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21st March 2018 v Navy. Inter Services

A week had passed since the disappointment of Lilleshall against the Army and no doubt, players and staff would have had many conversations about what went wrong that day. The problem is, with everyone involved living in different parts of the country, and abroad, these conversations would have stayed local between mates or have been the odd phone call. So on meeting up at Portsmouth there was an opportunity for all to have their say within the group. There were many reasons. The management listened, the players listened and then the past was put to bed. There was a game to be played today and that is what we would now concentrate on.

Next up was the Royal Navy at their place, HMS Temeraire, Burnaby Road and the game would be on the 3G pitch. The Navy are similar to ourselves in their make up as they too have some serving and some ex serving players in their ranks. They are not a bad side either. Those who think that there was nothing to play for in this game sadly underestimate the power of the Inter Services competition. This is RAF v RN and in addition to pride at stake, there was the obligatory bragging rights!!

There were a couple of changes to the starting XI as a couple of players were unable to make this fixture but still, a strong squad of players had arrived for the game. As is usual, those starting were asked to give 100% for as long as they could and with rolling subs allowed, it was not going to be a problem making changes. The starting XI was put up on the board, the players changed and they went out to warm up with Coach Geordie Salkeld and the injured Daz Robison and Scott Taylor taking proceedings. Robison it transpires, had been given the nod as reserve keeper but...more about that later. The starting XI were: 1. Stones, 2. Barker, 3. Stewart, 4 Bartley, 5. Robinson, 6. Hodges, 7. Pugh, 8. Shanks, 9. Fredricksen, 10. Stockport, 11. Rooney. Substitutes were: Butt, Turner, Lamont, Edwards, Wanless, Coull, Broad.

The kick off is 12.45 but there is to be a minutes silence following the news of the RAF engineer sadly killed in the Red Arrows accident the previous day. Impeccably followed.

The Navy kick off and there is a bit of scrambling in the midfield before the first chance, if you could call it that, fell to the Navy when a speculative long range lob fell harmlessly wide. In the third minute, the RAF got their first chance when some good work by Shanks saw him play in Stewart but his shot went narrowly wide of the far post. The RAF were pushing on playing a high line and it almost paid off when the high press resulted in an RAF throw. The ball found Pugh who crossed for Shanks who volleyed the ball, but just wide again. Some more good work by Pugh and Hodges down the right saw the ball come into Stockport in a central position but alas, the air shot was on show, as Stocky completely missed his kick and the Navy clear. It’s not all one way traffic though as the Navy are creating chances of their own and a free header should have been better but it went high and wide. A free kick to the RAF sees another chance as Rooney’s cross finds the head of Stockport but his header is too high. Goal kick. Both sides are struggling to put headers on target as both sets of players seem to be getting under the ball and heading high and wide and chances come and go for both sides. Twenty two minutes in, the Navy get a series of corners as Robinson, who is commanding in the area, keeps clearing for another Navy corner. After 5 or six consecutive corners the Navy try something different and curl one in under the cross bar. Stones tips over for yet another corner. Another different attempt but this time the player kicks it straight out for an RAF goal kick. Pressure relieved for now but the Navy come again and the centre forward is through. As Stones comes out from his goal the number 9 tries the lob and succeeds in putting it 20 yards over the bar. A poor miss. The RAF then created a couple of good chances with Hodges and Stockport both denied by defenders legs. With 36 minutes on the clock, Robinson had to be replaced by Lamont through injury whilst the Navy took advantage of the break to make their fourth substitution of the game so far. This was to be a pattern of the Navy side today, constantly changing the side. If it was done to upset the rhythm of the game or the RAF marking and style of play...it wasn’t working. In the 42nd minute a good break by Rooney saw him cross to the far side where Pugh was waiting. We all thought he should have hit it but he didn’t. Instead he pulled the ball back onto his left foot and crossed back across the box to where Stockport was and he drilled the ball right footed into the net to break the deadlock. 1-0 RAF and that’s how it stayed till half time.

Substitutions at half time, Edwards on for Shanks who had run himself into the ground in that first half, and Wanless came on for Stockport, the goalscorer.

