Ben comes out on Topp!

A BALLYMENA boy has shown that he holds all the cards after being crowned Northern Ireland Champion of a football game.

Ten-year-old Ben Gilmore won the local heat of the Topps Match Attax competition, held in Belfast at the start of April.

Ben will now travel to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on April 29 to compete against the best players from across Europe, the final of which will be held at half time during the Blues’ home game against QPR.

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The Gilmores were in Belfast on April 1 for the Topps Swap and Play Roadshow at a Toy Superstore to allow Ben to get the few cards he was missing from his collection.

After some gentle persuasion, Ben agreed to enter the competition despite only collecting the cards and never actually playing the game.

His dad Alister said: “It (Topps) was all new to me and I figured that Ben would have a good go but having never played it before, would struggle to beat the other children, many of whom I could tell had played the game before, including at previous championships.”

As with a normal football match you pick 11 players in a standard football formation, three substitutes, a manager and a referee. You place them face down on the playing surface as your opponent does the same with his team.

Their opponent chooses which of his cards will go against that card without either knowing who the other has picked. If the defending/attacking player’s ratings are higher than the opponent’s attacking/defending player then a point is won.

Alister added: “He won what was the quarter-final relatively comfortably then, as fate would have it, met the same boy who he narrowly defeated earlier in the competition in the semi-final.

“Players were allowed to re-enter if they wanted and clearly this boy meant business. But once again, Ben prevailed by the narrowest of margins and left his opponent disappointed.

“So he was now in the final. Well, family pride was now more than satisfied but were nervous as the final approached. Ben however, seemed to take it all in his stride and wasn’t thinking about World Finals but the special ‘Trophy Card’ the winner received.”

Three exciting minutes later, a narrow 6-5 win was secured and Ben was Northern Ireland Champion.

“That was when the nature of what he’d done sunk in. If Ben gets to the final itself, it is held in the centre circle at half time in the match!” Alister added: “We really couldn’t believe it, even now, Ben will stop and say, ‘I really can’t believe I did that’.”