Old Robsonians' six-a-side heroes are still going strong after 15 years
The Independent charity auction winners have lifted 11 titles in seven years, had Shilton as their coach and even represented England. Sam Cunningham finds out how they do it
Monday 04 July 2011
Surely this is what football is all about? Forget big stars, big wages and big egos, the Old Robsonians have been competing in six-a-side football for the last 15 years and three of their members still remain from their inception in 1996.
Since it all began as a group of workmates at accountancy firm Robson Rhodes they have only missed one week of competitive fixtures and now play in The Elms six-a-side Battersea Premier Division.
They no longer work for Robson Rhodes and have all gone off to various financial firms but, now in their late thirties and early forties, they still meet every Thursday, without fail. One of their number, Jez Vaughan, moved to Hungary because of work, but still made the commute back every week to join the team. Now that is commitment.
Last year they even represented their country after winning a competition – coached by Peter Shilton they faced Germany in a five-a-side fixture. One of their players Martin Eales, who was in the team back in 1996, recalls how the biggest piece of advice Shilton gave them was: "Do not concede an early goal". They were three down after 90 seconds and went on to lose 8-4.
Despite their lofty achievements (in five-a-side terms) none of the squad have ever put in a public transfer request to increase their wages, none have had their names smeared across the front pages of the tabloids and none have been banned for placing bets on their own matches.
The Independent caught up with the team as they attempted to secure their 11th league title. They won their first in 2004 and their most recent in August last year.
Sitting level on points with top of the table Locale Loco but three goals behind on goal difference, they watched nervously as their title rivals lost 3-2 to Clitheroes. The result meant that Old Robsonians needed only a draw in their final match of the season against Cheeky Beers to win the title, but that both sides would claim the title with a win.
The match did not start as planned. The Old Robsonians were down by two in the opening five minutes. Calm finishes from Cheeky Beers' Adam Bravern and Dan Hyde made the task of drawing to take an 11th league title appear ominous.
Before the match there were a few doubts from the Old Robsonians' ranks about tempting fate by inviting along a journalist to their final game of the season. And after the second goal went in, forward Nick Hunter turned to Eales, who had arranged my visit, and commented sarcastically: "Aren't you pleased you brought the journalist along?"
But drawing on those 15 years of experience, they pulled it back by half-time. Jon Edwards cleanly struck the first and that was quickly followed by another from Hunter, who received a pass from Danny Press – who used to be on the books at Southampton as a teenager – before turning and finishing well.
With legs more tired than those of their somewhat younger opponents, the substitutes rolled quicker in the second half than the first, and Cheeky Beers began to dominate.
And when their possession finally paid off and Tom Messer put Cheeky Beers ahead, it looked as though Old Robsonians' dreams of winning another title were over. But, with two minutes of the 18-minute half remaining, Edwards got his second – a goal worthy of winning any title. He took one touch after Press rolled a free-kick back to him and, just inside the opposition's half (bear in mind it is six-a-side, so the length of the pitch is the width of a normal one) he drilled the ball into the left corner. "It was the sweetest goal I have struck all season," he said after the match.
One of The Elms Premier Division players, Ron Hanson, is 55 and has been competing for 18 years. Who knows how many more league trophies the Old Robsonians can collect before they hang up their boots? "We want to keep playing for as long as we can," Eales said. "At least as long as Ron, and possibly even longer."
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