I stand, bacon sandwich in hand looking across the Tolkien’esque landscape that Farthingloe descends into on December days, gazing across at the iron gates, waiting in trepidation not for orcs but for ODs.
In time, in true old boy fashion -late and lacking preparation- Mike Vanderhoeven and I started to greet a ragtag clan of Old Dovorians, a mixture of stars from the past and some noble talent of “rec. football” vintage. With all the pleasantries, and a few well-versed stories of the previous night’s events out of the way we started to scramble to get our keeper Matthew Jay up to speed, his boots had arrived that morning, although two sizes too small (at size 13) we had yet still to find some goalkeeper’s gloves, luckily a pair of dustbin lids were on hand that we managed to strap to his hands and we were out on the pitch to warm up.
The ODs started facing a strong headwind and pointing up that ever so slight but just about noticeable hill. The well-versed College side whose season had just drawn to a close soon realised they could force goal-pressure with a lofty kick from almost any position, the balls sailing into the box left, right and centre, it soon became apparent, it was going to be a long 45 minutes. The half ebbed and flowed for the unfit, overweight and quite frankly misshapen Old Dovorian side who sunk that little bit deeper into the thick mud.
Despite the favourable elements the College did not capitalise. A large (phalanges damaging) hoof from Ben Hadman in defence and the ball falls onto Guy Cloake, threaded through to Dubhan Leahy he takes it all of the way, taking a minor deflection from Joseph Woods-Libby for a goal, 1-0 to the ODs right before the end of the first half.
A change of ends and the ODs had managed to hold back the agile, ever-pressing College side, the pitch conditions had switched in the ODs favour and the game was theirs for the taking. Things got off to a slow start though with the side clearly feeling the toll of the long summer beer season. Finally, a well-deserved Jack Hanson snuck a goal for the college side past Matt Jays hands, a feat Matt later described as only possible because the goal mouth resembled an alligator swamp, I suppose he would know (do they have alligators at Wingham Wildlife Park?).
The ODs now needed to get over the puffing and panting and turn this around. How could our clear fitness handicap be used to our advantage? My theory, which I present now, was what I surmised after much post-game David Attenborough pub debate. We see, in lion prides, survival instincts which act for the betterment of the pride as a whole, any individual that falls sick are cared for to start with but should they remain ill the pride has to act in the best wishes of the whole group and that team member gets left behind. In turn the circling hyenas treat that wounded prey with suspicion, sniffing out the disease that dwells within. It was this behaviour that played out on the Farthingloe pitches that morning. Joey Woods-Libby stood in ’04 vintage Under Armour had been cared for by his comrades, they tried to bring him around by thrusting captain-ship upon him but it was clear his fitness was faltering, he had adjusted to lingering around the goal area, the College defence eyeing him up, spotting that weakness and choosing not to mark him, how could this aged, exhausted male be a threat? Luck was to fall on Joey’s side though and a cross found it’s way right to his feet, it’s just a case of staying on his feet and swinging, he shoots, he scores!
With clear momentum building in the ranks, Matt Walsh shoots down the line, renewed vigour and a lightness in his step he looks up and spots an opportunity, he powers a lofty strike high into the air which lands in the back of the net for an ‘aeolian assisted’ belter.
Final whistle and it is 3-1 to the ODs, a competitive game in which the score line didn’t truly reflect the effort the College had put in. Man of the Match was awarded to the College goalkeeper who was filling in for a position which he hadn’t played before.
Many thanks to Tom Butt for arranging the day and to the catering team who lay on a splendid lunch after the game.