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RAF FA Vets v Sutton Coldfield FC Vets at St George’s Park 26 Feb 2017

The event page made it perfectly clear, the venue would be St George’s Park, Burton on Trent, home of the England FA training facility. This should be a good one.

The management team met up early on the Saturday afternoon at the Middle Bell, site of what would be the post-match venue, to grab a bite to eat and to talk through the schedule for that evening and the fixture the following day. The Saturday evening had been designated “kit issue time” as most of those attending the fixture would be staying at the Premier Inn, Burton, the night prior to the fixture and thanks to the generosity of the sponsors, a heavily subsidised kit pack was available to those willing to pay a nominal sum. The kit pack consisted of Bag, Full Tracksuit, Training top, and two training t-shirts plus a beanie. We would be the best dressed team by far as at breakfast on the day of the game, heads were turned in the restaurant when the players turned up for their morning sustenance!!

Those that had made the Saturday night met up with the rest of the squad at StGP on the Sunday morning at 9am, where we were given a tour of the facilities by Wendy, an FA staff member and our own Mark Haining, and what a facility it is. You could not cease to be impressed from start to finish and every single one of us was privileged to be there. After the tour, the remainder of the kit was given out to those who had ordered and Matt Beattie filled everyone in on what the current plans are for the Vets family over the next 12 months or so.

The RAF FA Vets were given the “Billy Wright” changing room (the same one England use when they are there) and it was massive. Just as well really, as there were 40 members of the family there!! The opposition weren’t far behind either bringing 25 personnel with them. The game would take place on the indoor 3G pitch (glasses not required as that’s 3D) and it is the same size pitch as at Wembley. Everything pitch wise here is the same as at Wembley Stadium right down to the seats so that the England squad feel at home when they are here. Amazing.

With the numbers involved, it was decided that there would be 3 x 45 minute games and the RAF squad was duly split into three, Bomber Command, Fighter Command and Training Command. With a few of us unable to play due to injury or old age, most players would get one and a half games in. The scene was set.

First up was Bomber Command playing a 4-4-2 formation and a couple of early chances fell to Gaz Seddon, making his debut. Alas, his shooting boots had been left at home and both chances went wide. The RAF were playing some great football and Sutton were aware that they were in a game here. Sutton themselves were no walkover but when they went on the attack they were snuffed out by a resolute RAF defence marshalled ably on the day by skipper Bob Green. Seddon brought a great save from the Sutton keeper after good work from Danny Bartley but following a quick attack by Sutton, they won a free kick about 20 yards out to the left. The cross came in, Sutton forward gets his head to it but the ball hits the bar and goes over. Phew, that was close. Most of the match was taking place in the middle third of the pitch as both sets of midfield battled for control and whilst both sides played some lovely stuff with some long passages of pass and move, the final underhit pass, the too long pass or offside saw the moves come to nothing. Then, a brilliant run and dribble into the box saw another chance for Seddon…hits the post!! This is actually a good game to watch and when Darren Robison nutmegs one of their players and gets in a cross the crowd cheer. Andy Martin is next to have a chance, this time with header, but again it’s wide. Seddon has to go off in the 38’ when he turns his ankle and his replacement Scott Lawrie is straight into the action but again, the shot is narrowly wide. With the time up and into 3 minutes injury time the unthinkable happens. The RAF lose the ball and Sutton attack down the right. The winger nips back along the goal line and fires in a low cross that is tapped in from about a yard. A well worked goal with plenty of pace involved but an absolute sickener for the RAF lads. Alas, almost as soon as the game is restarted it’s all over. 0-1

Game 2 saw the Fighter Command team take on a changed opposition and this game carries on in a similar vein to the previous one. A great through ball from Garry Tweedie ends with a shot from John Reay go narrowly wide. Where, Oh where, are the shooting boots when you need them?!! Just when you think the RAF are on top, the ball is given away and Sutton break to score a goal so similar to the one in the first game, I thought I was watching a replay!! 0-1. Both sides are struggling to find a constant rhythm and although there are some good passages of play, the final ball is lacking. The 3G pitch is playing a part here though as both sides struggle to read the bounce, or lack of, at times. Both sides too are trying that little too hard and a bit more responsibility in the box with someone deciding to shoot instead of trying to pass could have seen at least one of many chances converted. As it was, with time running out and the RAF trying to save the game, Sutton, who themselves are an excellent outfit, took their chances toward the end of the game and scored at the end of two counter attacks to put a rather flattering score on the board. 0-3 final score.

Onto Game 3 and with only 3 minutes on the clock, Sutton break the RAF defence and it’s 0-1. Once again, the RAF respond immediately but once again, the shot is wide. This is a much more open game with both sides seemingly on all-out attack. Sutton obviously had their shooting boots with them as they again hit the target, 0-2. Dougie Coull brings out the best in the Sutton keeper with a sizzling drive that the keeper turns around the post for a corner but nothing more came of it. Unfortunately, there was then an injury to a Sutton player that required an ambulance as he went down in some pain. The game was end to end with chances spurned by both sides but as seemed the norm today, with time running out and the RAF on the attack, Sutton break away and the forward runs from the half way line to slot in their third, 0-3. With a little bit of injury time remaining, Garry Tweedie broke through two tackles, into the box and slots the ball past the advancing keeper, 1-3 and that’s the way it stayed.

Loads of positives from this however. Up against a very strong opposition, the scorelines didn’t do justice to the RAF effort. With a bit more luck and some decent shooting boots, these results could so easily have been reversed. Some of the play was of the highest standard and credit to the players of both sides for the spirit the games were played in. We heard after the game that the Sutton player who had to go to hospital, had suffered ankle ligament damage and the RAF Vets family wish him a speedy recovery. A lot was learnt from today and it will hold us in good stead when the IS games commence next month, especially the Army game as they play on a similar 3G pitch, I’m led to believe. Thanks to the Manager and staff at the Middle Bell in Barton-Under-Needwood for the post-match refreshments. To the Management and players of Sutton Coldfield FC, to the staff at the Premier Inn Burton who put up with us taking over a corridor of the hotel for the kit issue. To Matt Beattie and everyone else from the RAF Vets involved in this fantastic day and finally thanks to Wendy and the rest of the staff at StGP, an amazing experience and an immense facility (so much so that even the Scottish lads were drooling).

RAF Vets Family attendees.

Matt Beattie, Andy McCullough, Jim Sheehan, Geoff Hancocks, Gus Payne, Gerard O’Sullivan, Bob Green, Mark Bryan, Gary Meadows, Geordie Salkeld, Pete Leahair, Darrell Kerr, Steve Findler, Mark Smith, Al Dales, Tony Dunn, Andy Martin, John Reay, Lee Croucher, Andy Laurie, Danny Bartley, Paul Stones, Mark Rooney, Garry Tweedie, John Irvine, Paul McCormick, Glyn Stockport, Dougie Coull, Scott Lawrie, Mick Clarke, Jon Shanks, Scott Taylor, Gary Seddon, Jon Letch, Rudy Pierre, Kenny Hemlin, Darren Robison, Mark Haining, Andy Gibson and Russ Edwards.

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