In the midst of World Cup fever and the dream of England getting their hands on that beloved trophy, few fans may realise that the biggest game of the summer has already taken place.
To launch the HUSCF Armed Forces Sports Scheme, a walking football grudge match was arranged between the veterans of the Army and the Royal Air Force in the majestic setting of the Mill House Leisure Centre.
After weeks of banter and literally minutes of training from both sides, mainly explaining the rules of walking football that were subsequently ignored by most, it was on with the game.
Despite the Army having the bigger squad, and the element of youth in their side, it was the RAF that struck first through Dave Stacey, following excellent team play combined with some rather dubious goalkeeping from Danny Madge. One soon became two and the tiki-taka approach to the beautiful game from the RAF had the Army walking in circles.
Young Army debutant, Randy Constable, began to have an influence and soon it was game on as they pulled one back. That glory was short lived however when the Greens’ defence once again showed indiscipline and conceded a penalty after stepping into their own area. It was duly converted and the lead was extended to 4-1 by half-time following an outrageous finish from Dean Gillespie.
The game was far from finished though, and the second period proved to be a far closer affair with the Army on the front foot from the kick off. They quickly pulled 2 goals back but were sucker-punched as the RAF restored their 2 goal cushion with Ian Fraser scoring his second goal of the day with what can only be described as a ‘big spuddy-ender’.
Unperturbed by this setback, and driven on by their tens of fans, the Army, through star man Constable, reduced the errears again but alas it was to no avail. Despite having their backs to the wall in a frantic finale, the RAF held on to take the glory with a 5-4 win resulting in a barrage of banter flying from the victors.
The presentation was well observed apart from some unnecessary booing and general abuse for referee Dean Cartwright who, by his own admission, had an outstanding game without the need for VAR.
And so it was back to Victoria Park for post-match analysis and immediate talks of rematches, stricter training regimes and the potential ousting of Army Head Coach, Terry Phillips. The game itself could be best summed up as Messi in some parts and messy in a lot of others but it was definitely enjoyed by everyone.
All in all though, it was agreed that football was the winner and as England head towards the knock out stages of the World Cup, we can only hope they carry the same spirit that our wonderful veterans have shown in the white-hot atmosphere that is the walking football arena, and continually exhibit on a daily basis. We can but hope!
If you or a family member has served in the Armed Forces and would be interested in getting involved with the project, drop us a line on 01429 862595, email us at HUCSF@hartlepoolunited.co.uk or pop along to our Hub Session every Monday between 2pm-4pm in the Victoria Lounge for a cup of tea and a chat.