Old Sedcopians V 1 – 3 OTFC IV
Saturday, 17th January 2004, Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton.
Bottom of the table Wolves hosted league leaders, Manchester United. Already 7 points from safety, Dave Jones’ beleaguered side had struggled immensely in their first season in the Premier League – a win was surely inevitable for Alex Ferguson’s high flying Reds?
Friday 17th November, 2017, Hampton Hill, UK.
Sheltered from the persistent drizzle outside, Steve “Baresi” Newby hit play on the highlights reel again. He watched as Wolves’ talisman Kenny Miller raced through to score the only goal of the game. He watched as the two United strikers missed endless chances in front of goal. He watched as player after player limped off with injuries on the rain sodden pitch.
He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket – a notification from the OTFC IVs group chat. He opened WhatsApp cautiously – everyone in the team had been burnt before. He sighed with relief – the AFC Division 8 South League table appeared, Tiffs IVs at the top as expected. 6 games, 6 wins, 6 conceded, 28 scored. Steve’s eyes scanned down the table for Saturday’s opposition – Old Sedcopians Vs. There they were, rooted bottom of the table, a solitary point to their name, and 24 goals conceded.
His mind drifted to memories of the 6 games so far, rampant wins against Old Wokingians and Wandsworth Borough had been backed up with tightly contested victories against John Fisher and Old St. Mary’s.
The trusted 4-4-2 formation of 4’s captain Charlie “Gaffer” Hughes had never let them down – the strikers had been scoring for fun, supported by an endless wave of surging runs from midfield. Steve smiled wistfully, proud of the rock solid defence he was part of – his idol, swashbuckling Italian centre-back Franco Baresi would have been so proud.
His phone buzzed again, bringing him back from his daydream – a text from Charlie this time. I won’t be able to make it this week, you’re in charge – the game’s away in New Eltham. Good luck!
The pieces came together in Steve’s mind. An away game, top plays bottom, wet conditions, 4-4-2 formation. He frowned – it was almost too similar to that fateful afternoon in Wolverhampton. He could not, would not let it happen on his watch.
The steady rain persisted as the Tiffs players trudged into the clubhouse, joining the 5 other teams crammed into the only available changing room. The usual pre-match rituals were nearly non-existent, suffocated by the cramped environment, and lack of tunes from Euan “Pure Sear” Shields, absent through injury.
Despite the weather, the pitch was thankfully in a good condition – likely to complement Tiff’s expansive passing, and the pace of forwards Zeki “Papa John” Akdeniz, Tom “Flynnaldinho Jnr” Flynn and Ed “Mr. 0%” Lambourn. With 19 goals between them in only 6 games, today was certainly an opportunity for Tiffs to exert more authority on the race for the league’s Golden Boot.
The warm up consisted of the usual set of drills – Goalkeeper Nader “Puppy Love” Meradji insisting on taking several practice free kicks, the team taking endless pot shots at goal, and a few back-and-forth runs across the pitch.
The match kicked off without further ado, officiated by a young referee taking charge for the first time – if he had expected a quiet start to his fledgling career, he was sadly mistaken.
As the first few minutes passed, it was clear that Sedcopians were a much better side than their bottom-of-the-league status suggested, and that any dangerous play was going to come through the opposition centre-midfield number 14, who bore a striking resemblance to Dele Alli.
However, it was after only ten minutes that the number 14 was in trouble with the new ref. After a few niggling late tackles and disgruntled swearing, a horrible tackle on left back Christian “Fake Scottish” Proctor led to a swift yellow card for the opposition midfielder – the first Tiffs had seen all season.
After a rocky opening period, Tiffs began to exert their influence on the game, a free kick from set-piece specialist Wes “Beckham” Bishop forced a fine save from the Sedcopians’ keeper, diving high to his right to divert the ball, bound for the top corner.
It was only a few minutes later that Tiffs went 1-0 up, as Tom’s perfectly weighted through ball found Zeki 25 yards out. The onrushing keeper could do nothing to stop the in-form striker from gently lifting the ball over his head, nestling into the empty net.
The remainder of the first half continued with Tiffs continuing to dictate the play, with centre-midfielder Grant “Family Man” Calder taking on the un-enviable job of man marking the opposition number 14. It was no co-incidence that Dele Alli contributed little to the game from this point onwards, he was completely and utterly in Grant’s back pocket.
Before the half time whistle, there was just time for another chance for Tiffs. After some penalty-box pinball in the opposing team’s area, a weak clearance found its way to Jez “Three Lungs” Eggar on the edge of the box. The Champions League theme tune filled Jez’s head as his foot made crisp contact with the ball. Time seem to slow as the ball curved gracefully towards the bottom corner. However, Jez’s quest for his first goal of the season was thwarted by Tiffs’ own player – Zeki – inadvertently blocking the ball out for a throw.
A mysterious bystander reported that at this point, the words “it was going bottom bins!” were heard spilling from Jez’s mouth. Clearly untrue, as only an idiot would think there was such thing as “bottom bins”. Shortly after, the half time whistle blew with Tiffs still only 1-0 up. The second half would have to be much, much better.
The second half began in similar fashion, with Tiffs dominant in defence and midfield, but still struggling to find the illusive second goal. The defence were in top form, Conrad “Fines Team Leader” Bell and Steve continued to demonstrate why Tiff’s had the meanest defence in the league. Christian and fellow full-back Marian Vrabie continued to bomb forward, at the behest of Nader, adding further threat to the Tiff’s attack.
It took a change of personnel to force the second goal – Tom and Ed had made way for Dan Peake and Max Robson. The pair had obviously been watching Barcelona season ’14-‘15 highlights, as they preceded to frustrate the opposition with some fantastic tiki-taka passing on the right side.
Like so many times in Barcelona’s treble winning season, possession led to a goal. Striker Ahmed Zuhair had returned to the squad after an eye watering fine-inducing midseason holiday to Dubai. He broke away down the right, making his way into the opposition penalty area, before calmly threading the ball to Zeki to blast into the empty net. Cynics might have called it a “sweaty goal”, but with each sweaty goal, Tiff’s pull away at the top of the table.
The pressure was off, and a third goal came almost immediately, Tom volleying home from just inside the area after another forward surge. With all 3 goals split between the two up front, it was easy to see why this was the league’s most in-form strike force.
With only 10 minutes remaining, there was still time for a final goal, but it seemed to be Sedcopians who were most likely to get it. The Tiffs midfield and defence continue to close down quickly, restricting the opposition to long range pot-shots, the majority of which sailed over the fence directly behind the goal. It is estimated that approximately 57% of the Sedcopians’ annual budget goes towards replacement footballs lost on this pitch, with the other 43% being saved for a replacement, taller fence.
The final goal did indeed come from the opposition – Nader saved a yet another long range shot into the path of the Sedcopians’ striker, who bundled the ball into the net. A frustrating goals to concede in such a dominant performance, serving to set up a nervy last 2 minutes.
The final few minutes passed without incident, and the final whistle blew. Another win, another 3 points, and another team dispatched.
As the team made their way back to the changing rooms, Steve let out an audible sigh of relief. He had done his job.
Man of the Match: Wes Bishop