20th March 2019 v Army Vets - IS 2019
I woke up in the morning with not so much as butterflies in my stomach but a herd of rhino intent on pulling my internal organs to pieces and they were doing a grand job of it too. Welcome to an Inter Services matchday!! The season is almost over and all that has been done prior is really for the benefit of these next two games and I’m nervous, very nervous. Last season we did not do ourselves justice against a strong Army squad (they always are strong) and we lost quite heavily...6-3. We have improved, our players are stronger and there is a mentality within this family that we are winners...we now have to prove it.
We meet up in a hotel in Farnborough early morning and the staff, players and a few supporters mingle, relax and chat about old times but it’s soon onto the business part of the day and manager Matt Beattie sets the tone as he sets out the days timings. He then moves on to what today is all about (it’s just another game he said...yeahhh) but you just know, you can feel it, every one of the squad “get it!!” Craig Gill then takes the boys through the tactical aspects of the game but basically it’s just what we have done all year so more of the same. The team is named early and those unlucky not to start don’t moan, mope or show any outward sign of hurting. There is a togetherness in this squad and it is well known that any one of the players in the squad today could have started. We will win...or draw...or lose...together!!
And so, we set off for the ground where the lads change, warm up and it’s then onto game time.
Army kick off. Straight away the RAF press and win the ball to set up an attack but it’s brought to a halt with a free kick to the RAF. A good ball in but slightly over hit and it eludes everyone however it sets the tone. The RAF are quick to close down and are quick to break. Thomas gets in a shot but it’s wide of the left hand post. Watkins plays a lovely little back heel into Thomas who then tries a swerving shot but it’s well saved by the army keeper. A lovely move in the eighth minute by the RAF, after a good interception by Robison, saw a twenty pass move come to an end when the shot by Wanless was charged down but the RAF were bossing this and the army were struggling to put anything of note together though they did try a snap shot that was only narrowly wide. That said, a really good break by the army almost saw them take the lead in the fifteenth minute but a great save from Algar, in the RAF goal, kept the score level. Seddon then fed Wanless but his shot was brilliantly saved by the army keeper before, in the twenty second minute, the RAF were awarded a free kick. Taylor took it quickly and passed to Robison who then played it back to Taylor. Taylor then played the ball out wide to Wanless who cut in and played a perfect ball across the face of the goal and there was Seddon to smash it home from no more than a yard and it’s 1-0 RAF. Schofield was solid in the tackle in the midfield and time and again the army were being thwarted by his block tackles and it was from one of these that the RAF almost extended their lead. After the tackle he played a one two with Stewart before driving forward and then passing to Thomas. His initial shot was charged down and the ball fell to Watkins who was denied by yet another superb save from the army keeper. Right full back and skipper Taylor then tried to get in on the action and smashed a shot goalward. It was flying in but an arm deflected it over the bar and the referee gave a corner. The only problem with that...it wasn’t the keepers arm. No amount of appealing from the players or those of us on the line was going to change his mind and it was just a corner for what should have been a stonewall penalty. Where is VAR when you need it? The game then slowed a little as both sides took a breather and tried building from the back by keeping possession and probing. The RAF midfield duo of Bartley and Schofield were especially busy though snuffing out most of the army attempts at coming forward and the RAF defence of Taylor, McCormick, Robison and Stewart mopped up the rest. Algar, in goal, was doing his bit too and a superb save diving to his left that kept out the army header just proved it. This is an impressive display by the boys in blue but they really should have more goals. They almost did...twice before half time. Firstly, Seddon was unlucky when his toe poke toward goal hit a defenders shin and bounced back off the post before Thomas, after being the only one to react to a high hopeful ball, found himself one on one with the keeper but his shot was right at him. So the half time whistle went and it’s 1-0 RAF
What can you say at half time when the boys are doing everything you’ve asked of them, and more? Accentuate the positives, keep doing what we are doing and the goals will come. You’ve earned the right to be here and you are earning the right to win this game...forty five minutes of the same please.
