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27-29 September 2019 - International Over 55s Tournament, Cardiff

So here we are in a rainy Cardiff at the Leckwith Stadium for the first of 3 games in 3 days for our players. The depths of the memories have been delved into to get this squad together and the depths of their memories have been delved as to whether they could remember how to play. After a quick introduction as to who was who, Craig Gill stepped up to name the starting line up for this game against the Wales FA with all the players there getting changed anyway as it was expected that changes (many changes) would be made.

And so it starts. An early diagonal ball by Findler almost found Thompson and then seconds later, Ballysingh just failed to get on the end of another cross into the box. Good work by Elliott winning the ball back then saw a 7 or 8 pass move between Elliott, Mallinson, Wilkinson and Pierre then saw Wilkinsons cross intercepted and held well by the keeper with Ballysingh and Elliott waiting just behind. This was a great start to the first ever over 55s game for the RAF but unfortunately, it was not to last. Wales started to pick up and in the 10th minute only a superb defensive header by Butt, at the expense of a corner, kept the scores level. The RAF lads were giving their all here but the welsh kept coming but couldn’t find the net. In the 18th minute they got in a great shot narrowly wide and in the 23rd Piddington in the RAF goal was called into the first action of note for himself with a fine save down to his right. In between this, the RAF did create chances of their own but the final ball or finish was lacking. In the 26th minute, Wales broke the deadlock when a long ball upfield and then a lob over the advancing defence saw the winger cross first time and the striker finished with a first time shot across Piddington. 1-0 Wales. Within a couple of minutes it was two when Piddington, who was marshalling his defence really well, made a mistake in rolling the ball underarm out to the Wales striker who didn’t need asking twice to smash it into an empty net. 2-0 Wales. The lads in Blue were working really hard here and it was no surprise when groins, hamstrings and calf muscles started to have their say (thankfully rolling subs were allowed and the touchline was beginning to resemble a scene from casualty with Payne seemingly wearing a flashing blue light as he sprinted on and off the pitch to treat the fallen). It stayed 2-0 till the half time whistle but the once large RAF squad was decimated. Wales took advantage in the second half as their players, who play on a weekly basis in an Over 55s league, ramped up the intensity. Soon it was three, four, five, six before the RAF effort in the face of overwhelming odds was rewarded. a sublime piece of work by Salkeld in midfield saw him pass forward, the Wales defender under pressure from Donnelly who chased the ball made a mistake and a toe from Donnelly diverted the ball into the path of Vaughn who smashed it into the back of the net. 6-1 and a well deserved goal for the RAF. Wales made it seven late on and the final score 7-1 Wales may look a beating but the passion and effort shown by the RAF lads who, as stated earlier, had only met an hour before kick off was outstanding. Onto Day 2 but would we have any players left?

Day 2 and the matches moved to Barry Town United City Villa Palace (only the first three are correct but artistic licence is a wonderful thing and I couldn’t understand the Town United bit anyways). Saturday and we would be up against Northern Ireland FA, a strong side who train and play twice a week and half our squad is injured. Those who could walk were selected and the RAF kick off with Neil Thomas in the hot seat as “gaffer”. The first attempt on goal was a powerful header by Pierre that narrowly missed the far post and it surely would have been the best own goal by a long way but as it was, it was one of the best “defensive headers” seen to date and its just a corner!! NI were bossing the game and to be fair, missed some sitters but the rolling substitutions of the RAF looked to be working as players went down they were being replaced by those standing up and the score remained 0-0 at half time. With Payne already having used more bandages than in “The Mummy” series of films (I think there were 4 films in the series), the RAF took to the field for the second half. Immediately NI scored (note to Gus...don’t put bandages around the eyes, players can’t see!!). Soon it was two then three as the injury list of the RAF continued to rise. Piddington, the one goalkeeper the RAF had and who was injured the day before, finally succumbed to his injury and Gill took over the gloves. Despite his best efforts, NI scored twice more before he gave up the ghost and handed the gloves to Mallinson who miraculously, conceded none and the game finished 5-0 Northern Ireland.