The second half kicks off and what a start for the RAF. with the ball bouncing about in midfield, Edwards nips in front of a Navy player and with one of his “twinkle toes” pirouette turns he totally outsmarts him and plays the ball out left to Rooney. His cross is met superbly by Fredricksen and his header flies over the keeper and into the net. 2-0 RAF and what a start to the half. Six minutes into the half, the Navy get a corner but a towering header from Lamont sees the ball cleared upfield. Pugh then makes way for Turner whilst the Navy make their one hundred and twenty third substitution of the day (an exaggeration I know but that’s what it seemed like). A great break by Barker should have resulted in a corner as it was headed out but incredibly, the referee gave a goal kick and the attack came to nothing. That said, the officials today were much better than last weeks and this was the only decision that had anyone questioning it. Another “turn” by Edwards sees him cross for Barker to get in a header but the keeper saves easily. This would be Barker’s last action, 15 minutes in to the half, as he then made way for Coull. The Navy then created a good chance as the forward got a free run onto the incoming cross but again, he headed over. The game was much tighter now and the big gaps that were there in the first half had closed but the Navy were coming more and more into the game again. A result of the constant substitutions? Who knows but they certainly seemed a lot fresher than the RAF boys now. Stewart was substituted by Butt after 69 minutes but the RAF lads still kept plugging away. Wanless was winning everything in the air up front and the Navy were kept constantly on their toes as his flicks threatened to unlock their defences. For a big man, he is quick too and was unluckily too quick at times and was pulled for offside when bearing down on goal.

The first card of the game went to the Navy after a late challenge through the back of Bartley saw him having to receive treatment from Gus Payne. It was yellow and Bartley was fit to continue. In the 80th minute, good work up front between Fredricksen and Wanless saw the latter through on goal but whilst his shot beat the keeper it also beat the post and hit the side netting. Despite this, the Navy were starting to look the stronger side but strong defensive work from the RAF and some poor attacking decision making were costing them. However, that was about to change. A poor ball in midfield was cut out and the Navy raced forward. Stones came out and half blocked the shot but as it fell free, the Navy forward steered the ball around the keeper and two defenders and into the back of the net. 2-1 RAF and memories of last years fixture at Cosford came flooding back when the RAF let a two goal lead slip in the space of three minutes before finally running out winners. Surely we can’t do it again and to make matters worse, the Ladies Rep team had been 2-0 up last night in their fixture before drawing 2-2. The Navy came again but good defending by Lamont saw the ball out for a corner that was cleared. Approaching the last minute of the game, the Navy were undoubtedly on top now and only a good save by Stones kept the score as was. Unfortunately, Stones injured his knee whilst making the save and looked to be in some trouble and as Payne attended to him, the gloves came off and the shirt was ripped off him as we didn’t want too much time being added. Where was Robison? his chance had come. Robo alas, had chosen just then to visit the toilet. Scott Taylor ran across and took the gloves and jersey just as Robo was exiting the gents. The look of shock, horror and disappointment was etched on Robo’s face for all to see. Just like good comedy, it’s all about timing...and we laughed and laughed. The Navy took the corner but it was cleared again at the expense of another. This one came in and Taylor pounced on it at the near post to thwart the Navy. The ball was then cleared upfield and the final whistle went. 2-1 to the RAF and job done. Sir Chris made Scotty his MoM as he had kept a clean sheet, we laughed again. Laughing was now coming easier, it tends to when you’ve won and the beer would taste much nicer tonight too!!

So what did we learn from this game? We learnt only that which we basically already knew. We are a good side, we can compete and as wounded as we were after last week, if a job has to be done, then it will be done. The players deserve massive credit for their commitment and effort and it is a credit to them that the Vets team are the only RAF representative side to have won a game in this years competition despite this being a season of expectation given the results in build up games by all the sides.

We also learnt that there are TWO Ibis hotels in Portsmouth. One has the word “Budget” as a suffix and therein lies a notification as to what to expect. Bunk beds, no iron, no kettle etc etc. Some of us were lucky as we booked into the other one just 200 yards from Burnaby Road and with our own bar!! We also learnt that Woz Robinson doesn’t take kindly to his missus kicking him out of bed at 6.30am on matchday to go and get a cup of tea (guess which hotel he was in) and Scotty will not be letting Russ Edwards book his hotel anymore...if you weren’t there then you need to ask...comedy gold!!

The beers DID taste nicer too and we laughed the night away.

RAF representatives: Sir Chris Coville, Geoff Hancocks, Neil Jones, Matt Beattie, Rudy Pierre, Geordie Salkeld, Scott Taylor, Daz Robison, Jim Sheehan, Gus Payne, John Bones, Paul Stones, Ronnie Barker, Del Stewart, Danny Bartley, Woz Robinson, Adam Hodges, Stevie Pugh, Jon Shanks, Freddie Fredricksen, Glyn Stockport, Mark Rooney, Mickey Butt, Stu Turner, Stu Lamont, Russ Edwards, Dave Wanless, Dougie Coull.

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