Royal Air Force Veterans Football - The Countries' Ageing Defenders Still Going Strong
The Royal Air Force Football Association Veterans Football Club was founded in the mid-1990s. It further gathered structure when Flight Lieutenant Mark Mallinson assumed the mission of the club to provide greater playing opportunities and engagement to those personnel over the age of 35 years old who are currently serving or who have previously served in the Royal Air Force. At the time, the group usually met twice a year through an extended football family. The first RAF Veterans Inter-Services match was against the Royal Navy at Portsmouth and it included a certain Seaman called Chris Kamara in their ranks! The RAF FA Veterans family ultimate aims and goals have always been to encourage and maintain physical fitness, promote social interaction and mental well-being and create a great team spirit and excellent camaraderie and togetherness within the group.
The first few years later under the guidance of Warrant Officer (Retired) Tony Dunn saw the RAF FA Veterans play 3 to 4 fixtures a season culminating at the end of those seasons with a fixture against the Royal Navy. One of the first photos below sees the team involved in a testimonial match at RAF Uxbridge stadium.
Pic 1 – RAF FA Veterans side at a Testimonial Match – Oct 2006 at RAF Uxbridge.
In 2012, Warrant Officer (Retired) Tony Dunn handed over the reins for the RAF FA Veterans to Flight Sergeant (Retired) Matt Beattie and he continued where Tony left off, gradually increasing momentum by identifying areas to improve and initiating some key objectives:-
- To play higher class opposition.
- To play at better venues with professional facilities.
- To embrace the ‘football for all’ culture whilst being inclusive to all on and off the field of play, enabling a family ethos in the club.
Fixtures and venues over the years have reached far and wide and this continues to the present day with monthly meets involving an event of 2 fixtures (usually Saturday and Sunday) which now not only encompasses the Over 35s team but also the recently formed Over 50s team and each team utilises the prestigious St George’s Park as our home turf.
The standard of football is extremely high with the current Over 35s regarded widely as one of the top Over 35s teams in the UK at present and this is further emphasised by the fact that in both the Over 35 and Over 50s squads we have ex-pro and ex semi-pro players including the likes of Gareth Seddon (Ex Bury and Salford City), Steve Thompson (Ex Wycombe and Woking), Neil Thomas (Ex Llanelli), Darren Robison (Ex Newport County - Captain), Craig Gill (Ex Yeovil Town and Barry Town) and David (Geordie) Salkeld (Ex Elgin City). Currently serving and retired RAF personnel now travel from across Europe to meet up, play football and socialise post match and below are some of the highlights in recent years showing the different opposition the RAF FA Veterans have played against, as well as the excellent venues and results.
Pic 2 RAF FA Veterans side 2012 at RAF Cosford.
The 2017/18 season was met with excitement, enthusiasm and true anticipation for many reasons.
With the season over lapping into the centenary year of the Royal Air Force and the fixture list chosen strategically to embrace and include as many of our playing and supporting participants as possible, the RAF FA Veterans Team had a very full and competitive fixture list. It saw us play in Cyprus, a Highland select team in Forres, Scotland and the Welsh FA Veterans at Caerphilly, Wales. Other locations saw us compete in Cobham, Lilleshall, Portsmouth and Royal Wootton Bassett to mention a few. Another key supporting element to the success of the RAFFA Veterans within the centenary year was the raising of funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund through bake a cake sales and raffles at every game. This was organised by the wives, girlfriends and partners as well as the support staff, resulting in the Veterans raising an amazing £10,666.61 for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Pic 3 RAF FA Veterans FC v Highland League Representative side – Aug 2017 – Forres Mechanics FC.
Pic 4 RAF FA Veterans FC v England FA Veterans FC - Sep 2017 at St Georges Park.
Pic 5 RAF FA Veterans FC v Liverpool FC Veterans - 2017 at Liverpool FC Academy.
Pic 6 RAF FA Veterans FC v Wales FA Veterans FC – Nov 2017 at CCB Centre for Sporting excellence, Caerphilly.
The season culminated with the Inter-Services games in Mar 2018 and although the RAF beat the Royal Navy 2-1 at Portsmouth, the RAF unfortunately lost the first fixture to the Army 6-3 at Lilleshall.
Pic 7 RAF FA Veterans Squad v Army Veterans FC – Mar 2018 at Lilleshall.
Pic 8 RAF FA Veterans Squad v Royal Navy Veterans FC – Mar 2018 at Portsmouth.
Pic 9 RAF FA Veterans presenting a cheque for £10,666.61 to the RAF Benevolent Fund at St George’s Park.
