Monday, 19 December 2011

A season with St Andrews (part three)

Playing wide on the left or up front for the worst team in the league isn't a fun experience. The number of touches I took all season could be counted up on your fingers. I certainly don't remember making any particularly telling contributions, other than trudging back to the halfway line for yet another restart after chasing back in vain.

One day I certainly didn't get a touch was when we first visited Hopton. Hopton played down beyond the primary school, at the best ground in Mirfield. Not only was the pitch itself bordered by proper terracing, but there was a little stand on some banking behind the home dugout. The away dugout was on the opposite side. There were even some proper dressing rooms and showers in a cabin a little away from the pitch. It was a rare treat to play there.

I'd been there before, when my dad took me along to the previous season's cup final. It's another case of 'don't ask me...', because I can't remember anything else about it, other than that I'm fairly certain Hopton were the side who lost to Christ The King. Losing cup finals on your home patch can't be much fun.

On this particular morning, it was raining. When the car pulled up outside the ground I was straight into the away dressing room, shielding myself from the cold sheets of rain. A gale was blowing, meaning the stuff came down in entirely the wrong direction. Reaching the warm changing room was a relief. I grabbed a shirt (14 again - it had become my number) and sat down, waiting for the word to go out and warm up. A couple more lads came in, and it looked like we would at least have a full complement (even if it ended up being a wet, miserable complement who lost 15-0, there is something to be said for having all eleven out there).

Instead, the game was postponed. In my four years playing in the Church League, it was the only postponement. The re-arranged game took place the following week, and we lost 5-1. I was absent from that side. I was ill that day, and ended up curled up at home waiting for Final Score to come on so I could find out how Town had done away at wherever we were. At church the following morning Anthony reported a good performance and a goal from Luke, the no.7 from pre-season.

Another bad day came when we played Trinity at our place. We lost (again). But the worst part wasn't the defeat. It was the day my next-door neighbour, Matthew, broke his ankle in a challenge. I'd never faced a serious injury before, and seeing him carried off wasn't a nice experience. Being on the subs bench at the time meant I was nowhere near the incident, but as I remember it he and one of our lads went into a 50-50. His ankle was caught in the wet ground and the combined weight of him and the challenger resulted in the ankle giving way. I don't think he played for Trinity again, being too old the following season.

Memories of home games from that season merge into one, but I have another memory of another heavy defeat to Christ The King which just showed us as being inexperienced and lacking that bit of spirit which would have seen us right against the better sides. We lost 14-0. Heads dropped. It's not easy for kids to pick themselves up when they're being dumped to the ground week-in, week-out, no matter how much encouragement they're given.

By this time, we had a hard-tackling midfielder in the mix. Keady was a capable player, and he went on to play for St Aidans for a couple of seasons, including their title-winning year. But he was another youngster - being 11 at the time - and Kings' older lads just bypassed him. I hated playing Kings by this point. In a league where fair play and sportsmanship were two of the main values shared by most teams, they were a bunch of arrogant, bullying toerags. They gloried in humiliating teams and didn't like it when the opposition had some fight in them. Had we any fight in us they'd have probably got nasty, but we didn't, so they just went about taking the mickey with their every touch.

The one time I worried them in that game came because they were so obsessed with playing about and humiliating the opposition they missed the little lad closing down the man on the ball. He played a short backpass under pressure, which the keeper had to be sharp to pounce on. Had this been the Trinity team I played for the following year, there would have been six or seven players appealing for the free-kick, with accompanying shouts from the touchline. As it was, only I appealed to the ref, and that was a half-hearted arm in the air and imploring look in the official's direction. He was able to wave the appeals away, despite the fact it was a blatant backpass.

My dislike of Kings was growing with every game.

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