Bishop’s Stortford Community Football Club over 45 ended a great Greene King Essex Veterans League, Premier Division campaign unbeaten as they were crowned champions.
The largest grassroots sports club in the country, with around 1,000 members, is perhaps best known for its thriving youth department.
But there are also players at the other end of their career who show that they still have what it takes.
“Cue images of slightly overweight dads trying to relive past triumphs where even the smallest injury takes weeks not days to heal. Bald guys with beer bellies who take it seriously like they’re 18,” the team says in their own words. “If those are your assumptions, you’re spot on.”
However, this is quickly becoming a trend as vet soccer becomes more popular in this field.
Less than 20 years ago, Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings at the Grange Paddocks were packed with 11-a-side senior men’s teams, most of whom were players in their 20s and 30s. “Get there early to snag a pitch” was good advice, but now you can pick any pitch you like at the weekend. Younger players who are dropping out of the game under 18, perhaps because they go to college or work weekends, seem to have given up muddy 11-on-11 pitches for five-on-five midweek leagues.
Vet football is slowly filling in that grassy void. In 2013–14, the Greene King Essex Veterans League added an over 45 division to their under 35 league. Now it offers a Premier Division, two Regional Division Ones and two Regional Division Twos at over 45 level.
And BSCFC have proven to be the best this season as a postponed Cup final against Shenfield Association is still due in September and gives them an opportunity to complete a brilliant double.
“Our players range in age from 45 to 62. Men stay in the game longer when maybe they thought they couldn’t,” said manager Andy Bates.
“Forward Joe Feerick started with the veteran BSCFC under-35 side in 2006 and has played every season since, scoring 52 goals week in week out.”
Bates leads the team with the help of Tony Gavin, who is impressed with the level of football in the league.
He would also like to see someone get a new BSCFC U35 team up and running.
“It’s definitely not running football. Most of the players played at a good level when they were young and there are still a lot of ex-pros and semi-pros,” Gavin said.
“A member of our team has just been called up by England Over 50 and a few years ago one of the teams in our division called up former England striker Teddy Sheringham!”
Bates added: “The secret of success at this age is to have a big squad. And the less mysterious – make sure they are all good players!
“We’ve had a really successful roster for two years, but the pandemic meant two seasons of suspended competition. We’ve stayed at the top again this season so it’s a really proud achievement to finally win the title.”