The 2018/19 Season proved to be hugely successful for the team. We played games around the UK, as well competing in the Akrotiri 7-a-side competition in Cyprus. The total number of fixtures for the season was 19 and we won 15, drew 2 and lost 2. It culminated in the Veterans Inter-Services games being held in March 2019 and our first fixture was away at Aldershot to the Army. The RAF triumphed, delivering a 4-0 victory. The next game saw the RAF host the Royal Navy at TNS FC’s ground near Oswestry. The RAF were again extremely well drilled and beat the Royal Navy 5-1 meaning the RAF were the winners of both of the Veterans Inter-Service games for the first time.
Pic 10 RAF FA Veterans FC v Wales FA Veterans FC – 2018 at St George’s Park.
Pic 11 RAF FA Veterans FC starting 11 v Royal Navy Vets FC – 2019 at TNS.
The 2019/20 season was met with excitement, enthusiasm and true anticipation, especially due to us being the current winners of the previous two Inter Services games.
Whilst the season was cut slightly short due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we still participated in 16 competitive events, which included early victories against Rhyl Veterans in the ‘Kev Walton Memorial Shield’ coming out 6-1 victors and followed swiftly after was a 6-2 victory in the very first ‘Andy Biddle Memorial Shield’ game v Sutton Coldfield Over 35s, which got the season off to a great start.
Throughout this season, we played 62 different players and participated in games and tournaments in Cyprus, St George’s Park, Rhyl, Liverpool, Cardiff, Stamford, Aveley FC and TNS FC. In addition, we also took part in a prestigious 4-way International Over 55s tournament in Cardiff, which in turn, ignited the enthusiasm to create our second Vets team, RAF FA Veterans Over 50s and for the 2020/21 season, the newly born Over 50s team had 4 fixtures.
Pic 12 RAF FA Veterans in Cyprus - 2019.
We managed to play the Army in the first of the Inter-Services games and beat them 1-0, but unfortunately due to COVID 19 restrictions we were unable to play the Royal Navy and hence the Inter-Services games were expunged at that point, which was a huge disappointment.
Pic 13 RAF FA Veterans Squad v Army Veterans FC 2020.
Season 2020/21 was a bizarre time in our history with the COVID pandemic taking front row seats in most of this season proceedings, however, in true RAF FA Veterans style this was not to stop ‘the art of the possible’.
Swiftly moving to appoint our very own COVID Protocol Officer and working closely with the RAF FA HQ, we were able to safely start the season in mid-September ensuring the relevant COVID procedures were present and implemented.
The newly formed Over 50s team played against the England FA Veterans going down 1-3 in a fiercely contested game and the Over 35s registered an impressive 6-1 win against the former National Over 35 Champions, Sutton Coldfield Vets retaining the Andy Biddle Memorial Shield.
October brought further success with some tremendous performances at the Akrotiri 7s with the RAF FA Veterans squad winning the Cup competition, a first in our history and a further indication of the application, energy and enthusiasm this family continues to foster.
Back at St Georges Park, mid October, we entertained Stamford Veterans coming through an extremely stiff opposition 4-2 followed by one of the best performances seen in our history to overcome a strong England FA Veterans side 9-0.
Pic 14 RAF FA Veterans FC at St George’s Park – Oct 2020.
In April 2021, the RAF FA Veterans FC were awarded FA Charter Standard after tireless work from the club committee during the COVID hit 2020-2021 season. FA Charter Standard (soon to be renamed England Football Accreditation) is a kitemark programme that is awarded to those clubs who go above and beyond on and off the pitch.
Pic 15 – RAF FA Veterans receiving the FA Charter Standard award at St George’s Park in Apr 21.
Other great examples of recent progress is shown in the photograph below with the RAF FA Veterans Over 35s team beating the National Over 35s champions (West Brom Spinney) 4-3 at St George’s Park and in addition to that is the recent accolade of the Long Service to Football award from the England FA to one of the current Veterans players/staff – David (Geordie) Salkeld in recognition of his 50 years service to football. Geordie also recently represented England FA Over 70’s team v Wales Over 70’s team in the oldest International match in the World.
Pic 16- Nov 21 RAF FA Veterans grab a last minute winner against the National O/35s champions (West Brom Spinney) at St George’s Park.
The above outstanding results have been achieved by the whole Veterans Family including players, backroom staff and supporters. With the use of ‘Live Streaming’ coverage and social media to interact with followers and sponsors alike has seen the followership and national interest in the club grow immensely. With matchday live coverage of games, as well as match reports and match day photographs, it enables any non-attendees to keep up with the latest information. The club also has a committee that meets remotely every month to discuss forthcoming fixtures and any other key topics, ensuring we remain organised and professional throughout the football club.
We continue to move the RAF FA Veterans from strength to strength by utilising our membership subscriptions and corporate business partnerships which enables us to continue playing our home fixtures at St George’s Park, which is an honour and a privilege to be able to play there. The future looks bright for the RAF FA Veterans FC and under the excellent stewardship of Matt Beattie, it will continue to evolve as the years go by.
“Play up Air Force!”