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Wednesday 15th October 2020 ko. 20.00 (ish)

Hellenic League Veterans Division One

JET VETERANS 3 (Lynch 4og Parry 5 Jackson 35)

RG VETERANS 2 (Lucas 24 Webster 48og)

Att 5 at Tilsley Park, Abingdon

Free Entry

Karma police
Arrest this man
He talks in maths
He buzzes like a fridge
He’s like a detuned radio

Radiohead, “Karma Police” 1997

I can hear the howls from the traditonalist hoppers as I type this.

A veteran’s game? You can’t count that!

Well here’s another adage; “My hobby, my blog and my rules”, so I can and I will. Besides, I’d wanted to visit Tilsley Park for a while.

If you’ve ever driven along the A34 between the two Abingdon interchanges you’ll have passed Tilsley Park, its hard to miss at night when its 4 pitches are lit up!

I used to play corporate 6-a-side league football on the two 7-a-side pitches here 15 years ago. I’m bound to say I don’t remember those pitches being anything other than full-sized, maybe I was more unfit than I thought!

But the main pitch in the athletics stadium always did interest me, and not just due to the OCD effect of wanting to see a game at somewhere you keep passing by. In the days of the North Berkshire League hops we weren’t blessed with floodlit grounds to feature games on, so I had the idea of staging a game here. Berinsfield leapt at the chance, until the complex’s management handed over a set of restrictions that would have stopped the club making any money by staging the game. Maybe we just lost ourselves…

Since 2014 the complex has been managed by Abingdon School, whilst remaining the property of the Vale of the White Horse District Council. That’s an interesting development, not least because the independent school has a varied alumni including all 5 members of Radiohead! The school has clearly invested in the place, it wasn’t tired when I used to play here, but has nevertheless seen extensive refurbishment and now it sports a floodlit American Football field, Oxford Saints Play there.

The main stadium in terms of team sports is best known for being home to the now defunct Oxford Rugby League team in 2016 after they left the Oxford University Rugby Union Ground  on the Iffley Road. They folded after that one season, so Jet and Marston Saints Vets are your only two options for seeing a game here.

So who are Jet? Well it really ought to be J.E.T. as its stands for Joint European Torus. The Culham-based project is to try to create nuclear fusion via a torus-shaped apparatus. It’s been there since 1984 and until the end of last season had a team in the Upper Thames Valley Sunday League. There was a catch, their pitch is behind an understandably strict security check, and since as a hopper I was not connected with a specific club, I was never allowed entry there. I do live in hope though.

The Hellenic Veterans League is a midweek floodlit league, so Tilsley does represent a suitable base for them. RH Veterans are similarly over-35 only, the RG stands for nothing more than the RG postcode, and they’re based at AFC Aldermaston. So I found myself in the unusual position of being less than 10 miles from home but watching two sides I’d never seen before, in any way shape or form!

Despite wanting to be here for so long Tilsley Park is far from ideal as a football venue for spectators. The stand seats roughly 300 but is set 8 lanes and a long jump pit away from the pitch and in any case was rather thoroughly closed! As a groundhopper a parallel can be drawn with the Terence McMillan Stadium in Newham, a venue that if it ever appears in anyone’s top 10 places to watch a game, I’ll question that person’s sanity! Here at least I could stand pitch side, I wonder if that would have been the case if we’d ever managed to get that North Berks hop game staged here?

I’d never seen a veterans game before, and if you haven’t seen one the best comment I can make it that the playing standard (and this was in the Hellenic Vets League’s second tier) is highly variable, even within the same side. There are players who could clearly still do a job in the open-age Hellenic, and there are some, well to be polite couldn’t.

It added up to a highly entertaining evening out, and let’s face it 5 goals, including 2 own goals is worth anyone’s attention. Without question RG lost the game in the first 5 minutes as Phil Jeacock’s shot hit hit Robert Lynch before spinning in; then in conceding the second saw keeper Tim Moore injured to a point where he didn’t last the half. But they rallied, and courtesy of a fine strike from Danny Lucas and a gloriously miscued own goal they gave Jet a real scare.

Even outside of the game there was drama, the floodlights went out after 55 minutes! Now back in my 6-a-side days I remember the lights being switched off exactly when our booking finished, and the game had kicked off late! But this was an altogether more serious game and why couldn’t someone at Tilsley checked before pulling the plug? It was fortunate that these lights don’t need to cool down before being switched back on.

There was enough time left for RG to very nearly force the equaliser that looked barely possible after 5 minutes. Of course to the one neutral (other than the referee) it didn’t really matter, that’s the great advantage of being dispassionate. What is was, was highly entertaining, even when the less than ideal location is factored in. I even lost myself for a minute there….