3rd-5th October - Aki 7s in Cyprus
Well, the dates were set but some of us decided to take advantage and set off earlier to partake in a little acclimatisation period, including a game of golf, at Aphrodite Hills. Villa was exceptional, weather was exceptional, the company was exceptional but my golf not so, bar two holes on which I got a birdie and a par. The other sixteen holes are best forgotten about...as I have...not...nightmare!!. I must add however, there is still some dispute as to the legalities of the “yellow ball” game that was played within the match as there was a little bit of gamesmanship taking place. I know we did but the other team insist they didn’t...hmmmm.
Anyways, we are here for the football and after all had arrived at Akrotiri, the advance party having arrived from the 5* accommodation of the Villa, we got our accommodation at the CRC on the base, a beautiful 1* hangar with beds. To be fair, it wasn’t as bad as we’d been led to believe and truth be known, we only needed somewhere to sleep each night as the days were spent playing football, at the beach or partaking in some energy drinks at the local gymnasiums (Aki Arms, The Swan, Ship Inn etc etc).
Day 1 and the Vets were drawn in Group B with Akrotiri A, Mercian B, Episkopi, Icarus, The Poachers (2 Anglian) and Odiham.
Game 1 v Mercian B - Starting Team: Algar, Robison, McCormick, Coull, Hodges, Clarke, M.Bartley
Highlights: Mercians score first after 5 minutes but just before half time, a 20 yard free kick from Michael Bartley finds the back of the net and it’s 1-1 HT. Good defending by the Vets is keeping the Mercians at bay before Rooney comes on for Clarke and Coull makes way for Greenwood. A couple of good saves by Algar in quick succession keeps the sides level before Greenwood slots home to make it 2-1 for the Vets. Hodges is replaced by Danny Bartley before the referee ends the game. WON 2-1
Game 2 v Icarus - Starting Team: Algar, Taylor, Greenwood, Dales, D.Bartley, Rooney, Laing
Highlights: A 25 yard strike in the first minute beats Algar and Icarus have a 1-0 lead. A corner to the Vets and Rooney’s cross finds Laing at the far post. He heads back across goal and there is D.Bartley to smash in the equaliser. 1-1 HT. Laing, Greenwood and Dales then make way for Hodges, Clarke and Arscott. The Vets have a couple of chances before D. Bartley is subbed by M.Bartley. It’s all Vets now but they cannot capitalise and chances are going high or wide before the final whistle goes. DRAW 1-1
Game 3 v Episkopi - Starting Team: Algar, Robison, McCormick, Arscott, Greenwood, Hodges, M.Bartley.
Highlights: A 25 strike from Greenwood into the bottom corner gives the vets a 1-0 lead. Hodges brought down for a penalty but M.Bartley’s kick is saved. Episkopi then get their only real chance and take it. 1-1. A great save by Algar kept the Vets level before the Vets went down the other end and a great turn and shot by M.Bartley saw the Vets increase their lead. 2-1 HT. Laing came on for Arscott and D.Bartley came on for Hodges. The Episkopi goalkeeper was then shown a second yellow for continually mouthing off at the referee and was sent off. He still didn’t shut up!! Coull on for M.Bartley and immediately gets into a 1v1 situation. Coull is cool and slots it home. WON 3-1
Day 1 Summary: A great start to the tournament in what is, on paper, the strongest group. Two wins and a draw sees the RAF Vets in second place, on goal difference, behind Aki A after the first days play.
Game 4 v Odiham - Starting Team: Algar, Taylor, Laing, Rooney, D.Bartley, Clarke, Coull
Highlights: Penalty to Odiham and no one knows why? 1-0 Odiham. Reciprocated when the Vets get a penalty of their own and D.Bartley slots it. 1-1 HT. D.Bartley, Rooney and Laing off and Arscott, Hodges and Greenwood on. The second half kicks off before Clarke and Coull are replaced by McCormick and M.Bartley. Another penalty to the Vets again not known why but again M.Bartley’s kick is saved. This time it was a brilliant save however. Taylor is replaced by Forster. M.Bartley made up for his earlier penalty miss when squeezing the ball in from a tight angle after some great one two play by the Vets. 2-1 and that’s how it stayed. WON 2-1
Game 5 v Akrotiri A - Starting Team: Algar, Taylor, Arscott, Hodges, Greenwood, McCormick, M.Bartley
Highlights: A close game with both sides creating chances. M.Bartley hitting the post was the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock before half time. 0-0 HT. D.Bartley came on for McCormick whilst Clarke replaced Greenwood. Aki A hit the post before, with almost the last kick of the match, a superb strike on the turn caught Algar off his line and the ball sailed over him and into the net. LOST 1-0
Game 6 v Poachers (2 Anglian) - Starting Team: Algar, Dales, McCormick, Rooney, Laing, D.Bartley, Coull
Highlights: A good save from the Poachers keeper from a Coull shot kept the scores level though the Vets were on top. Chances came and went but no breakthrough. 0-0 HT. Forster came on for Dales and Greenwood came on for Rooney. The second half was the same as the first and despite Hodges coming on for Coull and Arscott for D.Bartley the deadlock could not be broken. DRAW 0-0
Day 2 Summary: Despite their first loss in the competition, the Vets look strong and have, finishing third on goal difference behind Aki A and Mercian B, qualified for the Carter Cup Quarter Finals. Group B is by far the strongest of the two groups but it will now depend on how the draw for the knockout stages goes.
