May 5th 2020

Many teams throughout history, from Brazil in 1970, to the Real Madrid of Eusébio and the rest, can claim to be the Greatest Of All Time. In more modern times, what of  Arsenal’s so called Invincible side of 2004, or the Barcelona team that saw Messi and  Iniesta revolutionise the way the game was played?

All vaild, of course, but at the end of the day, isn’t true greatness measured by what you win?

The other day, Matt Bishop, from Worcester put the picture below on his social media, a haul of trophies that may well be one of the biggest by any single team in Leisure Leagues history.

A collection of silverware that big needs discussion, doesn’t it?

So we spoke to Matt, who was a player in a team called Meadow Celtic, together with the skipper of his side, Rob Procopiou to find out the inside track on how a team of friends became one of the most feared in the Midlands – and took on the whole of the UK back in the middle of the last decade.

Matt began his reminiscing in the late 2000s: “It would have been maybe 2008/2009 when we joined,” he recalled. “A group of mates got together to play in the leagues in the Worcester area. We joined Leisure Leagues, and the nice thing was that, give or take a couple of drop outs, for the almost ten years that we played, the players remained the same. That was the really nice thing, it was something that we all grew with. The same group of mates together for eight years, it was a special time.”

What Matt doesn’t say is that group of mates became arguably the best side in the area: “Well, yes, you could say that!” he laughed.

Modest Matt needed to be pressed on the specifics, but eventually was more forthcoming: “I’ve got a terrible memory, but I know we won the league four times and were runners-up nine more, plus we got plenty of MVP Awards between us too.”

Celtic became one of the perennial contenders at the National 6 A Side Championships, as time went by.

The 6 a side Nationals started as a competition for Leisure Leagues winners to compete against each other, but quickly grew to become seen as the Premier 6 a side Tournament anywhere on these shores, a fact that Matt vividly remembers: “We were surprised how big it was,” he admitted, “but they were good days, we did a few of them. We did one in Cannock, then a couple in Birmingham, we got to the last 16 once. The furthest a team from Worcester managed that year, we were very proud of that.”

That was at the same time as their record breaking two year unbeaten run in the leagues. One of the longest unbeaten runs in Leisure Leagues history at the time: “We used to look at other leagues on the website, and we realised the run we were on was right up there.  We were flying back then, we were all at our peak as players.”

A fact that they made sure everyone was aware of, as Matt laughs: “Well Rob, our skipper, he used to do a newsletter for everyone, and he knew all the stats, let’s just say that!”

The former captain himself agreed: “Oh yes,” he told us. “The boys used to try and get me to keep full records, but there was just too many in the end!” Back in those days, a bygone age before the true advent of social media, Leisure Leagues was the only league provider to give a Match Programme out to each player in the league, and they were vital to the self-confessed “statto”. “Absolutely, I kept them and used to use the Match Reports for the Meadow Celtic Newsletter.”

If he lost track of the individual records for the players, then he’s still proud of his personal milestone’s, saying: “I know mine, that’s for sure!”

And they were individually impressive too, as Rob reels them off. “One particular season stands out for us. I got 44 goals in 16 games – including nine in one match.” And it wasn’t just the amount of  goals either, but the speed: “There was one match,” he recalls, “where the ball came back to me from the kick off, and I’ve just hit it. It flew in, and the ref said to me ‘that was 4 seconds, I was timing it’. That’s the quickest goal I’ve ever scored.”

Like his former Meadow team-mate, the UK Championships held a particular significance for Rob. On one especially memorable occasion, he even provided one of the star attractions of the day.

“I worked for Npower at the time,” he remembers. “And we were the sponsors for the EFL, so I was able to arrange for the Championship Trophy to be brought down to the event. That was great, as people were very excited to have their photos taken with it and so forth.“

That mid-2000s event had a special personal significance for the affable player too – but also shows the true national reach of 6 a side football –  as he takes up the story: “I grew up in North London, around Tottenham,” he tells us fondly. “And at that championships, the one where we got to the last 16, I saw a lad that I grew up with, that I hadn’t seen for years, playing for one of the other teams. We were able to reconnect thanks to that day.”

Although health issues – which he is now happily recovered from – led to the team disbanding, Rob looks back on the time he spent in one of the greatest teams in Leisure Leagues history with huge affection: “It was brilliant down at the leagues, we used to look forward to going down each week, they were great times.”

After the demise of Meadow Celtic, Matt did remain involved in our network, just from the other side of things, as he explains: “I became a ref in Worcestershire for a few years. It was great fun, and reffing the teams I used to play against wasn’t too hard!”

Neither man, though fancies a playing comeback. “No, not at all!” laughs Matt. “I am too old for that now, I think, I don’t think I could do it anymore, certainly not to the same standard.”

And what of the captain?  With his health issues a thing of the past, does he fancy adding to those trophies with a spin on the new Leisure Leagues prize wheel, which could see the winners going to a game in one of Europe’s top leagues: “I’ve seen that and it looks great, but no!” He says firmly. “I did play for a few years in a veterans team and played against the likes of Lee Hendrie and Paul Devlin [stars for Villa and Birmingham respectively], but these days I’ll stick to my weight training and going to the gym!”

Both men, however, will have their memories of when they were one of the finest teams in Leisure Leagues history, though – and the trophies to prove it, of course.

Does your team have a similar story to tell? Why not get in touch and tell us on Facebook or Instagram and we will feature the best ones on the Leisure Leagues website and share your tale with the world.

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