The Northumbrian Universities Officers Training Corps (NUOTC) is an institution run by the British Army to seek out leadership potential for the future, incorporating students from the universities of Newcastle, Durham, Northumbria, Teesside and Sunderland.
Although most of its members don’t go on to join the Army, they are still paid to attend drill nights, go on adventure training and most importantly play sport.
Though the NUOTC offer men’s and women’s rugby, cricket and hockey, football is currently in the spotlight. Over the last couple of years, the football team has shown a vast improvement under SSgt Edgell, with a number of players recently representing the National Army Reserve side.
“On their route to the semis, NUOTC were relatively unchallenged”
Last year the team progressed their way through to the Army Reserve Challenge Cup semi-finals. On their route to the semis, NUOTC were relatively unchallenged following a 17-0 romp of 162 RLC in the last 16, and then 81 Sigs forfeiting the quarter-final to send the team straight through.
Unfortunately this lack of preparation was the downfall of the team, being overcome 5-1 by an experienced heavyweight in the Army footballing circuit: 152 RLC from Northern Ireland.
Over summer the lads worked tirelessly to improve their game, competing in six-a-side tournaments in Grantham and North Yorkshire. They also had to increase their squad as Thomas Barker and Callum Leach, two former National Army Reserve players, left their ranks.
Still somewhat lacking in depth, and under the new management of SSgt Middlemiss, NUOTC came up against 5 RRF (last years’ other defeated semi-finalist) in the first round. With the new gaffer filling in at centre-back alongside club captain Luke Page-Kennedy, the team overcame a 1-0 half-time deficit to win 3-1.
After scouting the entirety of the North East for the best young talent, NUOTC drafted in five or six talented lads to come to train and play with the squad.
Some of these players were involved in the round of 16, a January away fixture to York OTR. Both teams looked somewhat rusty after a lengthy Christmas break, however only one team had the desire to take the win. At 1-1 both teams looked just as likely as the other to win it, but the NUOTC showed their class to record another 3-1 win, sealed by a late Sam Jeffery goal.
Before the finals, the team continued to prepare for the next round with a friendly game against NUAS. In a rematch of a feisty encounter earlier in the season, NUOTC took the spoils with a comfortable win, and could well have got more had the lights not been turned off.
“After waiting past the kick-off time, the lads started the match against a weakened 103 RA side”
Having proved that they could that they could perform on a cold, windy Thursday night in Gateshead, the team had confidence going into the cup match four days later in Walker.
NUOTC took a squad of approximately eighteen players, including Newcastle University’s very own Charlie Rhodes, Sam Jeffery, Max Haydon, Peter Gorwood, and Oliver Richardson, over to Walker to contest their biggest game of the season so far. Star-striker Alex Hearn and key player Ed Cooper were unable to make the journey but will hope to make the squad for the next round.
After waiting past the kick-off time, the lads started the match against a weakened 103 RA side. Once a tightly contested first half hour had passed, NUOTC made the most of their advantage as Declan Lavery cut in from the left to fire a shot past the keeper.
From that point on there was no doubt which team was in charge. NUOTC doubled their advantage when SSgt Middlemiss, having played in ‘the hole’ like Dennis Bergkamp, neatly turned in a pinpoint cross from Dominic Ash.
“From that point on there was no doubt which team was in charge”
Once Nathan Ashcroft scored from yet another cross to send the lads 3-0 up into the break, to the uncultured fan the game may have seen won. However the team once again showed great character and mental toughness to see out the game, with Ash and Ashcroft adding two more to seal the 5-0 win.
With another convincing win in the bag, NUOTC are starting to be taken seriously. No other OTC has performed as consistently well as this team and the lads have worked towards shaking off the stigma that has plagued OTC sport.
In the next round the lads will travel to Scotland to contest for a spot in the final. They’ll face current holders 71 Engineer Regt on unfamiliar turf, looking to cause yet another upset.
The fairy-tale end to this true underdog story is to win the final in front of a capacity crowd at Aldershot Military Stadium. If the lads win not only will they have tremendous pride and the respect of the military community but also a trip to Wembley. Let’s hope they can go all the way.