Game 7 v Coningsby - Quarter Final- Starting Team: Algar, Greenwood, Taylor, Hodges, Laing, D.Bartley, Coull
Highlights: Great work down the right saw the Vets attacking and the as the cross came in, the Coningsby keeper came to collect. Greenwood though got there first and nodded it over the advancing keeper. 1-0 Vets. Coningsby, who had finished second in Group A were never in this and it came as somewhat of a surprise that the the score stayed the same up to half time. 1-0 HT. Coull and Rooney were replaced by M.Bartley and McCormick. M.Bartley did well when being fouled constantly by a Coningsby defender and when he finally got away from him, the referee then blew for the free kick. It didn’t matter. From the free kick, from fully 25 yards, M.Bartley hit a superb shot into the top corner. No stopping that and it’s 2-0 to the Vets. Allan Dales, on the sideline, then came out with the comment of the tournament so far...”he can’t score from 12 yards but can from 25, maybe we need to move the penalty spot back for Michael and he might score one then”. We laughed!! We were over the moon minutes later when M.Bartley won the ball back out on the right and found Greenwood. Ben rounded the keeper and buried it 3-0 Vets. Greenwood was then replaced by Clarke followed by Laing and Hodges being replaced by Forster and Arscott. Laing finally made way for D.Bartley before the full time whistle went. WON 3-0
Game 8 v Akrotiri A - Semi Final- Starting Team: Algar, Laing, Taylor, D.Bartley, Greenwood, Hodges, M.Bartley
Highlights: A shot from Greenwood had the Aki keeper scrambling but he caught it second attempt just before it crossed the line. Yellow card for Laing after a foul in a 2v1 situation. Luckily the player was shaping to pass as, had he tried to go alone, it would have been 1v1 and could have been a red. D.Bartley then beat 4 players and was through on goal but the referee blew for half time before he could get a shot away with only the keeper to beat!! 0-0 HT. Rooney on for Hodges, McCormick on for D.Bartley. A good save from Algar and a couple of commanding defensive headers from Taylor at the back kept the Aki strikers away from goal before Laing was replaced by Arscott. Both sides had chances but no luck either way with both teams defending as if their lives depended on it. A breakaway from a Vets corner saw another 2v1 situation but McCormick read it well and managed to get back and block the shot. Superb defending. That’s the way it stayed, 0-0 FT.
Extra time. 3 minutes each way was the order of the day and off we went again. A great cross from M.Bartley found the head of McCormick but his downward header at the far post bounced on the rock hard ground, beat the keeper and sailed over the bar. Algar then pulled off a great save before Aki got the breakthrough. A throw in on the left was cycled across the pith to the right of the penalty are. A first time shot across goal found the bottom corner of the net past the despairing dive of Algar in the Vets goal. Taylor was then replaced by Clarke for the second half of extra time but the Vets could not get back the goal their efforts and endeavours warranted. Aki played some nice keep ball to see out the remaining time and once again they had beaten the Vets. LOST 1-0
Day 3 Summary: A brilliant quarter final result showed the gulf between Group A and Group B with 3 of the 4 semi finalists coming from Group B. The Vets were unlucky to be drawn against Akrotiri A but both the group game and the semi final were games worthy of the final itself. Almost all there said that that match up should have been the final and that was borne out when Akrotiri A trounced Mercian B 4-0 in the final later that day. Congratulations to the winners however, they deserved it and were the only side to beat the Vets over three days of tough competition. Macca took his missed header hard but that’s football. The game is full of what if’s and if we all had taken all our chances years ago we would all be retired Premier League players now. Every single one of the players gave everything, every game, and we will continue to win, lose or draw as a family with no one person shouldering any blame whatsoever. Head up sunshine, you had a brilliant tournament.
OVERALL: A superb effort and easily the best tournament yet with all the Veteran representatives doing themselves, the family and the RAF proud. Massive shout out to Matt Beattie for his tireless efforts in organisation and his management of the squad. To Darren Robison for sorting all the pre-tournament stuff for us early arrivals. To Gus Payne, who never ceases to amaze me when we come to Cyprus for this tournament, as he works endlessly to keep tired legs and bodies in working order. To Fozzie Forster for his warm ups and madness and to Adam Hodges who sorted the trooper after some of the lads couldn’t get back and for stepping in to take me and Dalesy back to Larnaca for our flights. To Ian Aitkenhead, Geoff Hancocks (Mr A), John Bartley and Micky Bartley for their unstinting support of the players and staff be that in transport, water supplies, ice creams and being general dogsbodies throughout. Thanks to Mick Clarke for sorting me out on the Saturday night and lift to Aphrodite Hills. Thanks also to Steve Innes who travelled from the USA to support the lads along with his dad, Bert. I’m sure I’ve missed someone out but I must end with a salute to Dave Arscott who gave up his seat on the trooper to allow someone else to travel so they could get home to see their kids. An Officer and a gentleman. It really is an honour to be part of this family.
Players: Stuart Algar, Anthony Laing, Darren Robison, Mark Rooney, Mick Clarke, Adam Hodges, Steve Forster, Danny Bartley, Michael Bartley, Scott Taylor, Ben Greenwood, Allan Dales, Dave Arscott, Dougie Coull, Paul McCormick
Management/Support Staff: Matt Beattie, Geoff Hancocks, Gus Payne, Jim Sheehan, Ian Aitkenhead, John Bartley, Micky Bartley