the ex-blade on top of the world

Steve Charles with the trophy
Steve Charles with the trophy
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Like most young, budding footballers, Steve Charles grew up in Sheffield dreaming of one day pulling on an England shirt and lifting the World Cup.

And earlier this month, the former Sheffield United star’s ambition was finally realised - at the ripe old age of 54!

Boyhood Blade Steve, who made 156 appearances for United after turning down the offer of a professional contract with Sheffield Wednesday, was a member of the England squad which lifted the Seniors World Cup trophy in Thailand, after victory over Scotland in the final.

And the old England heads - boasting over 2,500 career appearances between them - broke with tradition, too, by winning the tournament after a penalty shoot-out.

Steve was joined in Thailand by former Doncaster Rovers and Rotherham United star Dean Barrick and ex-Rovers goalkeeper Barry Richardson, as well as the likes of ex-Arsenal stopper Danny O’Shea and Gareth Ainsworth - well known to United fans, after his challenge ended the career of Bramall Lane favourite Dane Whitehouse back in 1997.

“The competition is organised to promote health and wellbeing amongst the ‘ageing population’, and to promote tourism in Thailand,” Steve, who accepted a football scholarship at Columbia University before returning to play for United, told The Star.

“But it also gives us the chance to pull on our boots once again.

“I think England have entered a team for the last seven tournaments, and I’ve been for the last four so it’s great to finally win the thing - particularly as I was one of the oldest in the squad.

“We had some good, young legs this year with the likes of Gareth, who keeps himself fit and is still a good player.

“He was popular everywhere we went, too, because of his hair - I think people thought he was a rock star!”

To qualify to play in the tournament, which also featured Iran, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia, Siam, the USA and the Scots, players must be over 38, and each side must have four players aged between 44 and 50, and three over-50s, on the pitch at any time.

“That certainly made it interesting with substitutions and the like,” Steve remembers.

“Not only did we have to think of positions, but ages as well. We were a bit cute this year, resting the likes of Gareth and a few older ones against the weaker sides, and it worked well.”

England progressed from their group comfortably, to set up a semi-final clash with Iran - who had won the tournament for the last three years.

“They were the team to beat,” Charles admitted.

“Every year the standard has got better - there was a strong side from Australia, and I think Iran had some players who had played in the actual World Cup, which was daunting. But they ran out of legs, and we managed to win 2-1 and go through to the final against Scotland.”

Including a friendly game to get used to the 35-degree heat in Thailand, the England squad played six games in eight days - and their final against Scotland went the distance, before a nerve-wracking 5-3 victory on penalties.

“It was competitive, as you would imagine a final against Scotland to be,” Charles smiled.

“And the Thai refs weren’t the best, so we were kicking lumps out of each other!

“But it was nice to win a World Cup, in World Cup year... unfortunately it’s not looking like much of an omen for the England team in Brazil, but I’m really happy to have won it at the fourth time of asking.

“With the amount of training needed, I don’t know how many more I have left in me!”