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Eight travel companies battled it out – and raised £20,000 for charity – in the inaugural MSC Cup, hosted by Chelsea FC at the club’s famous Stamford Bridge stadium in London.

A team from MSC Cruises, one of Chelsea’s sponsors, played against Attraction Tickets Direct, Cruise 118,,, The Travel Network Group, Thomas Cook and co-organisers Travel Weekly in the seven-a-side tournament.

Players were welcomed in the club’s press room and had a behind-the-scenes tour of the changing room, before making their way down the tunnel and onto the pitch.

Two groups of four battled it out to reach the quarter-finals, before the semis and final last Wednesday.

In a nod to MSC Cruises’ Italian heritage, Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola, who scored 59 goals in 229 games, and former goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who played 141 times for the club, made guest appearances.

The two Italians took photos with participants and coached the teams in the final, while Zola even found time for a game of keepie-uppie with Team Travel Weekly.

MSC Cruises UK and Ireland managing director Antonio Paradiso said: “It was an honour to host the first-ever MSC Cup in support of Reuben’s Retreat. The travel industry is dynamic, fast-paced and growing at an impressive rate, but more importantly than that, our industry is one that cares, and the support for this event is testament to that.

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“I’d like to thank our partners Chelsea FC for hosting us and of course Travel Weekly for getting behind this event. I’d also like to thank all of our UK agents and business partners for helping us to raise money for this amazing charity.”

Stuart Parish, managing director of Travel Weekly Group, said: “The MSC Cup was a great event to be involved with and a huge part of our goal to raise £50,000 for five charities during Travel Weekly’s 50th year.

“All the teams played with passion and it was a great experience to have played on the same pitch as the likes of Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante.

“Reuben’s Retreat is a wonderful cause, which we are always really proud to support, and it has a special place in the hearts of the travel industry in the UK.”

The money raised at the MSC Cup will be used to transform the ‘west wing’ in Reuben’s Retreat’s Derbyshire home. Phase 4, 5 & 6 renovations began in March to create physically therapeutic spaces for life-limited children and their siblings. The funds raised from the Cup will help to create welcome, fun and engaging interiors throughout the hydrotherapy pool suite and multi-functional sensory, movie, play and chill zones.

Founder Nicola Graham, who met MSC Cruises’ Antonio Paradiso at a Thomas Cook Children’s Charity dinner last year, said: “The travel industry is in the heart of our family and Reuben’s legacy, and without their support we wouldn’t be where we are today. The MSC Cup was an amazing experience and we’re so grateful to all who organised and took part in the day. Helping families with uncertain futures to make magical memories is at the core of Reuben’s Retreat and nothing makes us happier than seeing the generous hearts that support us make memories as they help us on our journey.”

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Final match report

Thomas Cook 0 – 1 The Travel Network Group

Chelsea legends Gianfranco Zola and Carlo Cudicini gave stirring team talks to the two finalists ahead of the showdown for the first-ever MSC Cup trophy.

Thomas Cook, led by ex-playmaker Zola, and The Travel Network Group, instructed by former goalkeeper Cudicini, geared up for the big match on the famous Stamford Bridge turf. Both had won their groups, setting up a hotly-contested final with both teams as yet unbeaten.

It was end-to-end stuff from the off, with The Travel Network Group edging the early exchanges as their team looked after the ball well, building play from the back and creating space in dangerous areas. Their good start paid off, with top scorer Christian Green, of Thames Travel, heading home to put the consortium 1-0 up.

The final was a battle from there on in, with Thomas Cook’s team asserting themselves on the game more and more as the tie went on, and the consortium seeking to defend their lead. As Cudicini yelled ‘bravo’ from the sidelines, keeper Adam Mehmet – The Travel Network Group account manager for Barclays, who had not let in one goal in the tournament – pulled off some fine saves as the Sunny Hearts piled on the pressure. The resilient Networkers limited Cook to shots from range as they struggled to break down the consortium’s stingy defence despite the battling efforts of eventual male player of the tournament Adam Emery.

Corner after corner flew in, but it wasn’t to be for Cook. The Travel Network Group chief executive Gary Lewis reported “nervous excitement” on the bench ahead of the final whistle, but his team held on to win the coveted trophy and be the first to have its name etched on to the MSC Cup.

MoreDonate to Reuben’s Retreat via Virgin Giving

See our gallery from the eventsee our social wall from the event