two days later.
The stay will also feature an official visit to the Sahara Academy and another Pokhara school, as part of the cultural exchange with Sahara UK. Whilst there, Aldershot Town will donate kit and equipment to local children.
The Shots’ participation in the Gold Cup is partly funded by sponsorship and parental contributions.
The squad is: Ashley Baylis (17 years-old, striker), Jordan Devanney (17, centre-back), Josh Francis (18, winger), Nawal Gurung (29, central-midfield), Raygon Gurung (striker), Ben Hutchings (23, centre-back), Sam Hutchings (18, central-midfield), Will Jawor (18, centre-back), Jamel Johnson (17, central-midfield), Brandon Lewington (17, winger), Dan Mellors (18, striker), Taku Mukono (17, striker), Adam Norton (17, goalkeeper), Harrison Shade (18, centre-back), James Stallon (17, goalkeeper), Jay Welch (17, centre-back)