It was certainly Ossie Rules Football today down at the Madejski Stadium. The game in question, however, didn’t concern burly Australian men in sleeveless shirts but a celebrity football game played to raise charity funds. The Action for Children team, managed by Argentina and Tottenham Hostpur legend and hero Osvaldo (Ossie) Ardiles, won with an emphatic 5-3 victory over The Brain Tumour Charity team, which was managed by former Reading FC star turned BBC Berkshire football pundit Mick Gooding.
Over 1,300 people filed into the Madejski Stadium this afternoon to watch The Big Match, a charity event arranged by Neil Humphries and his team of family and friends. In 2011, Neil’s father was diagnosed with a brain tumour and given a six month prognosis. Sadly, he passed away in early 2012, but from this sadness Neil realised that much more needed to be done to raise awareness of the disease. With the help of close family, friends and contacts within the football community here in Reading, “The Big Match” was born. The event has grown since that time and now proudly has a substantial amount of people from the world of entertainment and sport on their teamsheets.
The Big Match wasn’t just for the folks of Reading. People had travelled from afar to watch and in the crowd today was Steve Parker and his niece Freya. Today was also his 51st birthday and he had travelled from Cornwall to accompany his extended family who live in Thatcham to come and see the game.
The event kicked off with a Big Match Kidz junior football series which was for children aged between 5 and 15. To be able to take part, children had to raise a minimum sponsorship of £50.00 each which then went directly to the two beneficiary charities of the day. The children had lessons led by top coaches, and professional footballers were also on hand to provide hints and tips. World-renowned football freestyler Colin Nell made several guest appearances and performed tricks, stunts and skills for the children in addition to signing an abundance of autographs. Much to the childrens’ delight, they were also able to do a “penalty shoot out” with former Arsenal and England goalkeeper David Seaman MBE.
Speaking after the penalty shoot out, David commented: “It’s a great day here in Reading. It’s great to get out here and support this event. There’s some fantastic guys playing today and it’s good to be here to support the kids too. The sun is out; it’s going to be a great day and it’s good to see the fans out here supporting the event.”
David also signed autographs and posed for photographs, most notably with Andrew Scarborough, an ambassador for The Brain Tumour Charity. Andrew was diagnosed with a grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma in 2013 aged 27. He is fundraising for the charity and has a JustGiving page which you can find here: www.justgiving.com/andrew-scarborough
Keeping with the football theme, the Premiership Trophy was also on display at the Madejski Stadium under the watchful eye of four security personnel. Children were invited to the podium to have their photograph taken with it and amongst those were Reading YMCA Under 9 squad. Based at the YMCA on Parkside Road, Reading, the team were enjoying a fantastic day out with their parents and their coach, Glenn Goudie. “It’s been a great day”, Glenn said, “the kids have thoroughly enjoyed it. We’ve got a great little club at the YMCA although we practice at Padworth. Our men’s team recently won the BTC Cup, so we’re doing well.”
The Big Match mascot Fergal the Fox was on hand during the day to meet and greet the crowds and also lend a helping paw in the distributing of gifts, goodie bags and freebies to the children. One teddy bear recipient was Kelly Reeves from Reading. Another lucky recipient of a teddy bear was Jessica Bisoffi, also from Reading.
Boys and girls from the Starmaker Theatre Company in Reading also raced onto the pitch before the main event and gave a theatrical rendition to “Grease” which went down well with the crowds. Former Liverpool footballing legend Neil “Razor” Ruddock enjoyed it so much he joined in the dramatics and high-jinx from the touchline, miming “Summer Nights” in hilarious fashion!
A very anxious Neal Veglio, breakfast host at Reading’s radio station Jack FM Berkshire, posed for photographs ahead of the game, anticipating the flurry of footballs to be pelted at him as he was in goal for the Action For Children team. Neal’s fellow team mate, Liberty X star Michelle Heaton also signed autographs and posed for photographs prior to the warm-up session on the pitch. Amongst the celebrities playing for The Brain Tumour Charity were Suzanne Shaw, the former Hear’Say singer who also spent time with the crowds, as did Dancing On Ice star and professional ice skater Matt Evers. World Superfeatherweight boxing champion Ben “Duracell” Jones was also on the teamsheet today and also posed for photographs with his WBO and IBO title belts much to the delight of the boxing fans in the crowd. The Big Match founder Neil Humphries was also playing in white for The Brain Tumour Charity.
The game itself was a fun-filled 90 minutes, with thrills, spills and a few missed opportunities to add to the nail-biting tension. Michelle Heaton put the Action For Children team ahead within 11 minutes with a simple roll in, with Suzanne Shaw missing a back heel flick ten minutes later which would have equalled matters out. Charity fundraisers were also able to take part in the match, and Kelly Doward came on for Michelle Heaton at 27 minutes. Kelly had raised £1,200 for the charities to enable her to appear in the match today. Matt Evers came off in the 31st minute for The Brain Tumour Charity and was substituted by Lauren Blow, who had raised over £2,300 for the charities to date. James McQueen equalised for The Brain Tumour Charity in the 45th minute and the teams went to the dressing room on level pegging.
Action For Children came out hungry in the second half and within six minutes were ahead courtesy of a blinding goal by winner of Reading’s Got Talent 2013, Luke Upton. Three minutes later, Dancing On Ice 2011 winner Sam Attwater made the score 3-1 and it seemed like a done deal. Much scuffling in the goal area and the grasping of opportunities meant that at the final whistle the score was 5-3 to Action For Children.
Speaking after the match, Jack FM Berkshire’s Neal Veglio said: “That was the easiest game I’ve had in 20 years. I’m tired, but it’s nothing a cold pint won’t fix!” A triumphant Ossie Ardiles added: “It has been a brilliant day, and I am so happy to have been here. We’ve raised a lot of money for two great charities and of course, my team won!” The final word went to Neil Humphries, founder of The Big Match. He said: “I checked the figures last night and we’d already done £50,000 so today I reckon we’ve smashed it. The result today doesn’t matter [his team lost], and after a week of rain the sun came out for my Dad. Brilliant!”