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Army Vets v RAF FA Vets at Aldershot Garrison Stadium 15 Mar 2017

I woke up on Monday morning with a knot in my stomach...it was this week, the start of the Inter Services and boy...was I looking forward to it!! I travelled to London on the Tuesday to stay at a mates before being picked up to be taken to Aldershot on the Wednesday morning. Now I was sweating. The Inter Services Competition always got me going and it was 30 plus years since I was involved in any capacity. We all met up at 10am at the Holiday Inn in Farnborough, a chance to stretch the legs after long journeys, to chew over the fat, to sort the admin and then to relax before the start of the Inter Services 2017. It was also Bob Green’s birthday and we all had cake!!

After the preamble, the business matters kicked in...the Vets side would be playing the Army Vets at 1300 hrs on a 4G pitch next to the Garrison Stadium. Manager Matt Beattie left the assembled in no doubt what it meant to be here, today, to be able to play in this fixture and he and Geordie Salkeld split the lads into groups, taking them outside to talk through their responsibilities, if selected. Sir Chris Colville, the Vets President, then spoke eloquently to those gathered of his pride in being involved with such a select group of serving and ex serving members of the RAF FA family. He was up for this as much as we were. We left the hotel and travelled to the ground, a 10 minute or so drive, in convoy arriving about a half hour before kick off. Army take note; we can play at mind games too!!

The RAF to kick off.

What a save!! Just 3 minutes on the clock and Russ Edwards curls in a beauty that is flying into the corner till the Army keeper sticks out a hand and pulls off a worldy save. Great start by the RAF and unlucky not to be in front. A couple of minutes later, the Army win a free kick just outside the box following a cleared corner but it is fired harmlessly over the RAF bar. Both sides seem to settle very early and good football is being played by both sides. After 15 minutes, Neil Thomas gets in a shot but it’s narrowly wide. Following an Army corner, the RAF break but alas, the linesman decides there is an offside and the break comes to nothing. Most of the goalmouth action is happening in the Army box as they are struggling to break down a resolute RAF side who are defending from the front and closing down quickly. Another goalmouth scramble and birthday boy Bob Green is there but somehow the Army manage to scramble it away for another RAF corner. Darren Robison is unfortunate in picking up an injury and John Irvine replaces him at right back but it does little to dampen the RAF spirit. After 35 minutes the Army win a free kick for a blatant dive but the kick hits the wall and is cleared. No damage done. The Army then make 2 substitutions in the 39th minute, obviously to try and get back into this game. They were playing some nice football but so too were the RAF and the fluid changes between 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-3-3 were causing the Army lads some problems. Just on half time however, the RAF were dealt another blow when goalkeeper Phil Harris was challenged late resulting in a free kick but also in Phil having to be replaced at half time due to damage to his ribs. HT 0-0

The second half saw Andy Laurie come on for Harris in goal, Freddy Fredrickson on for Russ Edwards and Glyn Stockport come on for Steve Pugh. With rolling subs allowed, it was good to be able to introduce fresh legs. Gary Meadows was next to be subbed after 50 minutes. Gary had amazed everyone with his determination to get fit for this fixture and had run himself into the ground before being replaced by Mark Rooney. The RAF continued to come forward but after an attack broke down the Army quickly moved the ball to the left before a great diagonal ball, left to right, caught the RAF narrow and as Laurie came out to challenge the on rushing midfielder, the ball seemed to bounce off both and despite defenders getting back, the ball bobbled over the line. 1-0 to the Army. The RAF almost responded immediately when first, Mick Clarke went close and then a Fredrickson header went just wide. Mark Smith, who had come on for skipper Scott Taylor, then drove into the box but a good tackle and the ball was cleared. Thomas then fired wide but the RAF were creating enough chances. Surely one was going to be taken. A couple more substitutions then when John Irvine went off for Tim Steele and Danny Bartley was replaced by Richie Evans after 69 minutes. Was this a master stroke by Beattie because within a minute, things were level. A great move down the RAF left saw Rooney cross in a delightful ball and Evans was on the end of it with a right foot strike to bury the ball in the back of the Army net. It was his first touch and what a touch it was. 1-1

It seems as if it’s all RAF now but this Army side are excellent on the break and are still playing some really good football. Concentration is key now as the game opens up and the RAF lads need to dig in. The Army go close a couple of times on the break but they just can’t break down the doggedness of this RAF side. In the 87th minute, the RAF are denied a stonewall penalty when Fredrickson goes down after an arm in the face. A fact that was missed by the referee and his assistants but not by the baying RAF lads on the sidelines. That said, the officials had had a pretty good game and the final three minutes were played as was the rest of the game...end to end. Full Time 1-1.

A superb game of football. All credit to both sets of players but being as biased as I am, I have to give special credit to the RAF as they stuck to the task from minute one, followed the gaffers orders to the letter and following last years dismal effort scored a massive morale boosting victory albeit they go away with just one point. This game was a massive move forward by the RAF Vets and is testament to the hard work put in by the Management on the organisational side and by the players themselves on the pitch. Those that were not selected accepted the decision to a man, not one word of regret from anyone but a desire to be in the team next time. It was brilliant for me to be involved and to witness the passion that was on show once again but the Army v RAF games are like that. So too the Navy games...bring it on in two weeks, we can still win this!!!

Starting XI:

1. Phil Harris 2. Darren Robison 3. Gary Meadows 4. Scott Taylor (Capt) 5. Bob Green 6. Mick Clark 7. Paul McCormick 8. Danny Bartley 9. Russ Edwards 10. Neil Thomas 11. Steve Pugh

Rest of the squad:

Manager Matt Beattie, Coach Geordie Salkeld, Jim Sheehan, Gus Payne, Andy Gibson, Andy Laurie, Tim Steele, Jon Shanks, Gary Gay, Kev Fenner, Glyn Stockport, Richie Evans, Dougie Coull, John Irvine, Mark Rooney, Paul Stones, Sully O’Sullivan, Mark Smith, David Barker, Freddie Fredrickson, Allan Dales, Jon Letch, Deryck Stewart, Ambassador Geoff Hancocks and President Sir Chris Colville.

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