Former Players Stories
Neil Asten 1958 - 1960

Neil Asten Referee.jpg

Former RM footballer & 1959 Tunney Cup winner L/Cpl Neil Asten RM 133427

By RMFA Historian Shaun Foster October 2021

 

 

Born in Rossendale near Burnley on the 11th January 1939 Neil Asten grew up watching the great Burnley team of the 50s & 60s who had great players such as Jimmy Adamson, Ray Pointer & Jimmy Mcllroy who would go on to win the English first division 1959-60 season. Neil played schoolboy football for his hometown club. He left his hometown in January 1957 when working in the Civil Service he was transferred to London where he would eventually be called up for National Service in May 1958.

 

On receiving his call up papers Neil stated that he wanted to serve in the Royal Navy. The recruiting officer, a Chief Petty Officer, said he would make a good telegraphist. He rejected that offer saying he had put down for the Navy to be a submariner or frogman as he was a good swimmer. Being a submariner was out of the question for a National Serviceman, so he was assigned to the Royal Marines joining the Royal Marines with 929 Squad doing his basic training at Lympstone.

 

929 Squad comprised 32 intakes from all walks of life and all parts of the country, plus some Scots. They were housed in huts 8 and 9 and the Squad Instructor was Sgt J.W. (Geordie) Morley, the Squad Officer was Lt J.J. Arnold and the Squad PTI was Cpl A.E. Mathers. Neil had mastered the art of surviving as a single person in London and was capable of looking after himself having boxed for Lancashire Police sports association for a couple of years. As such, he says that he took to training like a duck takes to water. 

 

On completion of basic training, he was drafted to RMB Eastney and during his time there he represented them at the Royal Navy Boxing Championships held at the RNB Portsmouth competing at middle weight and winning his first fight in the afternoon but lost in the evening to a stoker from HMS Collingwood. The disadvantage he had was that he was fighting above his weight, he should have gone in at light weight, but they already had a boxer at that weight so middle weight it was. On the 5th January 1959 he left Eastney for Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre Poole (JSAWC), Neil recalls that the RSM was Jack Lacy. During his time at JSAWC he completed and passed Junior Promotion Course JNC 3/59 Part 1 at RMB Plymouth in September/October 1959 and was promoted to L/Cpl.

 

At 1430hrs Wednesday 9th December 1959 Neil took to the field for the final of the USMC Challenge Trophy more commonly known as the ‘Tunney Cup’. The trophy was originally presented on 15th December 1928 on the parade ground of Portsmouth Division Royal Marines at Eastney Barracks Portsmouth by Capt J.J. Tunney USMC to General L. S. T. Halliday V.C., C.B., R.M., Adjutant General Royal Marines. More info on the history of the Tunney Cup can be found here https://www.royalmarinesfootball.com/tunney-cup-history

Neil was playing for Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre Poole (JSAWC) against Royal Marines Barracks Plymouth, and they would go on to win by an impressive 6-1 score line.

1959 Tunney Cup Winners JSAWC edit.jpg

1959 Tunney Cup Winners Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre Poole (JSAWC)

Played at Poole Town FC Stadium

 

Back row L to R CSgt B S Allen (Staff P.T.I), Mne A Higgins, Cpl W Doughty, Mne B Hemmings, LCpl N Asten, Cpl L F Newton, Sgt T Grieves (Trainer).

Front row L to R Cpl E Lonergan, E.M.I W Hassall, Mne T Pack (Capt), Cat W T Becket RM (Sports Officer), Brigadier N C Ries O.B.E A.D.C (President), Capt (SD) A Richards RM (Chairman), Mne A Clark, M.E.I. C Thomas, Gnr T Davies. Inset Sgt J Fry (Trainer), Gnr J G Hancock.

 

The RMB Plymouth team that day was goalkeeper G. A. English, 2 Sgt E. Blythe, 3 Cpl B. Marriot, 4 Mne J. D. Beare, 5 Mne A. Risborough 6 Mne J. Beesley, 7 Mne H. Boyer, 8 Mne D. Williams 9 Mne T. Sewell,11 Cpl G. Hepburn.

Referee: Lieut A. R. Stone RN HMS Pembroke Linesmen: QMS F. S. Hawker ITCRM Lympstone and Sqt E. A. Arnold HM Yacht, Britannia.

 

In the 1959/60 season Joint Services Amphibious Warfare Centre Poole (JSAWC) had a very strong football team and Neil was a regular member. When pressed to forcibly name the key players Neil mentioned fellow Royal Marines Captain Tommy Pack, right winger Ted Lonergan and goalkeeper Brain Hemmings but he emphasised that it was a strong squad comprising players from the Royal Navy and the Army.

