Back in 2005, when I was living in Edinburgh, I joined a couple of mates in going a long and trying out for a team that played in East Of Scotland league.
That team was Ormiston. They played in what was the sixth tier of Scottish football.
It was a pretty decent standard, but Ormiston never really got going as a team whilst I was there. They never had a team of leaders or quality players, just the odd one dotted around the pitch. As such, they rarely finished above mid-table.
I played for ‘Ormi’ for 7 years, my final game coming in a 6-1 home cup win against Peebles Rovers in September 2012, before I moved to London for work, and shortly before my 5 month, round the world trip.
Truth be told, I really enjoyed my time there and it got me back to a level of fitness I hadn’t managed to reach for a few years.
But after so many intense seasons, at the age of 30, I was ready to have a break from football.
I was ready to get my weekends back, to give me the freedom to go away, explore more places, say yes to more Friday nights out and not feel shattered every Saturday night.
Little did I realise I was actually semi-retiring.
MOVING TO WINGRAVE
Fast-forward to the middle of Covid, in October 2020. Claire and I were expecting our second child and had decided to move out of Berkhamsted to get more space, and we found a lovely new build house in a village called Wingrave.
I didn’t know much about it, other than it was a sleepy village with a pub, a church and a small convenience shop.
A few months after moving in (after another lockdown subsided), the local football team were playing on the recreation ground in the village, so I went to watch. Well, I say went to watch, I actually went to the pub and spotted the game was on.
It was a good standard, so, to add a little support, I followed them on Instagram and Facebook to check them out and keep up with their progress.
A couple of weeks after that, I spotted they were running a ‘veterans open training session’ for anyone over the age of 35 to come a long and try out for the reformed Wingrave Veterans.
By this point, I’d missed kicking a ball around. The banter in the dressing room. The feeling of scoring a goal. So I decided to go a long and see what it was all about.
On a sunny Sunday at the end of May, I had my first football training session for almost 10 years. It felt GREAT to be back. I was doing drills I hadn’t done in years, using muscles that hadn’t been touched in years and I genuinely enjoyed myself.
The script for the veterans was this: aim to train every other week, and try and play a game once a month. Perfect. That sounded right up my street. No need to over commit with a 3 year old and a newborn, but still get my football fix AND I don’t even have to leave the village. They also did pints and food at the Sports Club bar after training. BRILLIANT.
After several training sessions and a couple of games, I started getting fitter. My short, sharp game was getting better. My turn of pace was coming back. And that competitive edge which I hadn’t needed in a decade, decided to return.
So much so, that after a mixed veterans / first team / reserve team game, I was asked to sign on for the main Wingrave FC team.
Despite being humbled by the approach, I still didn’t want to overly commit, so I agreed, and would only help out as and when required, if the squads were short, which worked perfectly for both parties.
In September I returned back from holiday a day early, so went to watch the reserves at Wingrave Park. I took the dog out for a stroll and walked through the fields to the park. When I got there, there was only one sub, and he brought himself off because he was knackered.
“Thought you had a couple of subs for the game?“, I asked.
Turns out a couple had pulled out. “Need a hand? I could jog back and get my shinnies and boots?“. Yes came the answer, and so I did. And it transpired that I played centre back and helped see out a 3-2 win.
This was getting more and more enjoyable.
A few more successful games for the reserves followed, and I was approached in the bar after the game by the first team coach.
“How long have you lived in the village?“, he asked. “Just over a year“, I replied. “Good…I’m going to need you for the Oving Cup squad“.
And that was my first introduction to the Oving Villages Cup.
WHAT IS THE OVING CUP?
It turns out the Oving Cup is the second oldest cup competition in England, second only to the FA Cup.
It’s called the Oving Cup because in order to enter, you need to be a village team, within a 12-mile radius of Oving. Then for any player, they need to qualify to play for their village team either by a) being born in the village, b) playing for the team for the past 3 seasons, or c) having lived in the village for 12 months or more, which is how I qualify.
In the 130 year history of Wingrave FC, they have only managed to win the Oving Villages Cup 4 times. The last time was in 2009, and they lost the last final they were in to Wendover in 2017.
In December 2021, I made my first appearance in the Oving Cup. And who did we play? Oving.
We ended up demolishing them 8-0.
By this point – and we’re talking 6 months – my fitness was back to where it was 10 years ago.
In the next round – the semi-final – we met Stoke Mandeville FC. A much better side than Oving, but once we got going, the match was never really in doubt, and we won 4-1.
Unlike Ormiston, this Wingrave team is a different beast. It doesn’t know how to give up, or how to lose. Everyone wants to bust a gut, work for each other.
So sprinting into full-bloodied tackles in the 92nd minute of the game when we’re winning 4-1 came as second nature to me, but was appreciated by everyone else.
MARCHING TO PROMOTION
In 2021/22, Wingrave first team played in Division One of the ADL. There is also a Premier Division and a League Two.
After racking up win after win, by Easter weekend of 2022, Wingrave have already gained promotion.
Unbeaten in the league, and with 4 more points required to secure the title, they also claimed their first piece of silverware in several seasons, winning the Sheffield Jackman Cup against local rivals Bierton (I was away skiing, so missed the final!).
Shortly after that, the reserve team won the Reserve Cup, adding the second trophy to the newly built cabinet.
I played centre back in the Presidents Cup semi-final win over Aylesbury Vale FC (setting up the third cup final of the season for the first team).
But the match that everyone in Wingrave wants…the trophy they really want back in the village…is the Oving Cup.
THE OVING CUP FINAL 2022
I’m currently typing this post on the Friday before the final, which always takes place on Easter Monday.
Just like in 2017, we’re up against Wendover, who we already beat in another cup competition earlier in the season. Wendover are in the Premier Division, we’re in Division One.
The match programmes are being printed, and tickets are being sold for the game. Wingrave expects a crowd of around 400 from the village, Wendover will possibly equal it.
It’s going to be quite the occasion.
10 years ago I thought I’d hung up my boots. A house move, a veterans training session and several games later I’ve got one of the biggest games of my football career around the corner, aged 40.
Bring it on.
***UPDATE – Apr 2022***
Alas, the final didn’t turn out as planned. Despite scoring the opening goal in the cup final, and Wingrave having three or four clear cut chances, we went in level at half time with the score 1-1. The second half was a different story however. Despite hitting the bar and the post, injuries, poor decision making and heavy legs saw us lose 6-1, with Wendover beating us in yet another final.
We’ll be back stronger, and hope to win in 2022.
THE OVING CUP FINAL 2023
Wingrave are back into the final again! After a hard fought win over Long Crendon, Wingrave will play Marsh Gibbon in the final on Easter Monday, April 2023.
It’s the first time since the 1950’s that Wingrave have made consecutive final appearances. Surely 2023 will be our year to lift the Oving Villages Cup?! Updates to follow….
***UPDATE – Apr 2023***
WINGRAVE WIN THE OVING VILLAGES CUP! In a game ruined by the wind, we battled to a 1-0 win against a spirited Marsh Gibbon side. It’s the first time we’ve won the trophy for 14 years, so glad I helped to write a new chapter in the history of Wingrave FC 🙂
The winning squad: