Share This Post

Independent Vets are the classic example of how, contrary to times gone by, all of us can experience a football rebirth after thirty-five and beyond. 

By Mike Backler and Raymond Peart. Images by Jack Osborne

Time and again we are hearing from Vets teams that are enjoying the time of their footballing lives once they reach the once-dreaded age of thirty-five. The Veterans scene is flourishing, with players returning to play with mates from yesteryear and falling back in love with football for all the same reasons they did as a kid. 

Independent Vets are no different. And you only have to experience their joy on a cup final-winning Saturday to know that it’s the same feeling, whatever age and whatever level. Raymond Peart, the team’s manager, tells us about the club, why it’s important for a club’s youth teams to have a Vets section, their history and what it meant to bring the Beckenham Hospital Cup home in front of an “electric” atmosphere!


Independent Football Club was created in 1988 by Barry Gordon as a youth football club with a focus on player and personal development. At first, Independent only had one age group as Barry tended to focus on one group and stay with them up until they reached Under 16s or the team reached a natural end. After the break up of his second successful team, Barry became frustrated with the politics of youth football and decided to take a break from running a team to play grassroots football with friends. After a while, that desire to begin coaching again soon led to him forming a new team and this time he had a vision to create a club with various ages all developing at the same time. With his reputation growing, it wasn’t long before professional clubs began to take notice and now scouts from all over the UK are regularly attending club games looking for talented players. To date, the club has produced numerous players who have turned professional, with at least four having played in the Premiership and in international football.

While Independent has produced many talented players, not all have what it takes to go into the professional game. Many have gone into men’s grassroots football, which is an area that Independent has tried to fill the gap with by having a men’s team, but it never really stuck. In season 2020-21, London South United B joined Independent to become the club’s first Vets team.

While the season started with two defeats, we finally got the ball rolling with a last-minute winner in a 2-1 league win over the new London South United B team, with the hope that this would be a sign of things to come. Unfortunately, Covid-19 once again disrupted the season and we finished up in fourth place.

Once the enforced Covid suspension of grassroots football was lifted, Vets football was back and we were playing cup competitions. Having entered the London Cup and the Beckenham Hospital Cup, we began the restarted season in excellent form, winning our first game back 8-0. 

In the BHC we were in good form and won games against ASIRU 8-0, South East 8-1, Stansfield 3-1 and a 6-2 semi-final win against VCD, our previous final opponents. Unfortunately, we lost in the quarter-finals of the London Cup, losing 4-2 to West London Old Stars, so our focus now was on finishing a season with some silverware in the one competition we remained in.

The BHC cup final against Segas presented an amazing opportunity to win our first piece of silverware under our new club Independent, so there was a real excitement about the day from the off. The players got to the ground and everything seemed in place for us to achieve our goal, but once the game got started there seemed to be a lack of drive and we were slow to react to everything within the game. After twenty-five minutes we were 2-0 down and playing poorly.

The second goal seemed to give us a lift and on the stroke of half-time we managed to pull a goal back through a header by Nels. We went into the half-time 2-1 down, which was fortunate as our goalkeeper made a fantastic save to keep the score at 2-0.

After some strong words at half-time and a change of personnel, the team came out going downhill in the second half with much more intensity and were looking far more dangerous than the first half. We created three or four good chances but just couldn’t get the equalising goal, and against the run of play Segas had a gilt-edged chance to make it 3-1 – but again, our goalkeeper Mel produced an outstanding reflex save.

With thirteen minutes left, our leading goalscorer got into an altercation over the placement of a free kick which led to him being sin-binned for ten minutes. It seemed like a lost cause. With time running down, we entered the final seven minutes of the game, still searching for an equaliser, and we had a goal ruled out for a foul on their goalkeeper, but still we kept pushing. With four minutes to play, their keeper made an error, allowing our striker to play the ball into an empty net. 2-2!!! In the celebrations we managed to make the sub to bring our leading scorer back on and pushed for a winner. With a minute left, the ball fell to Nels on the edge of the box, who controlled it and drilled his shot into the top corner, sending the crowd wild!

As they pushed for an equaliser of their own, our centre-back intercepted a pass and sent a through ball to our forward, who ran the length of the pitch (very Geoff Hurst, this) to get on the end of a sweeping counterattack to score from four yards and confirm the win: 4-2! 

At the final whistle, there were cheers of joy and our first success as Independent Vets. With parents from the youth club and some of the youth teams there, it was an amazing day and the atmosphere was electric.

While some may downplay the importance of grassroots football and especially Vets football, for others this may be the only chance to experience winning a trophy through football. After the season that we had had, this was an amazing experience for us. In grassroots football it’s not only about winning – it’s about enjoying the game with friends as you pick what team you want to play with. Most of the time you end up in a team with your friends, and for us older players this may be the last time we experience days like that, so it’s something to appreciate more than ever. Our Vets team is more than friends, we are a family, and to be able to share the day with them and the individual families that all came out to support us was something we will all remember and enjoy for a long time.

Hopefully it all starts again in September when the Vets season is back in full swing, with a full season of league and cup football. And for anyone who thinks it doesn’t matter, I would say watch the final video which will be available on YouTube and tell me that that wasn’t an exciting game of football!

It was, it bloody was.

Related Posts


Leading sports team management app Spond has taken the...


Knowing how to run a grassroots football club is...


To take a boat from Penzance is not to...


In each issue, we shine a light on disability...


Brockwell United Football Club (BUFC) is excited to be...


1966 was a great year for English football: the...