The Fleet

OH is away for his annual Fleet football tour in Leeds. Now, I’m sure you have a picture of a coach-load of lithe, fit men all jogging on the spot & doing those ridiculous stretches that you see them doing in parks & on bits of grass.

Well, sorry to spoil the image but we are talking OLD! By that I mean old in football terms. Most of them are over 50 & can be detected by the smell of embrocation lotion as they approach!

However, the story of this particular Fleet is worth the telling. The name comes from a nick-name given to the New Brompton football team in the early 1900s.They represented the Medway towns & being so closely linked to Chatham dockyard, the cry of ‘Come on you Fleet boys’ was wholly appropriate. (For those footie fans amongst you they became Gillingham FC in 1913)

Anyway, back to the Fleet Tour. It started with a group of grammar school friends going to Leeds to play a couple of games arranged by a sister’s boyfriend who was a teacher in the Chapeltown area. Well, as you can imagine lots of fun was had by all & despite aching heads (I suspect) they played both games & unbeknown to them at the time, a tradition was born.

The camaraderie was such that it became an annual event. They took the name of The Fleet as they were all Gills supporters. Programmes were designed & printed containing all the stats & data of the matches, together with pen portraits of all the protagonists. Not anything especially amazing to write home about you may think but this group was by now scattered to the four corners of the country. They gathered at lunchtime in the Midlands on the Fridays to swap stories of their lives since they saw each other last. A lot can happen in a year!

Well the years rolled by. When they reached their 20th anniversary, one of the party had polo shirts printed with (looks at the shirt she is wearing to check!) the logo & date. By their 25th anniversary, the bones, joints & sinews were crying out for respite so it was decided to reduce the tour to just one match. This immediately gave the Leeds contingent the advantage because they had so many to choose from. It was heartening though that there was always a waiting list of people wanting to be called up to play.

Well, this year is the 30th anniversary! There are still members of the original core attending. One has flown (yes – flown!) in from Australia & another has come from Germany. Rumour has it that this IS the last one but I have heard that for the last 10 years so I’m not holding my breath!

Do you still meet with school friends? Are you part of an on-going tradition?

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