On a beautiful Sunday in early April, ten teams of six players got together on the Astroturf football pitches of Battersea Park to wrestle for the honour of top dog in South London, in the memory of Will Wates, the Radleian who died in Belize in August 1996. Organised with the military precision that everyone has come to expect of Mike Bellhouse, the captains and their charges did everything in their power to overcome the effects of Saturday night, and the subsequent lures of a lie-in, to report promptly at 11 am for duty.
Two groups of five teams soon got underway for the early matches, which would sort the men from the boys. The first fixture in group A was, oddly enough, won by the organiser’s team (shades of pre tournament training, perhaps, thus contravening the spirit of informality that ran throughout the day…), containing ORs such as himself, Hugo ‘Roberto Carlos meets Dennis Wise’ Plowman and Nick ‘Ray’ Scott. However, their victims, to their credit, came back from this early disappointment to finish top of the group, thanks to the leadership of Matt Boucher, the vision of Harry ‘Stamper’ Wills and the daintiness of Chris ‘Charger’ Lewis. Pretenders who crumbled in their path were Olly Shepherd’s flock of disciples, Max Locker-Marsh’s crusaders and Rory ‘Lots of pace in lots of space’ Watson’s band of well intended pranksters. Sadly, as with every game, there are winners and there are losers. The group finished with Matt’s assassins top and Mike’s skilful yet chronically unfit stars coming second.
Meanwhile in group B, Charlie ‘Fish’ Goldsmith’s Durham militants drove forward with menacing intent. Teams to fall to their might included Ed ‘Clown’ Way’s bunch of jokers (consisting of Chris ‘Chopper’ Ross-Hurst, Henry ‘Shouldn’t the ball be oval?’ Sessions-Hodge, Hugo ‘Free kick’ Selby and Rick ‘Golden goal’ Porter) and Olly Del Mar’s selection of hapless warriors (including James ‘I slipped’ Whitwell, Mark ‘The Surgeon’ Maunsell-Thomas, Ben ‘Tractor’ Gill, James ‘Marauding’ Foster and Tim ‘Ingrowing toenail’ Harvey). However, Matt Smith’s bunch of Bristol based efinancial newsboys put up a good fight, as did Rick ‘Tactics’ and Johnny ‘Strategy’ Wates’ army of commandos. These two had a close run in for second place eventually won by the younger set of legs, to finish behind the boys from the North East.
So as the afternoon progressed, we embarked on the round which would put everyone in their place. While the two group turkeys squabbled over the wooden spoon, a trophy gleefully snatched by Olly Del Mar’s team, crumbling at the seams to lose 7-2 to Rory Watson’s bunch, the top two teams of groups A and B went into a semi final. Bellhouse’s brigade managed to put up some resistance to the Goldsmith machine, but succumbed in the end, and sadly Matt Smith’s efinancial newsboys couldn’t stand up to the robust play of Matt Boucher et al.
And so the final. As chance would have it, we were fortunate to be graced by a Californian pilot for United Airlines who, in London between flights, had come to referee a game next door. On discovering that his players hadn’t turned up, he came over to us and offered his services, complete with a full ref’s kit with yellow and red cards to boot! With hindsight it all sounds fairly random, but at the time it seemed fairly normal, and we must thank him for doing a great job. The only shame is that no one got his name and he’s probably back in the sunshine on the other side of the world! So Charlie Goldsmith and Matt Boucher pitted their leadership wits and strategic nous against each other. The result was a great game and, considering the relaxed atmosphere, it made tense viewing. It was a close encounter, with Charlie going ahead first, only to be caught up immediately. Again they went ahead, with a goal from the captain himself, which was an invitation for Matt to prove that anything Charlie could do, he could do as well. He gleefully accepted the challenge a couple of minutes before full time. By now, the legs were tired (not to mention the lungs), so our friend from the US obligingly went straight to penalties. Most people failed to score (not surprisingly, given the heckling behind the goal), but in the end Charlie’s team wrapped it up with a 2-1 victory. It was a fantastic day and everyone enjoyed themselves enormously. But most importantly, it kept the memory of Will Wates alive and reminded us all what a wonderful guy he was. If he’s sitting on a cloud up there at the moment, I have no doubt that the day’s proceedings would have brought a smile to his face, even if the quality of play didn’t! The Will Wates Foundation concentrates on helping underprivileged children develop their sporting and artistic talents.
Olly Del Mar