 

Additional to winning the Tunney cup JSAWC also played in the Dorset League and in May 1960 reached the final of the Dorset Intermediate Cup that ended in a 1 – 1 draw against Generators the League 2 champions. Gnr T Davies scoring for JSAWC. The replay was arranged for a 1900hrs kick off on Monday 9th May 1960. The only problem for Neil was that was the day he was due to be transported to RMB Portsmouth for demob the following day. He does not know how the JSAWC team manager Staff P T I C/Sgt B S Allen arranged it but he was transported to Eastney first thing on the Monday morning for about three hours checking in and meeting up with fellow 929 Squad colleagues before being transported back to Poole in good time to play in the game that was watched by more than 350 spectators on Hamworthy FC ground. It was an exciting match with JSAWC winning courtesy of a 7th minute goal from Cpl Ted Lonergan who was a very good right winger.

 

A glorious end to two very happy years in the Corps. If he hadn’t had commitments in civvy street, he would definitely have signed on for a much longer stay. Neil says, “It was unbelievable for me to be playing football and celebrating with some fantastic teammates while my fellow squad members were doing night duty at Eastney on our last day of National Service”.

 

On leaving the Royal Marines in May 1960 Neil returned to London where he had been working in the Civil Service prior to being called up for National Service. He joined Hendon FC in August 1960 who were one of the top non-league teams in the country and at the time were the current holders of the FA Amateur cup beating Kingstonian 2-1, they had players such as Terry Howard (British Olympic Squad playing in Rome that month), Jimmy Quail (Irish International) and Miles Spector (English International).

 

Neil played inside forward in a Possible V Probable’s trial game and what followed can best be described by an article in the London Evening News printed on the 23 August.

 

“Hendon Amateur Cup winners take their biggest gamble for years by selecting untried youngster Neil Asten to lead their attack against Carshalton Athletic away in the Athenian League on Saturday.

Hendon take the risk on two counts. Asten a 21-year-old clerk just demobbed from the Royal Marines has never played in senior amateur soccer before, and more important has never played at centre forward in any grade of football. Asten came to the club as an inside forward in the close season after playing wing half in the Marines. His only experience in the middle came in the last 15 minutes of Hendon’s public trial ten days ago when injury forced a reshuffle of the line. Now he goes into the first team because the usual centre forward Miles Spector is on holiday.  Team coach Dexter Adams has no fears for Asten. “He’s a strong lad with a shot in both feet,” he said. He should do well on Saturday”

 

Neil scored the opening goal of the match at Carshalton with Hendon winning 3 - 1.  The same team played at home on the following Monday evening against the internationally famous Middlesex Wanderers.  Unfortunately, Hendon lost 2 – 1 and later that week Spector returned, and Neil reverted to playing wing half in the reserves for a few weeks before moving to play first team soccer at Finchley, and later Epsom who both played in the same Athenian League as Hendon. At the start of the 1963 – 64 season he played for Taywood FC in the Dauntless League that was a step down from the leading Isthmian and Athenian leagues but was still a high standard. Taywood won the League’s Invitation Cup that year & Neil was selected to be the captain of the League’s representative team for the following two seasons.

1963-64 Taywood FC Dauntless League invitation Cup edited.jpg

1963-64 Season Taywood FC 

Dauntless league invitational cup Winners (Neil Asten pictured bottom row far right)

 

At 28 his football career came to an end following a serious knee injury.  It was then that he decided to become a referee. Within a relatively short four seasons he had been promoted to a Class 1 referee. He was appointed to referee many FA Cup, FA Trophy, FA Vase, London Senior Cup and other representative games whilst also refereeing for eight seasons on the Mid-Week Football League that comprised the reserve teams of Football league clubs such as Portsmouth, Luton, Brighton, Brentford and Millwall. One of his high points was being appointed the reserve official for the Canon Football League First Division match between Queens Park Rangers and Manchester United on the 15th March 1986.

 

On qualifying as a referee, he joined Fulham & District Referees Society and after editing the Society’s newsletter for many years he was eventually elected as Chairman. Neil notes that Fulham was a happy Society and that had many interesting meetings, guest speakers and social events.

 

Neil is still a very keen football fan and loves watching Burnley whenever they play in London and the Home Counties. He also supports Sutton United his local team that won promotion into League 2 at the end of last season - 2020/2021.

Earle & Neil 1958 & 1959 TC winners.jpeg

Pictured in 2018 are Earle Ryan 1958 Tunney Cup winner with ITCRM & Neil Asten 1959 Tunney Cup Winner with JSAWC