Ben Rhydding Over-40s Vets were drawn away against current champions East Grinstead in the semi-finals of the National Veterans Tournament run by England Hockey.
With previous wins over Sunderland, City of Bath, Belper, Harleston Magpies, and a bye against Canterbury, the confidence of the side, captained by the inspirational Andy Locke and managed by the battle scarred Warwick Smither and the sagacious Robin Snook, was understandably high.
Despite the 600 mile round trip and the reputation of the opposition, which included Richard Leman, former captain of the national side, the expectation of victory was realistic.
Boosted by the excellent support of septuagenarian veterans Peter Cussons and Brian Dawson, young Tom Zillessen and David Burger, the late arriving Andrew Cussons and the poetic words of wisdom of Mark French, Ben Rhydding got off to a good start when short corner specialist Kempson's strike should have resulted in a first minute flick for the visitors.
Man-of-the-Match Butch Terry was soon called into action and made a series of fine saves to keep the scoreline at 0-0. Excellent defensive work in the first-half by Woodhead, Horsman, Locke and the tireless Skinner was undone when an East Grinstead forward dived Drogba like to win an unlikely short corner, which Leman scored from to give the home side a narrow half-time lead.
Ben Rhydding raised their game to new levels in an increasingly physical encounter. When the constantly fouled Ian Cussons received an early ball from Peters, he ghosted round the home defence to lay on a plate a tap in equaliser for the energetic Milbourn, the visitors sensed their opportunity.
However, East Grinstead showed their class and defended even more tightly, denying the increasingly frustrated Cutter and the hard-running Lambert space to turn time and time again.
The home side increased their advantage 15 minutes from time, and despite the fresh legs of Sumnall and Keating and Till, and the not so fresh timbers of Dowley, Ben Rhydding could not get back on level terms, conceding a late third goal as they pushed forward.
Disappointment was considerable at the final whistle but this was tempered in the knowledge that the slow water-base surface had been a significant advantage to the home side, that Rhydding had given the best team in the competition a real run for their money, and in particular that Rhydding had achieved a National semi-final for the first time in their 105 year history.
The spirit of the squad has been outstanding throughout this campaign, and augurs well for next years competition.