A FORMER Sunderland AFC footballer doubled the gate when he turned out for a Wearside Sunday league team this morning.
More than 60 spectators watched Julio Arca play his first game for the Willow Pond in the Sunderland Sunday League division two.
Arca played in central midfield for the game against Hylton Road Carpets at the Hylton Road playing fields.
A well-contested match saw Willow Pond come back from 2-1 down to draw 2-2.
Typical Sunday league long ball tactics meant Arca didn’t see much of the ball, but when he did there was evidence of the cultured left foot which made him a crowd favourite at SAFC from 2000 until 2004.
“I enjoyed it,” said the 33-year-old Argentinian, who left Middlebrough FC and retired from professional football last year.
“It will take me a little while to get into it,” he added. “The lads will also need a little time to get used to the way I play.
“You need a mixture of types of players in any team, and that is what we have at Willow Pond.”
Arca is no stranger to his new team mates off the pitch, having been friendly with some of them for a few years.
He is happily settled in Ashbrooke with his wife Valeria, and sons Mateo, two, and Franco, who was born two months ago.
Arca’s professional career was cut short by a toe injury, and he now plays for fun and fitness.
“My routine changed a great deal when I stopped playing,” he said. “Playing football professionally is not something you forget in one day.
“I miss it, the lads at Willow Pond asked me a couple of years ago if I would play for them when I retired.
“Playing is great for me, it gets me out of the house and I always feel better when I am fitter.
“I also enjoy a couple of drinks with the lads after the match.”
Arca intends to play every week for the Willow Pond.
“I will be available as often as I can,” he said. “The injury is arthritis in my left big toe, and I know it will hurt for a few days after a game.
“It also means I can’t train as much as I would like, but I intend to play as often as I can.”
Team mate and friend Andy Smith said Arca is fitting in well.
“Anyone who knows Julio will tell you he’s a top man,” said Andy. “So for us, he’s just one of the lads.
“The rest of the team are made up to think Julio is playing in their side, it’s a dream come true for a lot of us.
“Total Sports in the town are doing a number 33 Willow Pond shirt for him.”
Willow Pond manager Ronald Bulmer is pleased with his new player’s first performance.
“It was a good game,” he said. “There is a lot of long ball in Sunday football which meant Julio didn’t see as much of the ball as we would have liked.
“But we hope to get the long ball out of our game and build the team around Julio in central midfield.
“He is a great guy and fits in the team a treat both on and off the pitch.”