Aylesbury went into the latest round of games in the Reading Veterans Super Pro League knowing that league victory and a letter from David Liddington MP was in their own hands if they could just win their remaining 4 fixtures. However it was not to be a case of déjà vu all over again as, following last week’s resounding 6-3 win, Aylesbury could only manage a 0-0 draw against Reading Olympians who had dropped Richard Mantell after a poor showing against Australia.
The score line though did not do the game justice. It was a frantic, end-to-end game played at a pace belying the fact that a bunch of old men only there to escape their families and enjoy a burger and a pint. At least it was end-to-end for most of the squad with the exception of Aylesbury’s two (under age) central midfielders Paul Gregory and Chris Hunter who managed to get forward easily enough but struggled when it came to defending, the former citing an Achilles injury restricting him to running in one direction only and the latter to having to wake his wife up numerous times in the night to feed the baby and get him a biscuit.
In truth it was a game that could easily have been a 5-5 thriller were it not for hockey debutant goalkeeper Tim ‘Call me Shaka Hislop’ Heale and some wayward finishing from pretty much every Aylesbury outfield player. However, the surprise this game is likely to be remembered for was the fact that Mark Bowes failed to pull out at the last minute after stating categorically that he was coming, reportedly for only the third time in his life. Back to the hockey, disguised as regular keeper Dave Skinner, unavailable due a tickly throat that would have restricted his ability to moan at defenders, Heale was outstanding in the first half repelling everything thrown at him, the only thing distinguishing him from his more experienced predecessor being the fact that several shots aimed at the legs were expertly cleared. The only time his inexperience showed was when he came charging 5 yards out of the D hoofing the ball up-field with a cry of ‘av it geezer. In his defence, his training had consisted of Captain Matt Kiely telling him “kick everything” but having neglected to tell him any other specific rules relating to being a goalie.
Despite numerous chances for Reading the defence were actually on top form. Kiely and Ben Husbands were like rocks at the back and the fullbacks (those are the players that play at left defence and right defence Steve Ampleford) Jules Park and Jaypee Wentzel were shoring up the wings. There were fears at one point for Kiely that his career could have been over after throwing himself full length into a tackle to clear the danger. With a little help though he was back up to his feet with no more than a little daze to show for such a cataclysmic collision between man and floor. In midfield it was down to Dave How and Ali Blest (with support from utility man Mark Bowes looking to emulate James Milner in a jack of all trades capacity) to provide protection for the defence each time a promising attack broke down with Hunter and Gregory ambling back.
In attack the lazy duo were demonstrating their natural creativity to greater effect supporting chalk and cheese forward pairing of Steve Ampleford and ringer Dan Bleach, former 1997-98 Aylesbury Grammar School Vice-Captain and Oxford star man. While Bleach showed dynamism, speed and power, Ampleford looked to be recovering from jet lag having flown in on private jet from Singapore for the game. Despite manufacturing 15 clear cut chances though, Bleach could not beat the Reading keeper for love nor money, trying acrobatic dives on more than one occasion in an attempt to bamboozle the Reading stopper and earn a contract with Aylesbury 2nd XI for the coming season. He should however have learnt from his esteemed albeit slower partner in crime up front who was playing the Teddy Sheringham role to Bleach’s Andy Cole, with opportunities to find teammates in the D on several occasions that were not taken. Bleach though was not the only one to miss fire in the team, Dave How, former 1997-98 Aylesbury Grammar School Captain and former panto star missed a great opportunity from the top of the D and Captain Kiely, promoting himself to short corner reincarnation of Callum Giles failed to live up to the hype. Hunter tripped over his own feet when put clean through by How and Ampleford could only hit the goalie after a goal mouth scramble which would have given him much to think about on his 3 hour journey home.
So, a pulsating draw it ended and Reading’s 7 former Olympian and National League veterans (Matt Kiely ‘fact’) went to bed knowing they’d been in a fight against a quality of Aylesbury Vets side not seen since 1988 and the days when How, Bowes and Gregory graced the field captained expertly be Kiely. With three games left the winner’s trophy is still up for grabs and the skipper will have some tough selection headaches before the next fixture when Skinner and Bob Gregory will be back in contention, Pridgeon will likely say he is available for selection and possibly Matt Brigden and Mike Smith will be looking to make their debuts for the season.
Finally some sad news to report. It is understood that the reason for Ed Hill’s absence was down to an ongoing leg problem after being pulled up in the week. Fingers crossed for Ed he will be put out to stud but the likelihood is the vets may need to take more drastic action. This could help to explain the long face from the previous week.