Sunday 17th April 2016
By Colin Mant
Harrow-ing experience for Senior Vets
I know there are some amongst our number that feel a sense of angst about our annual trip to Harrow Meadow, a game which features a wickedly sloping pitch from top to tail, with a surface that offers many bobbles and undulations and an unpredictable bounce. It is the same for both sides of course. Add to the mix a good footballing side in Riverside Vets, who have had much success against us recently; it is the recipe for a tough away day indeed. Personally, it’s one of my favourites. With all these factors in mind, it was left to Roger French, in the absence of co-manager Patrice Mongelard and ‘director of football/sexual counsellor’ Mick O’Flynn, to rack his tactical brain and find a way to triumph.
You could almost be lured into a false sense of security by this fixture, set in the lovely village of Eynsford. My journey took me through Otford and the road winds towards the destination, affording some lovely views, with birds of prey wheeling above. Much like Nick around a buffet I idly thought. The sun was out and it was a peach of a day for football. Whether we were collectively hypnotised by the Kent countryside is not clear, but many played in a manner today looking like they wished they were somewhere else.
With kick-off approaching we were informed in our dressing room that the new referee Riverside had brought in this season was not one to take any lip. In his pre-match talk, the referee informed us that, as Senior Vets, we should have matured by now, and I’m sure I saw a bead of sweat form on Roger’s bald bonce at this statement. Any lip we were likely to give would be returned six-times worse – but we were not to test this as we were more mouse than mongoose. In fairness the referee was very good, and he was far removed from his officious predecessor. Winning the toss and electing to kick up the slope we lined up 4-5-1 thus:
Stephane Anelli, Ian Coles, Colin Mant, Colin Brazier;
Obi Ugwumba sat in front of the back four, with Rob Lipscomb, the newly-wed Andy Faulks, Des Lindsay and Waine Hetherington forming a five across the middle, leaving Simon Thomas as our target man.
Substitutes: Nick Waller, Roger French, Ian Shoebridge, George Kleanthous and Steve Blanchard.
Supporters: Obi Ugwumba Jnr (linesman for part), Thomas French and Steve Blanchard! You see, although Steve was on our bench, he was to play no part due to carrying an injury. Fully kitted out, he was like Farnborough’s homeless version of John Terry, without a trophy to collect.
It is at this point Dear Reader where you’d normally expect a blow-by-blow account of the game, hopefully written in a dry witty type of way with many winky-smiley moments. But I am afraid that this was a performance so poor, without taking anything away from Riverside who were very good and worked hard to make us look so awful, that I cannot write too much in the way of positive prose. We had our moments in the first half, forced a few corners, and made frequent forays up the hill. But this was countered by poor passing, a lack of movement, generally sloppy play, with some players ambling to the ball rather than showing any urgency. Riverside fashioned the best chances and Gary had to be at his imperious best, getting down to tip away more than one shot around the post. We made some changes on 30 minutes with Simon, Michael, Colin B and Des standing down for George, Nick, Shoey and Roger, but we were behind at half-time to two well-crafted Riverside goals, the first a well taken header at the far post after we had given their winger the freedom of Kent to pick out his man, the second an excellent shot across Gary just eluding his fingertips. Two down at half-time felt like a let-off and we now had the slope. We bristled to get back out and put the first 45 minutes behind us, now forming a 4-4-2.
However, while we actually looked to play football the first-half, the second was abysmal. Tippy-tappy passes finding the opposition more than our own players (did their stripes fool us into thinking we were passing to our own?), and no hunger to win the ball or battles. When we did put the ball in the box it was either overhit or easily defended. With no surprise, breaking as a purposeful unit after we gave the ball away again, Riverside slipped the ball into the 18-yard box and the finish across Gary was crisp, arrowing into the far corner just inside the far post. We made changes on the hour, Waine, Rob, and Colin M got the hook for Simon, Michael and Colin B. One further change should have been made as Des was supposed to come on for Compo, but I recall Des was sitting on the sidelines, joining in with those picking over the carcass of our performance. Compo hobbled off for Waine at around 70 minutes and Colin M replaced Rog at about 75 minutes, whether Des did come back on for a second showing we are not sure, but we could have put on an army division and we still wouldn’t have found a player to pass to.
While Stephane’s fit-bit nearly exploded after fruitlessly chasing his tail for the cause in an unfamiliar forward position (the only other player to register a man-of the-match vote apart from Gary) other players’ would have barely registered a kilometer. The frame of Gary may not rack up too much mileage, but we owed him a debt today as he was the difference between respectability and embarrassment. They were better value than the three goals they scored, but Gary was on top form to deny them. They worked as a unit, a team, they pressed and passed accurately and looked like they could score every time they attacked. These things we can do too, but we have too many not putting in the effort at the moment to make it happen, the basics have gone missing. Do not adjust your set…we had zero – yes, zero, shots on target in 90-minutes, despite every goal-scoring jewel we possess being on the pitch at some time, scorers of 39 goals between them. Not that the forwards were to blame, we were all culpable. The most memorable moment of the second half came when Michael tricked his way into the box, but spooned his cross harmlessly into the trees, while performing a screaming twist to the ground – a cry of angst that summed up our day perfectly.
In the changing room we took our ablutions, whereupon after dispensing the 007 to those left, I slipped into Nick’s underpants (rather too easily for my liking) until an aghast Mr Waller pointed out my error. I could make a new feature for the website, sort of like a ‘Which’ magazine for under-crackers. “Player’s Pants…next week, Des’ jazz-pants on test”!! This would not be the highlight of Nick’s day. And so to the Five Bells, where Riverside make the most marvellous hosts, laying on ham and mustard sandwiches, hot chicken legs, and piping hot chips – a feast that would have had Pat salivating had he not been doing some removals, so it was left to Buffet Man and Van Waller to do some packing. The atmosphere welcoming, and for most part a normal English country pub scene ruled.
But we are no pushovers, not in the bar anyway. While the Riverside gathering only had to stagger down the village, we had further to go. They enquired who our designated driver was – to which we responded, “We all are!”. They drank some pink concoction and beers, and we stuck to our ales and disco-fizz, but the afternoon rivalled Duck-gate for alcohol consumed. We were joined by a lovely lass from Hartlepool, one of the Riverside’s players significant others, who told us the village gossip and how she had come to settle in the south. Stories were told of monkeys being hanged and Jeff Stelling, but it was to get better. Nick was targeted as potential BF material for her friend, a dark-haired doe-eyed ‘worldie’ who worked for Sky Sports, and had a penchant for single, rugby loving, bald men carrying a bit of timber. Nick eyed the photo on her phone, and I could see he was very interested….well, who wouldn’t be….discounted Sky Sports…what’s not to like?
After a brief chat with the opposition we made our excuses and left…I was transported home on a sparkly unicorn with gossamer wings, arriving home just 7 hours after leaving, and then waking up after a quick nap at 8.20pm. Not even the gift of a presentation pack of 007 for Women (no, I’m not kidding…don’t ask) could defrost the icy atmosphere…Nick’s pants were the only ones I got into today.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman...a landslide of votes for the FOBG shot-stopper – the toast of our village today.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman