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24 Sep 2017 v England FA Vets St George’s Park

Here we are again at the heart of the English Football Association training facilities at St George’s Park and this time it is to take on the England FA Vets in what should be a very tough fixture. There are some new faces in the squad and many old friends from times gone by are in attendance to support the lads.

Following on from the game in Scotland, a totally different squad has been assembled for this game as holidays, work commitments etc takes its toll on availability. That said, no fewer than 22 players are available for selection and any one of them can do a job, if selected. The management and staff met at 10am for a brief meeting on taking the family forward and to update on where we are currently whilst those players that had arrived, prior to their 10.30am meet, took in the surroundings at this superb facility. Soon the dressing room is full and is filled with banter whilst Gus Payne, Craig Foster and PD Morris are busy massaging strapping and generally torturing tired old legs (and that’s BEFORE the game has even started), Matt Beattie and his coaching team of Geordie Salkeld and Craig Gill are putting together the starting eleven. With the starters selected, the words of the Manager and coaches still fresh in the minds, the players are taken out by Geordie and Craig for a warm up session. It’s good to have Gilly on board as his experience will be invaluable going forward and he certainly puts the lads through their paces as one commented, “I feel as if I’ve played half a game and we’ve only done a 10 minute warm up so far!” Then it’s on to the game.

Alan Wiley is the referee. A Premier League ref and known for his no nonsense approach to the game, this could be interesting as two of our own, Mark “Yorkie” Bryan and Bob “Trigger” Green are playing for England and neither will be in the mood to get turned over.

12:02 and the RAF kick off. Both sides are looking to keep possession and it is no surprise that there is little attacking intent during the first 5 minutes. The first chance however goes to England but a weak shot is calmly collected by Shaun Cooper in the RAF goal. It is noticeable that the England side are playing as a very compact unit, 3 specific lines but only 15 yards between them so the RAF are going to need to use their heads to break through and that is exactly what happens. There are just 6 minutes on the clock when some nice passing across the back four brings the England players forward in search of the ball. Danny Bartley picks up the ball in the space left in midfield and some nice interplay between him and Gaz Seddon sees Seds through on the edge of the box. He strikes the ball across the keeper and the ball is in off the post. 1-0 to the RAF.

The RAF seemed to have cracked the code now on how to unlock this England formation and Kenny Hemlin is unlucky when through as he sees his shot bounce off a defenders legs and clear. This is quickly followed by another Seds effort, following some great work down the left by Andy Martin, but the subsequent left foot shot is saved by the keeper. With 15 minutes gone some great work at the back again sees Phil Kelly and Andy Martin link up on the left hand side and after an interchange of passes PK plays a superb ball over the top to the onrushing Seds who, after beating the offside trap, pulls the ball back across the box but it’s inches away from the toe of Hemlin. The RAF are playing some good football and are creating chances but the England boys are leading a charmed life and their keeper is having a good game whilst lucky deflections, some poor finishing and, on occasion, the extra touch in the box are costing the RAF in terms of increasing the lead.

After 26 minutes, Captain for the day, Darren Robison, has to be subbed due to a calf problem with Gary Meadows taking his place but it does little to dampen the commitment of the RAF lads and they continue to search for the elusive second goal. England finally win a corner and it almost proved costly. The ball in was initially cleared but a high punt back in saw about 6 players all converging on the ball. Coops in goal came to claim but he was blocked by all the bodies and the ball landed at the feet of one of the England strikers. Just six yards out and with a now open goal he lashed the ball...wide!! Another good save from the England keeper sees the score remain at 1-0 and then in quick succession, the keeper nicks the ball off the toes of Seds and Kenny when both had dribbled into the box and were about to shoot. Mark Brown is having a good game in the RAF midfield dropping deep to pick up the ball and trying hard to get the lads moving forward with some intensity and a good ball from him to Martin sees the cross reach Seds whose shot is again saved by the keeper. If the England striker felt embarrassed by his miss earlier, Stevie Pugh should most definitely feel so about his. With the ball into the box and Stevie ghosting through the defence to reach it 2 feet from the goal he somehow managed to put it over the bar. We tittered on the sidelines and I did say I was going to right a page on it but I think he was embarrassed enough, so I’ll leave it at that...sorry Steve!! He did make up for it though with a brilliant run and cross into the box with Kenny Hemlin smacking it into the back of the net. Unfortunately, the linesman deemed Kenny offside and the goal was ruled out. We got the second goal though shortly after when some more good work down the left saw the cross from Bartley turned in by that man Seddon although Robo did try to claim it despite the fact he was standing next to me on the sideline!! There was just time for England to kick off before the ref blew for half time, 2-0 RAF.

