WHEN the football is on as normal, I am a regular visitor to St Mary’s, but always at the back of the stand as a spectator.

But for the first time in a long while, I was further down than that this week. Not just in the front rows, but actually on the pitch itself. As I think I mentioned previously, the Leon Crouch family were putting on a schoolboys’ function in memory of Leon.

I had been asked to attend so made sure I got there on time. I was dropped off by the legendary Ted Bates statue, obviously thinking I should go in the front door.

I could see just around the corner, the families and the youngsters were queuing up ready to go into the ground. So my first problem was I couldn’t open the door. But after a couple of knocks, a gentleman opened the door and after saying hello, he said ‘yes, who are you, what do you want?’.

It threw me back a little bit. He was a security man. I tried to explain that I was there for the football which was on and being one of the staff, thought I had to come in here. He said ‘right, well, you’re not coming in this door and whoever you are, go around there and join up with them’.

It made me realise it’s a long time since I was part of the club, times have changed and of course we’re all getting older.

But what lifted me is after walking 20 or 30 yards further along, I had to squeeze my way through the crowds of youngsters and then a nine-year-old shouted ‘were you the manager when we won the cup?’.

So, that brought me back to being able to smile and realise some people still remember what the club achieved.

I was then escorted in by various security people, who all remembered, and was taken to pitch-side, where waiting for things to start were another group of oldies, who had been invited in.

Supporters will remember Hughie Fisher, Dave Peach, Francis Benali and Michael Earles, who all go back as far as I do. The well-known manager Tony Pulis was also there and then there were one or two others, who were involved at the club more recently than us in Jo Tessem, the Norwegian international, Greg Llewelyn and Leon Best. So we were able to stand as a group, pitch-side. That made up what had been asked for with eight teams taking part.

We were each given a team, not to manage, because they all had their own coaches. It was so impressive, they were smartly dressed in the strips they normally wear in their leagues. The coaches were able to warm them up on the pitch, which had been measured up so that two games could be taking place at the same time.

They were 15-minute games without a break. The eight teams altogether played each other at various times and there was no sort of winner of the trophy, it was a points system. The trophy itself, a handsome silver model, has been donated by the family to Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington, which of course the day was all about. It was in Leon Crouch’s memory.

His picture was up on the big screen all during the afternoon and 500 people were allowed in. They were made up of parents mainly, who were gathered together and gave a good atmosphere for the youngsters to go on the famous pitch.

I have to say, all of us oldies were very impressed with the organisation but especially some of the ability that these youngsters had. There was a girls team, who play in a league as well. What the organisers did on the day was when the girls played against another team, they had 10 players, but the boys against them would be dropped down to eight and it all worked perfectly well.

When they were having a break or getting ready to go on, our group would go to give them a little gee up. I remember saying to my lot, I’ve heard you all talking away there, don’t stop when the game starts, keep talking to each other. And don’t be frightened to have a shot if your first shot goes over the bar. Many of those oldies over there used to do that regularly! But keep having a shot and enjoy every minute of it. I think they did as much as we did.

So full marks to all concerned, particularly Leon Crouch’s son-in-law Chris Collinge, who put the event together, and credit to Lymington Precision Engineers, a firm which Leon started himself and has carried on, and Pat Trant, an ex-director in Leon’s time at the club and who heads Trant Engineering. The two companies, on the day, co-funded the whole occasion by paying for use of the pitch etcetera.

I’m sure Leon would have been pleased with the day, which had a target of raising in one way or another £10,000. Speaking to the family the day afterwards, they think they may hit that target, but there are still some raffles and auctions taking place.

To find out more about which shirts are being auctioned off, contact ccolinge@winkworth.co.uk

I’m sure if that target is hit, the hospice will be extremely grateful and Leon will be remembered in any event for all that he did, but especially now when his trophy is in place in the hospice.