David Beckham fell prey to the prosthetic arm handshake gag. Rio Ferdinand was reminded of a reserve team game he played for West Ham against Bristol City. Fabio Capello's England players met members of Britain's armed forces yesterday to talk to them about their experiences.
Two sets of young people who represent their countries, two very different jobs but lots of common ground. Asked to mingle and attempt small talk, the England squad normally hide behind one another but yesterday they mixed easily with a group of servicemen and women of similar ages at the squad's Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire. John Terry said that the England players were eager to meet the representatives of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force who were invited to watch a Capello training session in the morning at Arsenal's London Colney training ground. Terry said: "The guys who are over there on behalf of our country, the nurses, everything, I think it is unbelievable what they do. They look at us because they love their football but when we come here to meet them we are a bit overwhelmed."
Royal Marine Ben McBean lost an arm and a leg in a landmine explosion Afghanistan and it was McBean who caught Beckham out with the fake arm which he was later asked to sign. McBean's rehabilitation has been so swift that he plans take part in a project to climb Everest in October. He said: "It's strange to meet all the players and a good experience. But they are just human beings like us."
The RAF sent players from their football team – currently the Inter-Service Cup champions – including Senior Aircraftman Michael Douglas, whose grandfather Bryan was the Blackburn Rovers and England winger of the 1950s and 1960s. Bryan also served in the RAF during the Second World War but was kept out the RAF team then by Stanley Matthews.
Michael, 29, a former Blackpool trainee, is a Chinook helicopter engineer who has served on seven tours in Afghanistan. "My grandfather went to the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile," he said. "He shared a room with Jimmy Greaves and, yes, he has got a few stories about him. He was also a mechanic in the RAF like me and I wind him up because he couldn't get into the RAF team because of Matthews.
"He signed for Blackburn when he was 15 and then came back to play for them after his National Service. He scored against Scotland at Hampden Park in a 4-0 win [in 1958] and he said that although the place was packed you could have heard a pin drop every time one of England's goals went in."
Also from the RAF, Sergeant Nick de Long, 30, from Bristol, reminded Ferdinand of the time he played against him for Bristol City reserves. "I am the same age as Rio and played for the reserves against West Ham. In fact, I marked Marco Boogers. Rio and Frank Lampard played in that team and, of all of them, Rio stood out. He played at the back and everything went through him. You could tell then he was going to be a great player. I mentioned it to him and he said, 'Ah, that was when they used to let me play the way I wanted'."
Ferdinand said: "We have seen so much on television about how these guys go about their work and the sacrifices they make for our well-being, for us to be able to share the same room is a privilege ... they are more worthy of the word 'hero' than we are."
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