Sunday 15th May 2022
By George Kleanthous
Honours even in annual Senior & young Vets encounter
Every team has its “Cup Final”. Whether that be a local derby, against a longstanding rival or a bitter enemy hated through the ages. These elements are all essential ingredients to spicing up a particular encounter. This week, Farnborough Old Boys Guild Super Vets played its own version of their Cup Final. The reason why they view this fixture as such is nothing to do with anything mentioned above. It is far more deep rooted, it is far more ingrained in the psyche of EVERY Senior Vet…..It is simply to prove that there is life in the old dog yet. It is seen as a badge of honour and pride where the more senior members of the club prepare to engage in sporting combat against their younger counterparts. Every year the anticipation of this inter-club fixture holds a special place in the heart and minds of all that it is to be a Senior Vet. As Senior Vets we have always looked up to our younger Vets side as it is a reminder of what we were in bygone days. Truth be told, there may be a mild hint of jealousy that time marches on and we are taking the well-trodden path of destiny that is akin to a rite of passage that most players must take as they transform from a Vet into a Senior Vet, leaving behind the golden era of youth and preparing to ride off into the autumn sunset of a lifelong football journey.
FOBG Squad: Tom Girling, Ben McWilliams, Sinisa Gracanin, Simon Thomas, Dave Morgan, Aaron McWilliams, Chisa Mkala, George Kleanthous, Waine Hetherington, Danny Mullins, Jay Hardy SUBS: Kypros Michael, Landy Sakala, Diccon Kaenzig.
Referee: Paul Parsons: Controlled the game from start to finish and brushed off the occasional rant from one or two of the over enthusiastic Senior Vets by ignoring them and letting the game flow.
Kit sponsor: The Dog and Duck, Outwood.
Manager: George Kleanthous.
Interim Chief Football Correspondent: George Kleanthous.
So, the annual inter club challenge was upon us and the excitement of the occasion soon turned to trepidation as the realisation of the challenge ahead became all too real. The game started with the Vets clearly on top and they settled very quickly and were threatening almost immediately from kick off but fortunately the early half chance they created in the first minute whizzed high and wide. The warning shot had been fired though and the Seniors would need to up their game to stay on a level par. For the first 20 minutes or so, there could be no disputing that it was one way traffic in favour of the younger Vets. They had most of the ball, they often put our defence on their heels, but we were digging in and glad to see the odd chance created falling just short of the intended target or the final pass not quite running for the Vets.
Things could have turned out significantly differently had there not been a show-stopping point-blank save made by Tom Girling after a quality ball was crossed in behind our back line where the attacker ran clean on to it and hit it goalbound from maybe only 8 yards out but as Tom has done so many times this season, he produced a great save to keep the score at 0-0. This chance came after only 5 or 6 minutes of play and had the Vets grabbed that early lead, that could have been curtains for the Seniors.
Before kick-off, George Kleanthous had decided to change the team tactics and so for the first time this season he switched formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1. The reason being that it was likely that the Vets would have more of the play and the Seniors would have to soak up pressure and look to take advantage of their opportunities on the break as and when they came. It was felt that we would need defensive cover more than we would need an extra attacker. The other reason was that we had the advantage of knowing our opposition well having played alongside many of them at some point in our Farnborough careers and the Vets have an outstanding centre back in Jon Gasson who is a colossus in any aerial battle so trying to get through the Vets through the middle of the park was probably going to be hard work. We had to try to find a way around them using our width; however, having said that we had our own physical giant in Danny Mullins and although he was given licence to roam anywhere across the midfield it transpired that he spent a lot of time having more than one dual with Jon and performed admirably.
As the game progressed, the Seniors began to get a foothold in the game and they had achieved their first milestone by riding out the early storm without conceding. The Senior Vets midfield were beginning to get on the ball and Chisa Mkaka, George Kleanthous, Waine Hetherington and Dave Morgan were all involved in some nice play retaining the ball well to give the team a well needed break and a chance to reset. It was about the 25-minute mark when the Seniors created their first real chance. Some neat passing in the midfield suddenly sprang Danny Mullins through on goal and as he was bearing down on goal, we dared to dream that we could be about to snatch the lead. The Vets keeper Gary Rosslee put a stop to any such thoughts by coming out quickly and although Danny connected well with the ball, Gary made a very good save to deny us the opening goal.
Despite not scoring, this seemed to have a positive effect on the Seniors and for the rest of the match, this instilled confidence in them and I don’t think it would be unfair to surmise that the game was fairly even from that point on. Both teams had their moments as we will find out but the Seniors played some really nice football throughout the contest and deserved to get a result.
With the game now evenly balanced it was the Seniors who did get their noses in front when Aaron McWilliams played a cross-field ball over to Danny Mullins who then laid the ball back inside to Waine Hetherington who threaded an exquisite ball over towards the back of the area where it was met by Jay Hardy who deftly stretched his leg up and toed the ball fully on the volley looping it over the advancing keeper into the net. The goal was met with scenes of wild celebrations of the watching masses in the Vic Farrow Stand. Actually, I think it was only Colin Mant (a recently retired member of this season's Senior Vets team) who clapped politely, but nothing wrong with a bit of poetic licence. Had there been a crowd, I’m sure they would have gone wild.
