Celtic Illumination, part 233, Sons of pitches.
I suppose the whole football thing came about from the most stupid hissy fit ever. I mean who sets about organising an event so that you can tell people they’re not invited. Some call it madness, I would probably call it genius, and you know you will agree with me. Look into my eyes. Anyway, I began telephoning various friends scattered throughout the UK to see if they might be interested in attending such an event. About one hour later I knew I was on to a winner and the focus now changed to getting a great bunch of lads together for an enormous electric piss up. Oh yeah, and there would be some football matches.
I had to tread very carefully because I knew how the air force worked. Someone would dream up a great idea, but they would be told that they were probably incapable of organising something and would benefit from having an officer in charge. This had happened to me before, after I organised the bicycle relay from John O Groats to Lands’ End, so; as they say, once bitten, you should be prepared to bite back. There were other little niggly problems that would need some attention, like where could I hold it, what should I call it, how many players on a five a side football team? I named my project the Royal Air Force Air Traffic Five A Side Football Competition, which boiled nicely down to the RAF ATC 5’s.
Trying to keep as much control of the project as I could, I went in to see the SATCO and asked permission to organise a football match between some air traffic units. He gave me permission but was completely disinterested and sent me on my way. One of the lads in air traffic was a football referee so I asked him to be in charge of providing enough referees for the event. Another fellow played football for the station, so he was asked to be in charge of the actual football competition. And so it went, I found enough people to cover one small aspect each, even putting Tom in charge of entertainment for the evening. It would be a weekend event, arrive Friday night, meet greet and fall over. Saturday would see the actual competition, Saturday evening would be energetic consumption of lunatic soup, awarding of trophies and any other business.
I spoke to some people about hosting it at Wattisham but there wasn’t enough accommodation. It then dawned on me that the answer was literally on my doorstep. HMS Ganges, now Eurosports, was just across the road from me at Shotley Gate. I dandered over and was chatting to the security guard on the main gate, an ex air force chap who informs me that the Eurosports boss is ex air force too, except he had been some sort of failed fast jet pilot and not exactly the sharpest tool in the box. I went on to find him and have an informal chat. Seems that the Eurosports centre could fulfil all my needs, accommodation, large playing fields, and a huge function room with bar. The only problem was that he had trouble finding enough bar staff.
This was turning in to a number of birds and some stones situation. I explained that I ran the families club bar and had a number of experienced and trustworthy people who could work as bar staff, all he had to do was give me a call and tell me how many he required. At last I could offer my bar staff paid work. Gradually things began to come together. I just gathered and coordinated numbers, anyone wanting to book accommodation could do it themselves directly with Eurosports. After about four weeks I had thirty six teams signed up, coming in from all parts of the country and I suppose if anyone from Germany had asked go come I would have agreed, as I wanted the event to be as big as possible.
I was sitting minding my own business one day when the SATCO ran in. “I’ve just had the AOC on the telephone,” he says, as if it would mean something to me. “He says thanks very much for the invite and he would love to come and present the trophies at your football competition.” “Great,” says I, putting a tick beside his name on my sheets. “I think you had better come in to my office and tell me all about this competition,” he says and I oblige. The SATCO now enters panic mode. The AOC was the head of our trade group and who better to present the trophies that the top air trafficker in the air force? According to the SACTO he will have to inform the Station Commander and they will all have to turn up and welcome the AOC.
I argued against it as it really had nothing to do with Wattisham as it was being held on a civilian site. He said he would talk to the Station Commander and they would decide how to play it. And as this was now such a large event, and especially with the AOC coming, he would have to nominate an officer to oversee things, make sure there were no hidden glitches or problems. I thanked him for his concern and assured him that there were no problems or glitches and as I had come up with the idea, and organised everything this far, why did I now need an officer to ‘help’ me. It had all been going so well that I was a little disappointed at his attitude, but what could I do about it. The only other disappointment I encountered was when I telephoned Rod Shackleton. He was the weird Corporal at Valley when I threw some shotgun cartridges in an oven and switched it on, to get his attention. He just sat there mesmerised, if it hadn’t been for Steve Underhill, Rod would still be picking buckshot out of his hide.
Rod wouldn’t entertain the idea when I suggested he might like to enter a team and was the only one I came across who was against the event, perhaps it was me he was against. The weekend arrived and I have to admit I was quite looking forward to it. The weather forecast was good, so I arranged a little barbeque with my American firefighter, Craig Scritchfield, manning the grill. I couldn’t see any harm in making a few bob on the side. I didn’t go over to Eurosports on the Friday night as none of my friends were arriving and who in their right mind wants to spend an evening in a room full of air traffickers. Luckily for me everything seemed to go to plan. As I had brought the whole thing to life I made the rules and rule number one was that the winning side had to organise and host the event the following year.
I wasn’t precious enough to want to keep the event for myself. I think everyone had a good time and a team won the competition. I have no idea which unit they were from, but I do have a photograph of the AOC presenting them with their trophies. The SATCO had turned up and had positioned a junior officer on the main gate, with a radio, who would inform him the moment the AOC arrived at Eurosports. When he arrived the SATCO went into mild panic and told me that I should come along with him and welcome the AOC. I did, and suggested that perhaps he and Misses AOC would like a drink after been driven for such a long way.
We went into the bar area and sat down. The shutters were down indicating that the bar was closed. “Tea or coffee?” asks the SATCO to which the AOC says, “I would have preferred a gin and tonic.” “But I’m sorry, the bar’s closed,” says the SATCO, who then notices me wave my hand to which one of my bar staff, now working for Eurosports for the day, comes over. “Two gin and tonics please,” I ask. “Oh and I’ll have beer.” We had a nice little chat and it was funny watching the SATCO squirm as he had to say how well I had organised the event, that’s the event he had no interest in at the beginning. So the AOC, assisted by Misses AOC, gave the winning team their trophies and followed up with some speech that he was proud to be in charge of the only trade group in the air force to have their own sporting competition. Then, thankfully, he left, as did the SATCO.
We all entered party mode and had a fantastic evening till something went wrong. Sure the winning team had been given their trophies and warned that they were to organise and host the event the following year. Tom and I brought them out to the front of the stage, during a break the band were having, and gave them all a pint of beer which they would have to down in one. The crowd were cheering and encouraging them. Tom and I were stood behind them and I noticed one of them wasn’t drinking the beer but pouring it over his shoulder perhaps hoping the poor lighting might hide his actions. He may have got away with it if he had looked behind himself first, for what he wasn’t aware of was that he was pouring his beer over, and into, the bands amplifier, which decided to explode.
I am now harangued by the band leader who insists that I give him five hundred pounds to replace their amplifier. I explained that I had no interest in his amplifier and that he should speak to the fellow who had poured the beer into it, not me. “But you’re in charge!” he says, or accuses. “You’re in charge so therefore it’s your responsibility.” “Aha!” says I. “I’m not in charge, you will need to speak to this fellow,” at which point I gave him the contact details for the officer the SATCO had nominated. Believe it or not the competition still continues to this day, almost thirty years later, except it is held on the first weekend in June at Shawbury every year, the home of the air traffickers. I think I might nip over there this year and ask for my ten per cent.