Panic spread among the players all week leading up to the game with no-one able to contact Billy. A joyous sigh of relief rang out when he showed up at Paine Reserve. He explained he had just turned his mobile off following an abusive phone call received early Monday morning from a disgruntled Irish man who will remain nameless (it was one of the Dooley brothers) (and it wasn’t Darren).
Following 23 days without rain, the day turned Scottish. In fact, the day turned Hibs as a flood of Mark’s tears rained down on the pitch. There was a peculiar smile on Billy’s face. We struggled to figure out if it related to the Scottish Cup Final result or the new trousers he had with the pockets cut out. Anyway, the conditions gave a massive advantage to the Barnstoneworth boys who were used to playing in muck and shite before moving to the sun.
It was time to announce the team. Acknowledging the huge loss to the team owing to Ronan’s hamstring injury, much to everyone’s surprise, the Captain John and big Gav got all the players to kneel around the centre-circle and say a decade of the Rosary for his speedy recovery. Such was the emotion that even the Protestants joined in. Confessions have been arranged for next Sunday immediately after the game. Others missing included Trigger with a hernia problem on the side of his ball bag, Alister who had decided his new hair-cut looked too good to get messed and Bruiser was away training in the bush for his next fight against Dolph Lungdren.
A few changes this week with Sean, in the words of Marcel “going back where he f**king belongs” to play in the back four. Andy was delighted to be put back up top with Danny and as far away from Sean as possible. Careful not to receive a repeat Monday morning abusive call, there was room this week on the pitch for both Anto on the right wing, and the now prolific Ricky to move back over to the left wing. With no cuts to his face or head this week Daz was on the bench with Lee and John Murray, returning from a three-year hamstring injury.
Early on it was clear, Sean was in great form, playing some great one-two passes. It was his best warm-up of the season so far.
The game started very positively for the home team who passed around well and exerted pressure from the outset. The only time the away team broke into the Barnstoneworth half in the first 10 minutes was with a badly hit, ambitious looping shot on goal which Marcel met with a pair of rubber arms he had brought for the occasion. The ball bounced scarily in the box but was well retrieved by the Dutch man.
On 15 minutes the first clear chance broke for the home team with Danny finding himself in space about 20 yards out with the gloveless keeper well off his line. The cooly hit lob almost beat the keeper who, with some acrobatics managed to push the ball over for a corner (it may have hit the crossbar, or that might have been a different shot- I can’t remember).
The pressure continued with Darren Dooley taking control of the centre of the park. Like Papa Smurf he controlled the pace of the game and showed great vision in trying to play the strikers in. There was great passing and linking play between the back four (who had a combined age of 362) and Gav and Darren in the middle. This led to a quick break through the middle and a lobbed ball over the defence, found the unmarked, offside Ricky who nodded over the keeper to make it 1-0. Thank God there isn’t random drug testing in amateur football. 2 goals in 2 games for the winger.
Shortly after, Darren played another slide-rule pass through the defence to the Stallion; and with the clacking of hooves he fired off a shot with the left foot that never troubled the keeper. Another opportunity went astray and a cohesive moved ended in a duff shot from Anto.
On 30 minutes Andy whipped in another great corner that was met by Gav and dispatched in usual fashion. A great way to finish up before 6 weeks back in Glasgow trying to find a suitable buyer for Rangers.
Other stuff happened in the first half, but realising how long this match report is getting I’ll leave them unmentioned. Then on 50 minutes, in the second half, the Stallion broke down the left like Red Rum, showing great finesse as his dinking and turning beat at least three large puddles. He then fired in a low driving shot that clipped a defender and rattled the back of the net. A return to form?
There was a roar from the changing room as Billy called upon John M to enter the field and replace Ricky. His impact was immediately felt as he swam up and down the left wing. Twice in quick succession he found himself in clear cut goal-scoring positions only to blast embarrassingly wide with his preferred left foot.
This seemed to give the away team a lift as they then found the back of the net within 2 minutes with a quick passing move up field and a searching ball played across the box beating all four defenders and was headed home from the back post.
Billy, clearly unhappy, was roaring from the sideline in a language made up of swear words.
On 65 minutes John M found his redemption as he broke down the left again and found space for himself as he leaned back and struck a curling right-footed shot in the top right-hand corner of the net. 4-1. A sublime goal that has surely secured his left-wing place. The fight between Ricky and Anto for the right wing continues.
Late on in this one-sided encounter, Anto fired off a crooked shot that blasted against Danny’s chest. Although riling with the pain, Danny was chuffed that the mucky wet ball had left a print on his jersey that matched Lee’s jumper. That was worth a hat-trick in his mind.
Personally for the players, despite the three points, it was a day of mixed emotions. John Murray realised after 25 years that his bad foot is his good foot; and Anto is still struggling to find his sport- maybe he should give hockey a go.
On a more serious note, Ricky’s wife has been texting me asking if I know his whereabouts. I know he was last seen entering a puddle on the left wing- any information would be greatly appreciated.