Another relevant discovery was made by the Seniors early on in the game, and it was to be a huge factor throughout. It was that the Vets unleashed a secret weapon that the Seniors had made absolutely no provision for. The secret weapon was called Jason Miller and Jason Miller has a cannon of an arm which actually turns every single throw in within 30 metres of goal into a fully launched assault missile directly into the box. To say it caused havoc would be an understatement. To say it caused havoc EVERY SINGLE TIME he took a throw-in would be accurate. If the OPTA stats were turned on for this game, I’m not sure if they would show that the Vets had only about 5 or 6 corners but if it did, I would say that statistics lie as it felt like they had about 50! Whether it was an actual corner or a throw-in felt irrelevant as the direct delivery into our box was one and the same thing.
It will come as no surprise that the Vets' equaliser came from a Jason Miller throw-in which was turned in after the ball was flicked on at our near post, it then bobbled and pinballed off 2 or 3 legs before falling to the wrong player from our point of view and it was turned in by Mark Fisher to get the score back to level standing at 1-1. The previous statement is untrue. It wasn’t a throw-in, it was a corner, but like I said, corners and throw-ins were all a bit of a blur and a bit “samey” so more poetic licence has been applied to award recognition where it was probably deserved. How we didn’t actually concede from a throw-in can only be credited to the fact that once we conceded from a set piece, our back line learnt how to put our big guys up against their big guys and hope to challenge enough to limit any clear-cut chances. A job well done by our boys at the back. Ben McWilliams was marshalling the back line with authority and with Sinisa Gracanin alongside him they were coping very well with any threat down the middle. Simon Thomas has found something extra these last few weeks and his defensive performance at right back has stepped up a notch and it has come against 3 very good teams.
The second half swung from end to end with both teams having mini spells of dominance but neither creating any real chances. Landy Sakala was working hard up front on his own and did his best to slow things down until reinforcements arrived but it was a tough ask to lead the line alone against such strong opposition. However, as the game got deeper into the half and became more stretched, there was to be opportunities for both sides to win it.
With barely 10 minutes left the Seniors had the ball in the net for what they thought could have been the winner. A move down our left side led to a ball being played in behind the defence and it was then whipped across from the by-line where Diccon Kaenzig got his head on it to nod the ball home. Once again, the crowd erupted and there were jubilant scenes from the stands (Colin) but his joy was short lived as the linesman had raised his flag for offside and the goal was chalked off. We are not sure at exactly what point the offside occurred and in our completely unbiased opinion we believe VAR would have reviewed things, ruled in our favour and reinstated our goal.
The disappointment of not taking the lead almost manifested into a worst-case scenario whereby we actually ended up losing the game. With only a few minutes left on the clock, a rare hiccup by our centre back (caused by an untimely bobble on a hard pitch) allowed a galloping Vets attacker to be clean through on goal. After all of our relentless endeavour and effort it seemed that we were about to be undone. It appeared that the football gods had decided to play a cruel card which would be a crushing fatal blow to our ambitions of getting a result against the young ‘uns. And then I remembered we had Tom Girling in goal. And then I remembered how many times throughout this season that this man had saved our bacon. And then I remembered how many important saves this man had come up with at crucial moments to salvage a result for his embattled teammates. In that moment, I heard myself saying “If I have one last request can it be for Tom to make one more save right there and then and I would never expect or ask or demand anything from any other player again’. Desperate times call for desperately ridiculous prayers.
The shot was hit with force and accuracy and appeared destined for the back of the net. The dive; full stretch down low at lightning speed to Tom's right was a thing of beauty and he somehow got a strong hand on it, but would it be enough? The ball spun agonisingly towards the goal, but Tom had pushed it wide and off for a corner. Just one more special save in a catalogue of highlight reel moments from Tom. The football gods were in full flow and had decided to spare us. We accepted gratefully.
There was almost to be one final twist in the tail in that the Seniors could have won it. Waine had once again found a superb pinpoint accurate pass to set Kypros Michael through and as he went clear I could hear myself saying “Come on Kyps, just bury this one chance and I will never expect or ask or demand anything from any other player again”. Kyps missed, shooting wide and I blame myself entirely. I had already exhausted my quota of prayers being answered with Tom's save so Kyps never stood a chance. Sorry Kyps, I should have had more faith in Tom and saved my prayer for you.
The game finished 1-1 and from speaking to the team in the changing room afterwards, every player enjoyed every moment. More of that please.
The game was competitive, hard fought, fair and played in a great sporting spirit. Every player from both teams was a credit to Farnborough Old Boys Guild Football Club.
Although this is usually the curtain closer to the season, we still have two fixtures left so we look forward to playing Inter the Valley Vets this coming Sunday. Our home pitches are unavailable so this fixture will be played at John Roan Playing Fields in Kidbrooke.
There were two stand-out performances, one by Danny Mullins and one by Tom Girling. With 5 votes each they both deserve to share the accolade. Danny’s physical presence was really important and he was a constant conductor of all that was good by the Senior Vets today. Tom Girling gives so much confidence to the team around him and once again he came up with two brilliant saves, one at the start of the game and one right at the death to earn us a hard fought but well-deserved draw.
Man of the match: Danny Mullins and Tom Girling