25-28 August v Highland League Select
9.30 Friday Morning and three of us set off by car. Myself, Russ and his good lady Barb have quite a journey ahead of us but it’s the first game of the season and myself and Russ are buzzing. Some are driving, some took the aeroplane route and some just had to walk around the corner but we would all get there somehow. I think Dougie Coull took on the longest task, driving from London and outdoing the Proclaimers by nearly 200 miles on his round trip!! (Matt did come from abroad but he flew so timewise it was a doddle).
We arrived at Lossiemouth about 6.30pm and after sorting out our rooms we went to the mess bar where, the masses were gathering. Old faces, wearied by ageing years, lit up as past friendships were reignited, “pull up a sandbag” stories were retold and new friendships were forged. And we had a few drinks as well!!
Saturday morning and it’s an early start as those players that had already arrived set off for the astroturf pitch at RAF Lossiemouth for a training session. Daz McLean, on exiting his car and running to the entrance gate as he was late, doubled over and, hands on knees, muttered whilst gasping for air “please tell me the game is off”. It would seem we will have to make close season training mandatory!! A good session was had and it was off to shower, change and get ready for the highlight of the Saturday afternoon, a trip to Mosset Park, home of Forres Mechanics to watch their Highland League game against Cove Rangers, courtesy of the Forres Chairman. Forres lost the game 2-0 to the side top of the league but the better team won on the day so no complaints there. Alec “Sammy” Leonce had arranged for us to enjoy dinner at the Ramnee Hotel on the Saturday evening so, after the game, we all trooped off to the Mosset Park pub for a couple of pre-meal drinks before setting off for the hotel about 6.30ish. The hotel is situated almost in the centre of the town with stunning views all around and the food was excellent. The staff and service was impeccable and I’m sure I can speak for everyone in thanking Sammy, and all those at the hotel, for a great evening. The rest of the night was free to do whatever so most travelled back to the mess for a nightcap before heading off to our beds for the big game Sunday.
Matchday had arrived. Staff met at Mosset Park for 10.30 whilst the players were given a lie in and they had to arrive for 10.45!! With the team sheet up, Matt and Geordie let the players know what they wanted to see in the game, gave instructions as to how we would set up (4-5-1) was the strategy of choice and generally got the boys “up for the game” before they took the lads out onto the pitch for a warm up. Alison Reeves and Fi Aitkenhead set up the RAFBF kiosk, as that is our charity to support this year, and everything was ready to go as a steady stream of people came to watch the game. After a few more encouraging words in the dressing room, it was time to go out to play.
Highland League kick off. The first couple of minutes play was sloppy and a free kick to the HL 20 yards out and slightly left of centre gave them the first chance of the game. It went 20 yards wide!! Another break down the left saw the cross cleared but it was hammered back from 30 yards, over the bar. After 7 minutes, a wasted pass by the RAF saw the HL come forward again but a long punt forward looked safe enough until Macca McCormick headed the ball back into the path of the onrushing HL players and the number 11 just smashed it from 35 yards into the roof of the net. Scotty did his best in goal but there was no stopping that, what a goal!! 1-0 to the Highland League. The RAF did their best to come back straight away with Garry Tweedie heading over, Russ Edwards firing just over before the HL keeper made a great save from a Dougie Coull shot. The RAF boys however were giving the ball away too easily and it was no surprise when another break created an opportunity for the HL but a last ditch tackle by Macca saved any blushes. 20 minutes gone and the HL get a corner. The ball is crossed in and the big centre half outmuscles the RAF defenders and heads past Scotty. Highland League 2-0 RAF. After 25 minutes, a good break down the left by the RAF and a great pass into Dougie Coull who, although being tackled by 2 players manages to get a shot away and it’s in the back of the net. 2-1 to the HL. 35 minutes on the clock and Mick Clark has to come off and makes way for Woody and almost immediately there is some controversy as Scott Taylor has the ball in his hands only for it to be kicked out of them by a HL forward. The ball bounces out to another HL player who buries it in the net and to everyones surprise...even the HL players...the goal is given. No one is happy at that decision I can tell you!! 3-1 HL. Sammy Leonce is replaced by Laingy after 40 minutes after a tireless performance chasing balls that 20 odd years ago he would have got to but, as the lone striker in the formation, it was just a bit too much today. Just before the half time whistle it’s 4-1 when the RAF defence is caught flat and a ball over the top finds the number 9. As he bears down on goal and Scotty comes to close the angle, he squares for a team mate to calmly slot home into an empty net. It’s Highland League 4-1 RAF at half time.
After a few words in the dressing room at halftime, a change of tactics to 4-4-2 and with the words “keep the ball” still ringing out, the RAF kick off and promptly give the ball away...too many times it’s happening today and that is costing us dearly against a very fit and skilful side. Some of the HL players are still on contracts at clubs or have only finished playing within the last 12 months. It shows. That said, just a couple of minutes later along ball out of defence finds the head of Laingy, who flicks on. Tweeds had taken the gamble and now finds himself one on one with the keeper. He keeps his cool and slots into the far corner. 4-2. The game now is pass and move with both sides giving the ball away far too easily and tiredness from both sides is beginning to show. Coull makes way for Hodge to return after 62 minutes. Two minutes later it’s 5-2 when a shot is partially blocked but it falls to another player and is promptly smashed into the back of the net. 5-2 HL. Daz McLean makes way for Jon Letch after 67 minutes but then, after changing his shorts and shirt, returns to come on as a sub for the opposition...the traitor!! A good back heel from Russ Edwards sees Tweeds through but he pulls a shot wide and then a good save from the HL keeper results in an RAF corner. It’s cleared. In the 83rd minute and for the 83rd time in history, Geordie Salkeld comes out of retirement and takes to the field to replace Tweeds up front. Within a minute, a corner to the RAF. The ball is swung in and who’s there? Geordie Salkeld...and he heads wide. It was easier to hit the net, no one can believe he missed it but to be fair, the ball just seemed to hit him as opposed to him making a header on goal. Still 5-2 and that’s the way it stayed till the final whistle.
Once again, as is the norm with these games, a lot was learnt and that can, and will, be taken forward as the season progresses. Congratulations to the Highland League Vets and in particular Charlie Rowley and Charlie Brown for their help and assistance in arranging this fixture. A massive thanks also to the Chairman of Forres Mechanics for allowing to use their facilities, a great day was had by all.
It was a brilliant turn out for what was indeed a long trip for most and thanks for all taking the time and effort to attend. Special thanks must go to the Station Commander at Lossiemouth, Gp Capt Godfrey, for allowing us to stay at and use the facilities at the camp. To Ian Aitkenhead at Lossiemouth, as our “Far North Representative” for all his efforts in ensuring that all attendees had a great time whilst there and his organisational skills and finally to Tony Reeves and his team of ladies, Alison Reeves, Fi Aitkenhead, Yvonne Salkeld, Barb Edwards, Sarah Brown and Jane Ellis who not only did themselves proud but also the RAF and the RAF Benevolent Fund, raising £920 towards our target. Not a bad weekend at all.