For England and St George!

St Albans Chamber of Commerce St George's Day lunch 2014

St Albans Chamber of Commerce St George's Day lunch 2014 - Credit: Archant

A sea of red crosses washed over Sopwell House on Friday as the Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual St George’s Day lunch – probably the biggest event in the district’s business calendar.

Around 350 representatives from various local businesses celebrated England’s patron saint with a traditional three course lunch, a patriotic singalong and speeches from special guests.

St Albans Mayor Annie Brewster paid tribute to the Chamber of Commerce by saying it has to be the best in the country, and congratulated everyone attending the lunch for supporting the Chamber’s activities and its fundraising efforts.

The event sponsor was Clydesdale Bank, led locally by former Paralympian David Clarke, who said: “We are proud to be associated with the St Albans District Chamber of Commerce and sponsor the St George’s Day Lunch. Clydesdale Bank is grateful to for the chance to play a positive role in what is an inclusive caring business community not to mention such a huge amount of money raised for Grove House Hospice here today.”

One of the special guests was women’s footballing legend Rachel Yankey OBE. Since making her debut in 1997, Rachel has appeared on 129 occasions for England and is the most capped player ever to play for the national squad, ahead of male goalkeeper Peter Shilton’s 125 games.

Rachel was part of the Great Britain squad for the 2012 London Olympics where she first met Chamber director and former England Captain David Clarke. She now wears the number 11 shirt for both English FAWSL club Arsenal and the England national team.

David quizzed Rachel about her experiences in the game, including changes for women in recent years. She said: “When I was younger I had to play football in an all-male team as there were not many girls playing the game, there are now so many opportunities for women and girls to play and it is growing in popularity all the time. I feel it is really important to raise awareness of the game and encourage people to come and watch us play. There is no better feeling than putting on your England shirt and playing for your country”

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Personally I felt honoured to be sat with Rachel and David – two professional footballers and inspiring ambassadors for their country and sport.

After lunch the speaker was Graham Poll, the former Premier League referee considered the best English referee of the last 25 years with 26 years of experience. Graham often took charge of the highest profile games, and his final domestic game in a career spanning 1,544 matches was the Championship play-off final on May 28, 2007.

Graham revealed how he refereed two matches successfully at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and would have been a candidate to take charge of the final.

However, in his third game, Croatia v Australia, he cautioned the same player (left back Josip Šimuni) three times before sending the player off. Poll retired from refereeing international tournament finals matches citing his error in the match.

He continued to referee in the Premiership, Champions League and on international games, but said he would not allow himself to be nominated to represent the FA at any tournament finals as he felt he had his chance.

Graham was hugely entertaining with a good balance of humour, sincerity and experience and received a standing ovation from the audience.

The lunch also featured a raffle in aid of the Mayor’s charity The Living Room and after the speeches Chris Small from Hertfordshire Auctions helped raise almost £16,000 for Grove House Hospice. A huge thank you to all those involved and who donated prizes.

Lastly we must acknowledge our fantastic sponsors who by supporting us enable us to hold such prestigious and successful events for the business community and awareness of our local charities: Clydesdale Bank, Principal Security Consultants/Chauffeurs, Havana, Debenhams Ottaway Solicitors, Impact Logo Products, Giant Cycle Stores Radlett, SG Hambros Bank Ltd, Kingston Smith LLP, PwC, Blue Feather Photography, Moonlite Entertainments, Hertfordshire Auctions and My Mustard.

Our next event is Speed Networking at Westminster Lodge on Wednesday, May 21, at 6pm. Places can be booked online now.