It was an intriguing prospect that provided a rich source of debate in the offices of Wembley Stadium in the days leading up to the FA Legends v Army FA at Reading on Saturday...
Would the vigour of youth trump the knowhow of the former professionals? Would experience tell, or would optimum physical fitness prove too much for the legs of the (in most cases) forty-something legends?
In truth, the result was always going to be irrelevant. As well as acting as a showpiece for Army football, the event was organised in aid of two Armed Forces charities – The Royal British Legion and The Team Army Sports Foundation.
With many of the troops involved in the match leaving for another tour of Afghanistan this week, the day proved a welcome distraction from the realities of life in what the soldiers refer to as “theatre”.
Daryll Evans is one of those leaving for another long stay in the war-torn country and in the after the game he thanked the fans and organisers, saying: “It’s the pinnacle of some guys’ careers – you get to come here and play at a Premiership ground, and obviously the boys will remember this for the rest of their lives.”
It was a sentiment echoed by all on the day. Also speaking after the game, FA (and TV) Legend Chris Kamara said: “For The FA to do this it’s absolutely brilliant. I’m involved myself in a number of charities and I know how difficult it is to keep spreading yourself around.
“It’s been a great day for the Army boys and I just hope that we’ve earned a lot of money for them.”
Indeed, Kamara proved to be one of the star attractions of the day – certainly among the swathes of autograph hunters patiently waiting outside the players’ entrance, delaying his entrance into the stadium as he stopped to sign programmes and pose for pictures outside the ground.
He also managed to arrive late for the pre-match team talk after getting distracted in the players’ lounge watching his beloved Bradford secure promotion in the League Two Play-Off Final.
However, Kamara found FA Legends boss for the day Roy Hodgson was in a forgiving mood – and afterwards the England Manager focused on the good cause the game was organised in aid of.
He said: “I’m pleased that the day has gone well. As long as everyone has enjoyed it that’s the most important thing.
“In particular, as long as our Army friends have enjoyed it and thought it was a worthwhile exercise then we’re just happy to have played our part.”
The Army FA gave as good as they got for large portions of the game, and went into the break level – having twice led in the first half. Manager Stuart Pearce made wholesale changes at half time to give every member of his large squad a run out.
In the end, though, experience and the ball retention skills of the ex-pro’s (and one TV presenter) proved decisive, and second–half goals from Ben Shephard and Jan Age Fjortoft meant the game finished with the FA Legends running out 4-2 victors.
Despite the defeat, Army FA goalscorer said the day had been a resounding success. Speaking in the tunnel after the game, Jay Bates told FATV: “I think a lot of the lads can say that today is something they may never get to do again in their lifetime.
“It’s always nice to pull on the Army shirt, and to do it here at such a great stadium against some wonderful players, we’re all very proud,” he added.
The day ended with an FA dinner for all the troops involved in the game.
The evening was hosted by former England rugby player Martin Bayfield, there were presentations by Roy Hodgson, Stuart Pearce and FA Chairman David Bernstein to the various Army FA players of the year, followed by an auction of signed shirts from the FA Legends team, the England team, and also a Red Arrows parachute jump to raise money for the two charities.