The RAF kick off the second half and Zenko, on for Wanless, is straight into the action forcing yet another great save from the keeper with his shot after Thomas had powered through the middle before finding Zenko on his right. Watkins made his way across the field to take the corner and what a corner it was. You’ve obviously read my previous reports when I talk of his cultured left foot and the damage it can do...well obviously the army hadn’t. The inswinging corner was whipped in and was curling at head height. An army defender thought he could just head clear but he hadn’t taken account of the swing and the ball flew off the side of his head past a bemused home keeper and it’s 2-0 RAF. Eight minutes into the second half and it’s three. A salmon leap by McCormick to intercept a cross saw the RAF clear their lines before the ball was played out to the right from where Taylor played a long ball down the right hand side. Seddon gambled but was beaten to the ball by the army defender who headed the ball out for a throw. Seddon took it quickly, throwing it further down the line to Zenko who took a touch before pulling the ball back to the edge of the box to the inrushing Thomas. He smashed it left footed into the back of the net from 20 yards before the keeper had even moved. What a goal...3-0 RAF. Rooney came on for Stewart and the RAF kept coming forward. Zenko, Watkins, Seddon, Thomas all had chances before Schofield was unlucky with a header from another Watkins corner. He headed the ball down at the far post and it bounced up and was going in till an army head diverted it onto the post but still wasn’t clear and Watkins took a couple of touches before the ball was whipped in again. This time the army found a head to clear but at the expense of another corner. The army were living on borrowed time here and last ditched defending and superb goalkeeping were the difference between the 3-0 it was and a cricket score. Fair play to the army lads though, they never give up and you have have to be on your game because they will punish any lapses and once they think they are back in it they’ll go for the jugular. Luckily for the RAF, Algar was immense making another great save before another corner to the RAF in the sixty second minute saw Watkins whip it again this time, hard and low. It surprised the keeper and though he got his hands to it he spilled it right in front of Seddon. “Sniffer” (my new name for him as both his goals were from no more than a yard) doesn’t need asking twice and its 4-0 RAF. Taylor was replaced by Bryan and Thomas replaced by Tweedie. Another stonewall penalty was denied when a foul was committed two yards INSIDE the box, the lino gave a free kick outside the box and the referee agreed stating after the game that he gave it for the initial contact OUTSIDE the box. Everyone was agreed...what contact outside? Anyway, the RAF were still on top and the army were now looking at keeping the score down and were packing their penalty area though they did create the odd chance but couldn’t find the net. Watkins went down with no one around him and it looked serious. Payne and Morris, our therapists, raced to treat him but it was obvious he would be unable to continue. Although it was assumed he’d ruptured his achilles, Watkins refused to leave pitchside until the final whistle went. He came as part of this squad and would see the game through to the end. Fair play Jonny!! Alas, he didn’t see any more goals but Tweedie had chances as did some others but the final whistle went and the RAF had won 4-0. History had been written by the RAF Vets today and it was only the second or third time in SIX YEARS that the army vets had been beaten in any game but beaten they were. A superb performance by the boys in blue!!
After the game our celebrations were somewhat muted as Watkins was shipped off to hospital and it was later confirmed that he had a torn achilles and would need a scan to determine the extent of the damage. He did however manage to join us at the RAF SRT game that evening at Aldershot Town FC wearing his “pot” and surprisingly being in good spirits even though he must have been in some pain.
It’s on to the Navy game next week now at TNS and all that is asked is...more of the same please!!
RAF Squad: Algar, Taylor, Robison, McCormick, Stewart, Wanless, Schofield, Bartley, Watkins, Thomas, Seddon, Laurie, Rooney, Laing, Donnelly, Tweedie, Zenko, Macek, Shanks, Bryan, Pugh, Clarke, Stockport, Butt
Other RAF FA Vets representatives: Sir Chris Coville (President), Geoff Hancocks (Ambassador), Beattie (RTM), Pierre (Asst RTM), Salkeld (Coach), Gill (Coach), Wilkinson (Coach), Green (Coach), Milam (GK Coach), Dye (GK Coach), O’Sullivan (Match Liaison), Payne (Head Therapist), Morris (Therapist), Sheehan (Comms), Armour (Photo), Robertson (Kit), Sarah Taylor (Support), Harry the Horse (Mascot)
Danny Bartley went about his business as only he does, extremely efficiently, and even his move to right back when Taylor had to come off didn’t diminish from his game today and he deservedly won the RAF Man of the match
Harry the Horse has a new jockey, step into the saddle DAVE WANLESS. His crime?...Matt Beattie regularly writes up his notes and timings on the board so everyone knows where he is coming from. Part of these notes act as an aide memoir and he had written on the board something like this...RTM 10.30, Coach 10.45, Leave for ground 11.00 meaning at 10.30 the Rep Team Manager speaks, then the coaches speak then we leave...not as Dave thought...Ready To Move, board the coach and then leave...
Thanks to everyone who attended the game today, for the hospitality of the Army, to the officials and to those who attended from the RAF FA HQ prior to the LRT and SRT games (it’s most appreciated fellas).
UPDATE: following a scan, Jonny Watkins has a fully ruptured Achilles Tendon and has had an operation today, 22nd March, to fix it. All the family wish Jonny a speedy recovery. We’ll see you soon mate!!