1st XI – The Final Home Match of the Season

If ever the stage was set for eleven boys to fill the Elstree shirts, this was it.

It is a particularly beautiful southerly view from the Uppers dormitories across the Rowbarge valley towards twinkling Aldermaston in the dimming Autumn light. If you are ever up there, have a look in the direction of Basingstoke; don’t worry, you can’t see that far.

The vista is never bettered, however, than when it’s Match Day. This is when the burnt orange dampness and the visible breath of old-fashioned Corinthian spirit combine : New England and Old England meet most agreeably. In all the autumns from 1981, when Bill Shankly died, to today, this has been the territory of Mr Bates, master-in-charge of Elstree football. After three hundred and sixty two games, on Remembrance Day 2015, this was SCB’s last home game.

It was important for the boys to put in the extra yard for Sir but it was equally vital that they played with their heads too and followed Mr Bates’ tactics : Pownall and Tomlinson staying wide, Hodson staying up field and central, the midfield playing their passes forward early into the gaps and the defence at the back to play squarer and higher up the pitch. That’s about it. Of course the boys were proud to be Sir’s last representatives, having signed the ball bought by Ned’s mum, of course they loved leaving a message on the wine case and of course they felt ten feet tall with Bates on their backs, so to speak. However, this exuberance and coiled excitement had to be tempered with good decision making and calmness in possession. If we were going to win performing well, every boy would have to give a great display.

Thank you, boys. You made a special day beautiful for Mr Bates. The beauty was the culmination of a process, where a bunch of guys have worked things out with their heads held high.

Next we gallop to Cheam on Saturday. The final furlong is upon us and the blinkers are on. Let’s go and win.

Wine for my men. We ride at dawn.