Thursday night is football night – 20 years of Old Robsonians
Posted by admin on 19th August 2016
Words by Nick Frith
To borrow an old phrase, there is nothing certain in life except death and taxes. However, in the 5-a-side world there is one addition needed for this phrase to really ring true; Old Robsonians. The team originally formed all the way back in 1996, long before many of their opponents were ever paying taxes, and with their level of dedication it appears that death is the only thing that could stop them from turning out on a Thursday night.
It was taxes that brought the team together in the first place, when they were all working at accountancy firm Robson Rhodes in 1996. When Jez Vaughan and Martin Eales formed the team to play in the Old Spitalfields Market every Thursday, little did they know what they had started. By 1999 most of the team had moved to new jobs, so team name Old Robsonians was adopted. Strong ties remained with Robson Rhodes, who they played in regular grudge matches, with players graduating to the Old Robsonians side, 4 of whom make up today’s side. The firm ceased to exist in 2007, outlasted by this plucky band of footballers.
The next big moment in Old Robsonians history was in 2002, when they made a seminal move down to Battersea Newton Prep, to join the league they play in until this day. The spacious pitches were obviously suited to the team, who managed to win the league 8 or 9 times in the following 7 years, all under the watchful eye of our head referee Leno. Their last title, back in their 15th season together, even attracted national media coverage in the Independent. When asked about the team, Leno is full of praise ‘Fantastic team, fantastic players.’ He said. ‘I have known them for 15 years and it’s always a pleasure to referee their games. They are truly a sporting team who love their football. Win or lose, they will give you a competitive game every time.’
Never shy of the limelight, they have also represented on the international stage. After winning a public vote, they had the opportunity to take on a German 5-a-side team in attempt to make amends after England’s loss to Germany in the 2010 World Cup. Managed by Peter Shilton, they got off to a bad start after going 3-0 down early on, and eventually slipped to an 8-4 defeat.
Chief Organiser/Director of Football Martin Eales has been keeping the team in line, and turning up, every week for the last 20 years. According to his stats the team has just finished its 76th season, having played for a total of 779 weeks. It’s a quite incredible achievement, with the team outlasting 10 England managers, 5 prime ministers and 100s of opposition teams.
How do you celebrate a 20 year anniversary? With a tour to America, of course. Original founder, Jez, now lives in Cincinnati, and he invited them across the pond to show the Yanks how to play soccer.
We caught up with Martin after the tour to see how they go on, and to find out just how a team stays together for 20 years…
– How was the tour?
- We had a great time and it was all that we could have hoped for. Jez, our ex-player and host, noting our age and ‘mixed’ level of fitness these days had carefully set up 2 matches for us on the Saturday and 1 on the Sunday and we were delighted to win them all despite the heat and humidity playing outdoors on the first day. It was a really special way to celebrate the anniversary, particularly as 3 of the 7 who were playing are rarely seen on a weekly basis these days for one reason or another. Of course after no more than 2 beers afterwards we were talking about making it an annual event.
– What has ORs finest moment been?
- There are a few I can think of. The first dates back to our early years at Spitalfields and then the Bishopsgate Goodsyard where there was a team called SBT that we must have played against twice a season for 3 or 4 years. They wore a Juventus kit and were habitual League champions long before we ever won anything. When we finally won a match against those guys it felt like the kind of event you’d want to tell your grandchildren about! Back in the early-mid 00’s we organised an annual 5-a-side tournament in Wandsworth one Saturday every September (in fact our current long standing Battersea opponent’s Grey C Milan played in it a couple of times) and one of those coincided with what was then our 10th anniversary and we managed to win it before going off for a night out in Brighton.
- Getting the chance to play as England v Germany back in 2010 as part of a Holiday Inn promotion was an amazing experience. They had cameras on us all day, Peter Shilton as our coach, all our England kit hung up in the dressing room for us – it was just a shame we couldn’t beat them.
- Finally, I should mention one bang up to date from the tour last month which was one of our teammates Kiaran hiring a car and driving 10 hours through the night from Washington to Cincinnati after his plane got cancelled late on the Friday night and just missing the 10am Saturday kick off for the first match by 5 minutes! He then went on to score the only goal in the last minute of the second match.
– And the funniest?
- We still fondly remember the time at Battersea that we managed to bring on a sub mid-game and as he ran on he cleared a goal bound shot before helping to engineer a goal for us at the other end. The ref didn’t seem to notice and the opposition were incensed! The following week the league issued an edict stating that substitutions could ONLY take place when the ball was dead….
– What has changed in 5-a-side over the last 20 years?
- One of my team mates observed recently that the game seems to have become much more specialised: when we started most teams were probably from 11-a-side weekend teams like us who were just looking for something extra to do during the week. Nowadays there are many more 5-a-side venues and leagues and there will be plenty of guys who never play 11-a-side. On a more practical level I don’t miss the early days before widespread email where a team had to be assembled via a round of phone calls each week! The league organisers also used to photocopy and post out a league table to each captain once a week as well before the advent of decent websites.
- This might be a bit ‘grumpy old man’ but I noted recently that we now pay £5 (or more!) per pint in the pub afterwards whereas back in 1996 £5 was your entire contribution to the weekly kitty that seemed to buy endless pints and crisps….
– What is it that keeps you playing 5-a-side week after week?
- Most of the team observe that I have to keep the Club running as no one else would give me a game, but I just love playing. All we can ask is that we remain competitive and win a few here and there, but even more than that I think we all subscribe to the concept of our ‘Club’ being something special simply because we have racked up so many weeks/months/years – when in reality I know it is just a few mates playing in a 6-a-side league. The camaraderie and friendship we have built up over so many years not only through football but from other nights out, parties, stag dos, weddings – and now plenty of 40th birthdays – will be hard to replace. Still, I’m only 44 and there are some prime examples even in our league which make me hope I won’t need to hang up my boots just yet.
Follow the team on twitter for a taste of Thursday night football – @oldrobsonians