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29th August 2021 v RWBTFC O50s at Royal Wootton Bassett. The Brian Johnson Memorial Shield

We are back!! Season 21/22 is upon us and we are back at our old friends Royal Wootton Bassett.

I look around the dressing room prior to the start of the game and memories come flooding back. I am a sprog again and I’m looking at some of the great and the good of RAF football from when I joined the mob. Players I played against, played with and, in general, looked up to and aspired to be like were sat together in the dressing room. This must be an important game to bring out the legends of the likes of Steve Thompson, Mark Browse, Al Pluckrose, Mark Smith, Lenny Brayshaw and so many more amongst the staff and supporters with Geordie Salkeld, Davie Dodds and Alan Hamilton to name just three. It was…an important game I mean…a celebration of the life of one of our own, Brian Johnson, who sadly passed away earlier in the year after a long fight against illness. The great and the good were here to pay tribute to Brian in front of his wife Di, sons Louis and JJ and other family members. A big game needed big players and they came out in droves. RIP Beej!!

The RAF kick off and with a “youthful” looking Darren Robison playing number 9 anything could happen. The first ten minutes were all RAF as they played a neat passing game and created numerous chances but could not convert. Robison, Thompson and Browse all had opportunities but shot high or wide. They do say your eyes deteriorate after 50 years of age and these guys were obviously struggling to find the goal!! An injury to Browse meant an early substitution with Armour replacing a clearly in pain player and the Vets family wish Browsey a speedy recovery from his ruptured achilles. After 15 minutes, Bassett finally got into the RAFs final third but to no avail as the intended cross cannoned off Wilkinson’s head out for a corner only for the lino to have his flagged raised anyway for an offside. The RAF continued to attack at will but just could not find the bag of the net with Warren Robinson going close with a header, Daz Robison bringing a great save out of the Bassett keeper and then Thompson, “I would put my house on him scoring in a one to one with the keeper”, went through in a one on one with the keeper. He dummied one way, then the other and then tried to chip the keeper. Alas, this was no ordinary goalie, this lad was having a stormer and he saved it pushing it around the post for a corner. Anyone for help the homeless…I know someone in need? Mark Smith was bossing the midfield area and was at the heart of a lot of the RAFs forward movement but the whole team were playing as a unit and all were playing their part in keeping Bassett at bay. The defence of Wilkinson, Robinson, Brayshaw and Stewart were on the top of their games and snuffed out all Bassetts attacking intent at the earliest opportunity time after time and seemed to belie their ages with a cultured performance of knowing where the ball was going and being there waiting for it. Thompson had to come off after a groin strain and Edwards replaced him but how this game was still goalless was not a mystery. The RAF were unlucky, wasteful at times and in Bassetts keeper, Stephens, up against another at the top of his game and as more chances came and went so too the half time whistle. HT RWBTFC 0-0 RAF

A number of changes took place at HT yet the second half started in much the same style but on 55 minutes everyone there was stunned when Bassett took the lead but what a goal it was. Bassett gained possession just inside the RAF half and the striker let fly a shot that sailed over the head of the RAF keeper. It must have been nearly 50 yards and despite being against the run of play…a goal to savour. Something I have noticed over the last couple of years with the Vets is that they don’t panic when behind and though the 50s is a new venture, that mentality prevails within this side also. No problem, we are playing well, let’s keep going, and go they did. They peppered the Bassett goal from all angles but again, Stephens in the Bassett goal was equal to all thrown at him until the 65th minute. A corner to the RAF was played short and the resultant cross wass whipped into the far post. Robinson and Coull both rose and BOOM…it’s 1-1 with a powerful header by Coull who got there first. Bassett by now however had got to grips with their game and were starting to put some pressure on the RAF defences but despite changes in personnel via substitutions the RAF stood strong. Russ Edwards had a chance when he should have scored but he dallied and the chance was lost. In the 80th minute however, the RAF got their just rewards. Another corner to the RAF saw the ball put toward the near post. Coull got a flick on and the ball landed at the left foot of Pluckrose who smashed it home. 2-1 RAF. Things got better five minutes later when a mix up in the Bassett defence saw the ball reach Smith. He played a lovely ball through to Coull who drew the keeper and smashed the ball past his despairing dive. 3-1 RAF and the scoreline now looked more like it should. Bassett were denied a late consolation by an offside flag but the game finished with the RAF well deserved winners and Mark Smith with a MoM performance for the RAF whilst Ceri Stephens, the Bassett keeper, deservedly taking the honours for the Bassett side.

RAF Squad:

Harris, Wilkinson, Robinson, Brayshaw, Stewart, Browse, Bryan, Smith, Pluckrose, Thompson, Robison, Stone, Butt, Macek, Edwards, Coull, Armour, Donnelly, Findler, Salkeld, Brown, Bailey, Gill.

Mark Bryan picked up the Brian Johnson Memorial Shield from Di Johnson in a presentation later that evening and it was fitting that this inaugural shield match went the way of the RAF…

I think Beej would have been happy with that!!

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