It’s the question that is always guaranteed to spark debate amongst football fans. Who is the greatest player of all time? There are names that instantly come to mind; Pele, Maradona, Bobby Moore or more recently Messi and Ronaldo.
The Royal Air Force is no different. As a service, we have had many great players come through the ranks to go on to have great professional careers. In celebration of the RAF’s 100 years we have delved into the archives to select a team of famous players who have served in the Royal Air Force.
GK - Arthur Kempton was a goalkeeper by trade, playing for both Arsenal and Reading. Kempton had a limited career in English football either side of the First World War, during which he served in the Royal Flying Corps, going on to be a founding member of the Royal Air Force.
DEF - Eddie Hapgood served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, whilst also playing for Arsenal and England. Like many of this talented generation, the war would cut short Eddie’s playing career.
DEF - Jack Crayston played alongside Hapgood for Arsenal and England. Jack served in the RAF through the Second World War, before going on to coach Arsenal.
DEF - Bill Shankley has become a household name for many Liverpool fans after managing them between 1959 and 1974. Before management, he played for Carlisle, Preston and Scotland before serving in the RAF through the Second World War.
DEF - Bobby Thomson was a talented defender who played for many clubs over a 20-year playing career, including Wolves, Luton and England.
MID - Lee Crooks was a gunner in the RAF Regiment before going on to make 222 appearances for Manchester City, Northampton, Barnsley, Bradford City, Notts County and Rochdale.
MID - Harold Thomas William Hardinge, known as Wally, served in the Royal Naval Air Service before joining the Royal Air Force as a mechanic in World War I. He played his professional career for Newcastle United, Arsenal and England. A man of many talents, he also played test cricket for England.
MID - Charlie Freeman made over 200 senior appearances as a professional footballer for Chelsea and Gillingham. He also played first-class cricket for Derbyshire. Freeman joined the Royal Flying Corps during World War One before transferring to the Royal Air Force as a founding member.
FW - Ted Drake played for Southampton Arsenal and England before serving in the Second World War for the RAF. After retiring from playing football, he became a manager, and while in charge of Chelsea he took the club to its first league title. He was also a cricketer, but only ever played sparingly for Hampshire.
FW - Stan Mortensen is most famous for his part in the 1953 FA Cup Final, in which he became the only player ever to score a hat-trick in a Wembley FA Cup Final. Mortensen played for Blackpool, Hull City, Southport, Bath City and England.
FW - Stanley Matthews is often regarded as one of the greatest players of the British game. He played for Stoke City, Blackpool and England and is still the only player to have been knighted while still playing football. The 1953 FA Cup Final has now been dubbed the ‘Matthew Final’ for his extraordinary performance. He served in the RAF through the Second World War and is the star name of our RAF XI.
As Part of our 100th anniversary celebrations the RAF Central Band will be lifting spirits before the big game and the Queens Colour Squadron will be wowing the crowd with one of their drill performances whilst, 120 personnel from various RAF stations will make up the pre-match on pitch banner parties. With a fly past from two Typhoons from 29 Sqn RAF Coningsby and three RAF football players from this year’s season completing trophy duties, it promises to be a big day for the RAF and an exciting day for all involved.
Both football and sport in general, is something we take very seriously in the RAF, it is an important part of service life. There are various levels of sport in the RAF, allowing both men and women of all ages and standards to get involved. Many of them represent the RAF on a regular basis and in some cases at international level. It is a real honour to be involved with the FA Cup and we wish both teams the best of luck.