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London Tour : January 2022

After a furlough of 2 years, the London Tour was back on again. Saturday morning saw the Ramblers finest on trains, planes and automobiles, heading down to the capital. Indeed, a vanguard had arrived on Friday and were seen, and sadly heard, singing the club anthem in the Antelope on Friday night/Saturday morning. If only they knew all the words!

Some of the advance party got to bed only slightly earlier than most of the tourists left home, but nonetheless, 4 Ramblers teams were ready for action on Saturday at the required time and location. Ollie Handley did, however, need some advice about the difference between the Northern Line Bank and Charring Cross branch lines. Every day is a learning day.

The first and second teams headed off to Godalming to play Charterhouse, while the Super Duper Vets (SDVs) and the younger, more mobile/athletic/, less arthritic/gouty/achy (simply the) Vets headed to Armoury House to play HAC.

The Charterhouse games were, by all accounts played in the right spirit befitting a fixture that has been played for over 150 years and while competitive, the Ramblers’ first team ran out 2-0 winners and the second team finished 6-0 to the good. Director of Football at Charterhouse, Simon Hayward, emailed the club shortly after the game to commend both Ramblers teams for the way the games were played, which bodes well for the future of this important fixture for the club.

Anyone who has been to Armoury House will know what a privilege it is to be there. A queue of Super Vets trying to find their bus passes for photo ID to get past security greeted me as I arrived. Fortunately, I knew exactly where my bus pass was. The front pitch was unfortunately deemed unfit for play – something to do with the average weight of the SDV back 5, perhaps – but the alternative over the far right was well prepared and smooth, apart from the 2 lines of recently installed drainage running diagonally across the nearest half, which, as Eddie Jones would discover, was tricky underfoot. The SDVs squad was reduced to 14, following some late transfers to the second team and the news that Charlie Shep had pulled up lame. Still, it’s quality, rather than quantity that counts, right? For once, Chris Kingsford (in his 52nd session) was not the oldest player, with the HAC President, Peter Kearney, being several months older and already in his 70s. The SDVs ran out 2-0 losers in a largely close fought contest, the difference being down to Kingy‘s split loyalties leading to a couple of gifted goals. Now we know why HAC made him VP! Mentions in dispatches should go to Animal Magic (J Morris) and Jimiesta (J Byrne) for running our midfield – if only the rest of us were on your wavelength, Will Thomas for bringing the exuberance of relative youth and RSM McNay for being able to kick a football a really long way. The aforementioned Eddie Jones’s raking runs were the most likely avenue to a Ramblers goal, when he wasn’t falling down trenches, but sadly it was not to be that day. An SDV tour to Harrogate later in the year was discussed in the bar, along with how good at football we all were in our prime, as long-standing friendship were rekindled.

The Vets game followed the SDV warm-up act, with much to live up to. The, by now, large crowd were not disappointed. Pace, skill, commitment and a little bit of afters in the tackle and that was just in the warm-up. By the time I’d enjoyed a lovely spot of lunch and a couple of pints in Armoury House, LRAFC were 2-0 up and the game continued in that vein, with the visitors enjoying much possession, with little to threaten their goalie, resplendent in a powder blue shirt. 2-0 soon became 3-0, though almost immediately became 3-1. A couple of penalties to the Ramblers (one missed and the other converted) a pile-driver of a goal from Steve Lewis, plus some typical Ramblers’ generosity at the back resulted in a 6-3 win for the visitors.

The bar was packed, as the burly rugby players from the adjacent pitch crammed in, reminding us we had we had made a good decision to play football as a pastime.

The tour continued well into the following morning apparently, though being refused entry to the swanky soho joint that had been booked made my night relatively early. Sunday morning brought a collection of bleary eyed HAC and LRAFC first teamers for their game against HAC 1s. Sadly, the game was switched away from Armoury House to further protect the pitches, but the replacement near to Chelsea barracks was a more than adequate alternative. The couple of SDVs who attended to watch their offspring were seen making their way from the taxi around the ground at Burton Court and were mistaken for Chelsea pensioners out for a morning stroll, such was their collection of aches and pains. Mike Handley’s tight hamstring is likely to keep him out his John Dere for a few days, but the traffic on the A41 will be flowing more freely this week at least.

The pitch at Burtons Court is massive, which gave the Ramblers confidence going into the game, with their pace on both flanks. The Ramblers had the majority of possession in the first quarter of the game, but they couldn’t make it count. As the game went on, the previous day’s game and the previous night’s excesses started to tell on both sides, things opened up. A host of chances were spurned by both sides. The game could have finished 6-5, but in the end, it was decided by a smart finish into the bottom corner of the Ramblers’ goal to leave it 1-0 to the HAC.

This fixture has been played for the Friendship Cup since the 1960s and we were privileged to have one of the three presenters of the cup, Geoff Thomas, there to return the cup to the captain of the HAC, Alex Roberts. Geoff made a brief speech, recounting how he had joined HAC FC when he came down to London in the 1950s and how the Cup that is still played for came about. At 88, Geoff is only marginally older than many of the Super Vets and I’m sure if he’d brought his boots to Armoury House the previous day, he would have got a run out.

Retiring to the Coopers Arms the tour was concluded as it had started by some nearly two days earlier, more stories of previous London (and other) tours were recounted, before a strategic dash to Euston ahead of the likely invasion of Reds from Selhurst Park brought another tour to a conclusion.

Roll on next year.

Peter Howat