Last February saw Dave Bridges tick off an ambition of many, as he donned the famous Three Lions for the first time, as the newest player for the England Over-60s side.
For Bridges, his journey to representing England started back at AFC Varndeanians, the club he Chairs and has been involved with since the 1980s.
“One of the guys at the club, Neal Evans, is involved with the Welsh Vets football teams, and they’ve got teams for Over-55’s, 60’s and 65’s,” said Bridges.
“There was a tournament in Ireland, and they were short of players, so I filled in for them and met the Irish team, which was a great experience.
“Then cut to next year and they’ve got a tournament over in Zurich, so I went over there and played for the Welsh team again, and we went on to beat England on penalties.
“Anyway, at the end of the game I got chatting to Gary Nelson from England, who picked up on my lack of a Welsh accent.
“He mentioned that they were looking for a forward for their Over-60s team and that I should have a word with the manager Dave Lazell, which led to me being invited down to a trial game.”
Bridges clearly made a good impression on Nelson, whose career in the game saw him feature over 140 times for Brighton & Hove Albion and 185 times for Charlton Athletic.
The trial game saw England Over-60s take on Sheffield Over-60s, and for Bridges it couldn't have gone much better.
“It was a great match for me to come into as a trialist,” he said, “the team played very well, and we managed to win 6-0, and I even got on the scoresheet.”
“They then got me back two weeks later to play in the Tri Nations, against Wales and Ireland, where we beat Wales 2-0 and drew 0-0 with Ireland.
“So, by that point, I was definitely starting to feel like I was becoming part of the team.”
As for the standard of the games being played, that was something that rather caught Bridges off guard.
“The standard is decent, and everyone is pretty fit,” he said, “it’s very much about keeping possession at our age, but the overall quality of football is really good.
“We’ve got players from all over the country playing for us, and so that helps keep the standard up.”
“But the level of fitness was something that really surprised me, because about 75% of the squad are very fit and the ones that aren’t make up for it with their technical ability.
“The serious nature of the games was also something that caught me off guard. I remember Gary chewing my ear off after I gave the ball away twice in a row, and to be fair it was sloppy.
“But by playing with these ex-pros they bring that higher standard with them into the game, which brings everyone up around them.”
Following on from the tournament on home soil, another tough test awaited the team, as they flew out to Copenhagen to take on Boldklubben 1893, who had been enjoying an undefeated spell lasting two years.
“They had a few ex-internationals in their team so that was a hard game, possibly the hardest I’d had, so for us to come away with that 2-1 win meant a great day.
“Unfortunately for me though, with five minutes to go, I had to limp off after I did my achilleas, but it was a price worth paying and hopefully I’ll be back playing at the end of August.”
Jetting abroad and playing for your country isn’t something we all get to do on a weekend though.
“Well, everyone is interested in how it all came about, though my wife Jill isn’t the biggest football fan but she’s still very pleased for me. My daughter Georgia who is a football nut was most excited.
“At Varndeanians though there’s been a good amount of interest. Indeed, at one point we had me and one of the younger players playing for England School Boys, so two internationals at the club!”
Yet while Bridges has been able to have the opportunity to represent the Three Lions, the lack of a dedicated Over-60s team in Sussex means that the path for others to follow him is hardly straight forward, with the England side using these games against the regional sides to scout new players.
“Currently, me and David Tasker from Hastings are looking to get a team off the ground, and the plan is to hold trials and then invite England down.
“The brilliant thing about Over-60s football is that it gives players of a certain age the chance to keep playing competitive 11-a-side football when they thought those days might have been behind them.
“And at our age, it’s important for me to keep active and to keep up that social interaction, so it would be great to see the discipline start to grow and flourish in the county.”
If you’re interested in joining the Sussex team, Dave can be contacted via email via email@example.com
For more information on Over-60s football in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 766855