Onto Day 3 and we would be up against England FA. At this point (artistic licence again here), I would like to you to remember that last year was the RAF centenary and next year is the RAF FA centenary. During those 100 years one thing stands out...”The Battle of Britain”. This was our “Battle of Britain” against the Wales FA, Northern Ireland FA and England FA and in the spirit of the competition and an amazing show of heart, the RAF were adamant they would not go down without a fight. Reservists were called up (underage players Leon Duke and Ronnie Barker were cleared to play and the Wales FA “lent” us 3 players) and a new squad(ron) was formed!! Into battle we went. Unfortunately, the RAF lost the toss and three more hamstrings went changing ends as England searched to take advantage of anything they could. The RAF kick off and its noticeable from the start that old habits die hard. Remember being younger and being told to pass the ball in front of your colleague as he runs onto it? Well the lads did that but alas, no one could run anymore and though the mind is willing, the legs aren’t so the ball was given away quite a lot. Thomas started in goal although he looked like a sweeper most of the time as he stood about 10 yards outside of the box. It seemed to work though as each time the ball was played through, he was there with a tackle or clearance and he was keeping the England boys at bay. The heart being shown by the RAF however was simply amazing. Ballysingh had a shot saved before Vaughn brought another great save from the keeper but in the 38th minute, a speculative shot from an England player put England ahead. Everyone thought the ball was going over, there was even a shout of “it’s gone” from onfield before the ball dipped wickedly just under the bar. 1-0 England. This spurred the RAF boys to even greater heights as they, somehow, started to win the battle. Salkeld smashed one against the bar before Elliott followed it up with a header that the keeper did brilliantly to keep out. The half time whistle went and the RAF boys (old and young plus three welsh lads were asked to keep doing what they were doing. Gus Payne, who had been abused as he treated 3 injuries in the dugout whilst the 11 injured on the field were left to their own devices (heartless Mally...heartless lol), then declared himself “gaffer” as Gill, Thomas, Wilkinson and Duke were all on the pitch. England beat the offside trap and the striker is through 1 on 1 v Thomas...Thomas wins, great stop. And then...a free kick out on the right sees the ball crossed in and land at the feet of one of our Welsh allies...he smashed it into the net. 1-1 and the crowd erupted!!! Salkeld then produced a piece of magic in the box and laid it on a plate for another of our Welsh allies who steered wide of an empty net from six yards. Another underage player, Armour, then came on. He had two shots (the non alcoholic ones) before he too became another casualty and was replaced by one of the earlier casualties who had been treated, IN THE DUGOUT, by Payne who, on the final whistle with a well earned draw, offered me twenty quid to write on this report that he was the only “unbeaten gaffer” this season. There you go mate...twenty quids worth!!

This whole competition was amazing. The lads bonded immediately and the talk was we’ll do it again but we’ll prepare for the next one. Despite the injuries, despite the pain, they actually WANT to do it again...fair play, I was knackered watching. New friends were made, old acquaintances renewed and all in all a successful first Over 55s meet for the RAF.

Thanks to all involved, especially the ladies who supported us through thick and thin...Vonny Salkeld, Kathy Butt, Leanne Findler, Alison Kerr and Rachel Wilkinson but the biggest thanks must go to the players and staff...

Neil Thomas, Leon Duke, Jim Sheehan, Gus Payne, Darrell Kerr, Sandy Armour, Ronnie Barker, Ian McDonald, Andy McCullough, Craig Gill, David Salkeld, Elvis Ballysingh, Gaff Elliott, Jim Donnelly, Mark Bryan, Mark Mallinson, Martin Piddington, Mike Sheehan, Martin Wilkinson, Micky Butt, Paul Sharp, Ronnie Jones, Rudy Pierre, Steve Findler, Steve Harrison, Steve Robertson, Patch Swindle, Paul Vaughn and Ian Thompson.

Special mentions to Micky Butt who played every minute of every game and to “Geordie” Salkeld, the oldest player in the tourament at a near 69 years of age!!

Per Ardua ad Astra or in english...A little more training and we’ll win it next year!!

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