The RAF's brand-new Trade football league came to a conclusion yesterday with the final of the RAF Astra League. 7 trade teams competed in the league with the top 2 placed teams going through to compete in the final for the league trophy. The final was held at recently promoted National League club, Oxford City FC and was contested between the RAF Regiment FC who came first in the league and SPARKS FC (TG4) who came second.
The game started in frantic style with both teams creating early chances however Sparks created the majority of chances only to be denied by strong defending, the woodwork, poor finishing and brilliant goalkeeping from RAF Regt FC Goalkeeper and Man of the Match, Wg Cdr Mark Bowden. A great opportunity developed for Sparks when a break through the Regt back line saw Sparks No9 Com Colburn rush through with a one on one with the Regt keeper, not a defender in site, only to be bested by a fine save and recovery down low by Bowden, a great chance going begging. A high tempo first half saw some heated battles across the pitch which were delt with efficiently and effectively by the officials, a trend across the whole game. Even with all the chances created and Sparks being on top, both teams were deadlocked at the break.
Sparks began the second half as they finished the first with a couple of good chances created, again thwarted by acrobatic saves from Mark Bowden and last-ditch clearances from Sam Cantly and Mitch Whiley. The Regt FC came alive and into the game around the 65min mark when gaffer FS Tom Morton brought on Cpl Rhys Banfield, a Right back, and put him up front to work off AS1 Connor Mantle who was winning a lot of 1 on 1 battles. This had an immediate impact and a strong quick throw from Bowden to Alex More who clipped the ball over the top of the Sparks back line. Immediate pressure from Banfield forced the backtracking defender to head past his out-rushing keeper giving Banfield the chance to steam through and slot home from 15 yards. 1-0 Regt.
Further pressure followed by the RAF Regt with Alex More hitting the bar and Flt Lt John Ennals having a header saved low by the Sparks keeper. Another Sparks break could have easily changed the game when Danny Tindall was fed a beautiful pass which he received, shook off 2 Regt challenges and managed to squeeze the ball past Mark Bowden into the net, only for it to be brought back because of a tight offside call, a goal that if given could have changed the outcome of the match. However it was not to be and 80mins in the RAF Regt were 2-0 up. A quick break down the Regt right saw an early cross from Ennals that was half cleared to the edge of the box. A touch out of his feet and quality strike with his left foot saw Alex More ping the ball into the top right corner of the net for a well-deserved goal.. 2-0.
Not giving up, Sparks tried valiantly to find the net but it just wasn't to be and another quick counterattack by the Regt saw Flt Lt Aaron Eyett play a nice through-ball to More who sped through one on one with an outrushing Sparks keeper. A clash, that could have gone either way, resulted in a strong save by the Sparks Keeper and an injury to More who sat out the last 5mins of the game.
Final score on a well fought battle by both teams was RAF Regt FC 2 - 0 Sparks FC with the RAF Regiment FC being crowned the inaugural RAF Astra League champions 2023”
RAF Regt Manager assistant manager, FS Dave Jennings said “The RAF Astra league has given players and coaches the chance to demonstrate their talents on a higher stage with a high standard of football played throughout. Designed to improve the development of players through the pathway into the RAF Representative teams, the league has achieved this in its first season which is great to see.