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11th Dec 21 - RAFVefts O50'S v Wales FA O55's - Neil Davies Memorial Cup

I have been selected as the new Ghost Writer, now that James has been promoted to Editor-in-Chief, be assured that this has been checked 17 times by the Editor before I have been allowed to go to print.

Saturday the 11th Dec saw players young and old, travel from all parts of the globe to play in the final fixtures of 2021, with the 1st game being against our good friends the Welsh Over 55’s.

The Gaffer(s) (aka Matty & Gilly) ensured with the early morning pep talk, welcoming new faces to the RAF Vets family, that we all knew what lay ahead, putting the foundations in place for both fixtures. Gilly then boosted moral by spending 27 mins with his borrowed!!! Tic Tac board and only 17 mins on the warm up, though the 17 mins would still prove too much for some (Sandy).

Before the fixture was to commence we were honoured that we could introduce former RAFFA Chairman Air Cdre Keith Minton and Allan Hamilton to both squads. Gilly again had to select a starting 11 from this squad, with new and old players, with some having to play out of position, though you would not have known this.

The game started with the Welsh boys being in control of the first 15 to 20 minutes, clear to see that this group play together on a regular basis. Pleasingly, though they had the majority of possession, the shape and unity of the RAF boys was not breached, with Stonesy having little to do. As we got to know each other, our strengths and weaknesses, we started to knit together some decent passages of play, causing the Welsh defence to worry, with Freddie regularly certainly stretching the back line. Then we had a major setback, with just 22 minutes on the clock, Sandy was seen to be rolling around in agony, for once it was not a sniper in the rafters, but a legitimate injury. This was such a shame, as he and Marco were proving to be a reliable and solid centre back pairing. Gilly swiftly tweaked the team, bringing Robo on at Right Back and moving Kev to partner Marco (more about Kev to come).

The game levelled out with both sides having decent periods of possession, we just needed to be a little more patient with ours. When we showed patience, we then started to see the best of our front 5, Steve and Nessy stretching them on the flanks, Rory supporting from the middle, Freddie not giving the defence a minute, and Russ starting to pull the strings. Finding himself in little pockets of space, allowing him time to turn and commit players to him, making space for others. It was through a period of possession, that we built up from 1 flank to the other, a beautiful cross was floated in and Rory making a third man run found himself playing a one-two of his own head to tap in the opening goal. It was then down to the team to keep our shape, stay focused and play sensible football, which we did as a team to see us through to half time.

HALF TIME RAFVets 1 Wales O55’S 0

Gilly got the boys together at half time, checked out any injuries and fitness before making any further changes, though he did remind our young bench that they needed to be ready to support. It would not be long before John, Geordie and Gilly would be called upon. He highlighted a few areas that we needed to improve on, thank god for his Tic Tac board and sent us out for the 2nd half.

The 2nd half proved to be a completely different game, with the Welsh having long bouts of possession, which was leading into us having to retreat further. The back four (whoever played in there) were immense, with Kev on his RAF Vets debut winning every header, tackle, forging forward when the opportunity arose and quite rightly putting in a MoM performance, a fantastic acquisition to the squad.

Changes had to be made (to support the O35’s, a reminder that more players/commitment from O50’s is definitely required), with John coming onto the Right Side of Midfield and bringing on some youth in Geordie to play with Kev at the back. Though it was a back to the walls game, it did not stop us having real areas of quality, Freddie and Russ linking up well, with us having the better chances. One of those moments that we did link up, playing a sweeping move of 7 or 8 passes, found Freddie 12 yards out, and though he pulled his shot wide, this was clearly down to the late tackle, a clear penalty, even agreed by the opposition players, that’s football.

Confidence started to return the defence pushing up higher, leaving Stonesy playing as sweeper, though it would be fair to say, apart from the odd chance, he had very little to do, in relation to shot stopping. With just 7 minutes to go, the Gaffer realised that he needed to bring himself on, with almost his first touch we had broken the Welsh back line. Then indecision came into play, should he shoot, should he pass and get the return, he went for the pass, and never got the return, Freddie did, though was unable to get his shot away, chance gone missing, would we regret this. With the clock ticking down and the Welsh again pushing us back, they lofted a ball into our area, hitting a defender, screams of penalty, with the ref blowing, thankfully it was not towards the spot, but for full time.

You could argue on the balance of play either side could have won, a draw may have been fair, but without sounding bias, the commitment, work ethic and determination of the whole squad, made it a deserved and excellent result. As always when you play the Welsh, no quarter is asked or given, tackles and moaning a plenty, but always in the right spirit, with hugs and pats on the back for all at the final whistle.

FULL TIME RAF Vets 1 Wales Vets 0

A massive thanks to Dave, Paul, Shane and Rogan, as always their hospitality is second to none, carrying on the huge friendship that has been built with the Wales Vets.

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