Friday, 16 December 2011

A season with St Andrews (part two)

No one likes losing. Losing hurts. When you've given your all and still come out second-best, there is at least some comfort. But when you're utterly humiliated by a defeat there's no comfort. The result burns an indelible mark into your memory, something that will never, ever be forgotten.

My third game playing for St Andrews was the first time I experienced absolute humiliation on a football pitch, and remains my worst-ever day when playing. Whilst results weren't exactly great, there had been positives to take from early performances. We'd shown heart, not giving up even when 7-0 down against St Saviours. Some of our young players showed talent, even if because we were all young we were at a distinct disadvantage against bigger, older sides.

Unfortunately, we were beaten before we even turned up at Christ The King that morning. Our young side had its ranks depleted. Our goalkeeper - who was also our captain and most experienced player - couldn't make it. We were down to the eleven who would play the full game, with no substitutes available. Kings, on the other hand, were a big side, full of older players, reigning league champions and cup holders. They were already top of the league.

I don't remember each and every goal. After twelve years, I don't think anyone would remember every one of twenty-six that went in. What I remember most was our best defender, John, being sent off for not having shinpads. I remember rotating our goalkeeper. I remember chasing back in vain more than once as Kings cut through a demoralised midfield and defence to sweep home yet another after drawing the unfortunate goalkeeper. And to this day I can see one of their players rolling the ball onto the line, getting onto his hands and knees and heading it over the line, our defence already making its way back into positions for yet another restart while our keeper stood, hands on hips, watching on in utter bemusement at what was going on.

Christ The King 26-0 St Andrews was my blackest day playing.

People handle defeats in different ways. Some get demoralised. Some get angry. In the short term, I grew to fear what Kings could do when they turned it on. They were miles better than us. But in the longer term, once I'd left St Andrews, that result turned into a spur. Revenge is a potent motivator before a match.

We never lost another game so heavily. Defeat was almost a formality, but never by that magnitude. A few weeks later we'd lost a couple more (to Trinity and Hopton) and found ourselves facing St Aidans at their place once again.

We were stronger than the side who had faced Kings. Our keeper was back. We'd found a midfielder who would stick a boot in. One or two older lads were playing for us. Despite quite a few defeats on the spin, we were fairly confident. We'd just faced three of the best sides in the league, and Aidans, after their promising start, had faltered. All in all, the spirit in the camp was good. We had 17 players on the day, and so we could finally play our strongest side.

We were a goal to nil down at half-time. Anthony rallied the troops, and we equalised soon after the restart. Don't ask me who scored; I only remember the order of goals. We were soon behind again, punished for lax defending. But, with only a few minutes to go, we levelled it again. The subs bench went mental. The encouragement for those out on the field was tremendous for the last few moments, and we held on for a point - our first point of the season. It was one of only three games I didn't play in that year, but it's one of my strongest - and happiest - memories of my days with St Andrews.

The following week we were dumped out of the Sonder Heating Cup by Ravensthorpe Mosques, who brushed us aside with a double-figures performance. I did play in that one.

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