Vets HERO 2023

Sussex Veterans Challenge Cup Final Preview

Words by Joe Williams
Mile Oak vs. Pagham

The final of the Sussex Veterans Challenge Cup is due to take place on Wednesday 5 April 2023 between Mile Oak and Pagham.

Mile Oak vs. Pagham
Sussex Veterans Challenge Cup Final
Date: Wednesday 5 April 2023
Kick-off: 7:30 PM
Venue: Sussex County FA, Culver Road, Lancing, BN15 9AX

For the manager of Mile Oak, Tony Burnett, this year’s cup final is one that he’s had his eye on for some time.

“We’re all delighted to have made it this far in the competition,” said Burnett, “the Veterans team has been going for eight years and this is our third final, the most recent one being last year, where we lost to Eastbourne Town 2-0.”

Yet when the two sides met in the quarter-finals of this season's cup run, Burnett’s men were able to right the wrongs of last year, as they came away 3-1 winners.

“To get that win against Eastbourne was definitely something special,” said Burnett, “they’re up there with the very best in the Vets game, and that was only the second time we’d ever beaten them.

“So, to make it to the final of this year’s County Cup, the holy grail of Vets football as I see it, means a great deal.”

Outside of the clash against Eastbourne, Mile Oak had to overcome other tough tests.

But they showed their qualities with a 4-0 win over Broadbridge Heath in the third round and a 2-1 victory against White Hart in the semi-final, bookending that quarter-final Eastbourne result.

“The game against White Hart was one I took a lot of pride in,” said Burnett, “they’d beaten us 1-4 at our place earlier in the season.

“Then when we played them at their place in the league, we won 4-0, so I really didn’t know what to expect with that semi-final.

“What with that result, and the Eastbourne one, nobody can say we don’t deserve to be in this final.”

Indeed, this demanding run to the final has been good preparation in Burnett’s eyes for what’ll be a tough contest against Pagham.

“I remember playing Pagham in the quarters of last year’s cup, and that was a real battle of a game, so when it comes to Wednesday I’m expecting more of the same,” said Burnett.

“They’ve brought in more players since then, many of whom played at County League level that I recognised, so we’re definitely expecting a tough match.”

In terms of cup finals though, next week’s won’t be their first of the season, as they came up against Steyning Town Community in the Sussex Sunday Veterans Cup.

However, Burnett will be hoping for better this time, as his side lost on penalties following a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes.

Yet overall, Burnett is still pleased with the season the team has had.

“Two cup runs and the fact we’re still challenging for the league, is definitely something to take a lot of heart from,” said Burnett.

“But after losing that final, and the one last year, I’m really starting to get bored of losing them!”

Of course, the club have had some success over the years that Burnett has been there, which isn’t too surprising seeing as this is his 27th year involved with the club.

“I played my last County game for the first team when I was 47,” said Burnett, “and then some mates spoke about getting a Vets team together, and old muggins here was the one who took it on!

“It’s been great to be involved with the club, even though thanks to my knees, I’ve not been able to play.”

But for those who will be playing next week, what’s Burnett’s message?

“Well, I’d say it’s about time we turned things around and won a trophy!

“But in all seriousness, I’ll be reminding them that we’re one of the best Vets teams in Sussex, and we can go out and get this job done.”

Of course, standing in their way is Pagham, managed by Bryn Hauxwell.

Speaking on the final, Hauxwell is expecting a difficult game come Wednesday: “Tony’s teams are always well organised and well drilled.

“They are very experienced; they know how to grind big games out against stronger teams and stronger opposition.

“I think last year he was very complimentary about us; we should have been out of sight early on. He said we had given them a really tough game.

“This year they have added a few new signings, maybe younger signings, to strengthen what they already had, maybe for this competition.”

This is only the second season that Pagham's Veteran team has been together following their maiden season last year.

They started the year in the West Sussex & District Sunday League Division 4 but with only three other teams in their division they moved to the Meon Valley League for more competition.

It’s a move that has paid off with the team winning three of their five games in the league as well as reaching the Meon Valley League Cup Final.

Pagham have come through two tough encounters to get to the County Cup Final, defeating Worthing Town 5-3 before moving past Woodingdean Wanderers 3-2 in a battling semi-final performance.

The semi-final saw Pagham reduced to 10 men due to an injury, but they came out with the win after scoring two ‘goal of the season’ contenders from outside the box.

Hauxwell lists that performance and getting to the final as his highlight of the season: 

“I think the way the boys conducted themselves in the semi-final was a highlight but reaching the Sussex Vets County Cup Final, it’s the biggest competition that we could be in around here.

“It’s a privilege to play down at the ground and at the headquarters of the Sussex County FA.

“It’s a great achievement for the management of the club and all of the players in getting through against some tough teams.

“It’s the one that everybody would want to win, and for us, to be in the final after only two seasons together, we have done well to get there.”

Hauxwell faces some difficult decisions when picking the team for the final.

With just under 40 players to choose from there will be some disappointed players who won’t make the squad.

One player likely to be there is forward Howard Neighbour.

His impressive performances for the Veterans team have seen him come out of retirement to play for Pagham’s first team and help them with their relegation battle.

Hauxwell will be telling his team to play their normal game before the final: “We have got a very strong team, we don’t talk too much about tactics, we just say: ‘right, go out and play your game’, and use our strength which is pace.

“We have got good organisation, a great captain, just play the game that’s in front of you. Play to our strengths, don’t worry too much about what the opponent is doing.

“It’s a big day so don’t have any regrets when you come back in the changing room at the end!”

Entry prices are as follows (Cash and Card accepted):

£7.00 Adult (17+)
£5.00 Concession (66+ and students with valid student ID card)
£1.00 Child (16 and under)
£1.50 Official Match Day Programme

For further details about the Sussex Veterans Challenge Cup please contact:

T: 01903 753547

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