This was a good half from the RAF lads and they were playing to instructions. “Keep the ball” is the mantra and with the endless giving it away in Scotland now firmly put to bed, the RAF were looking like a side capable of scoring at will. How that sentence came to haunt me however when the second half got under way.

England kicked off the second half and the ball is quickly won off them and Seds curls a shot...against the post!! Less than a minute later, Seds gets in another shot...against the post!! It wasn’t all one way traffic though. England had their chances. A breakdown in RAF possession (one of the very few times it happened) saw an England substitute hit a superb lob from about 35 yards over Coops only to see the ball bounce up, hit the underside of the bar and bounce back into the safety of the keepers hands. Unlucky England.

With 52 minutes on the clock Geordie’s missus, Yvonne, was substituted from the dugout after feeling unwell. Geordie had to leave taking her to the local hospital after Gus and PD, our medics, had taken a look at her. Geordie has since let us know that Vonny is good and it was a ligament problem the cause of which, and the pain, almost caused her to faint. It’s not only us old fellows who struggle with ligaments!! The family wish Vonny a speedy recovery.

Back to the game, Seds scores again but he’s offside so no hatrick. He’s getting lots of chances but can’t seem to get that third. We are contemplating on the sidelines as to whether he thinks he has to get a round in for everyone if he scores that elusive third goal but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt...he just hasn’t got his shooting boots on the right feet!! A great ball in to the box from Mickey Clarke sees Seds take the ball down superbly and with a deft back heel he totally bemuses the keeper who, whilst rooted to the spot, sees the ball....bounce back off the post!! What’s happening here? The post is FOUR INCHES wide, the goal net EIGHT YARDS and we keep hitting the little bit...marksmanship or what!!

Would these misses come back to haunt us? It was on the cards in the 73rd minute after some good build up work by the England midfield and, after the ball found its way out to the left, the player cut inside and placed a lovely shot across Coops and into the far corner. 2-1 RAF. Both sides now seemed content on keeping possession though the England players were looking a lot more dangerous now than at any other time during the game. Gaff Elliott almost restored the two goal lead in the 78th minute with a snap shot but the keeper, once again, saved well. In the 89th minute, Seds got another opportunity and guess what?...he hit the post!! Full time and the RAF have won the game 2-1. Well deserved though it could have, and should have, been a lot more. There were so many good points to take from this game and so many players to whom the Man of the Match could have been awarded. Gaz Seddon for his 2 goals and his effort...no...close but he hit the post and just missed out. Andy Martin for some great work in midfield...no. Browner for his tireless resolve in driving forward the RAF...no. MoM went to Phil Kelly for a superb display of a full back attacking and supporting his midfield and forwards and a resolute defensive display that kept the England team at bay. The England MoM went to their goalkeeper who, in addition to Seds finishing, was instrumental in keeping the score down. A great result to take forward toward the next fixture in London in October.

Starting XI. Cooper, Robison (C), Robinson, Lamont, Kelly, Pugh, Bartley, Brown, Martin, Seddon, Hemlin

Subs. Laurie, Stewart, Meadows, Dales, Kutcha, Clarke, Hollis, Shanks, Knox, Elliott, Foster

Thanks to everyone who turned up again, a great little crowd, to Sir Chris Colville for turning out and presenting the after match trophies, to Geoff Hancocks in his role as Ambassador for the family and to Matt, Geordie and Gilly for their sterling efforts in the organisation of the event and with the team. A massive thanks to Tony Reeves, Dave Peel, Jonah Jones and Alison Reeves for manning the RAFBF stall all day and raising almost £1,000 in the process. I’m sure Tony will update with exact amounts but, 2 games in, we are well on target to reach our goal of £10,000 for the season. Superb effort by all and apologies if I haven’t mentioned you by name, “We are are all part of the family”.

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