Yes, the scores in the title are the right way round. We won!
AND I GOT A CLEAN SHEET! A REAL ONE THIS TIME!
Before I go off into raptures of ecstasy – and believe me, I’m going to – I should first point out that this clean sheet was made possible only by a towering performance from centre-half Barnaby McKay, the very same player who broke my hand by headbutting my fist six years ago in my first abortive attempt to become a goalkeeper.
The 4s side that turned out yesterday was a different team to one that I’m used to. And I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense. I mean it in the quite literal sense that the actual players were different. The 4s regulars I recognised were Dave (up front), Sam (right wing) , James (left wing), and Simon (centre-half normally but right-back today). Garvey and Luke were subs. Alex – slight of build, and ginger of beard – who is not a regular but definitely played for the 4s in the 9-a-side debacle a few weeks ago – was also playing today as a centre-half. But everyone else was new. And by ‘new’ I mean ‘normally plays for the 3s’, who had no game this week.
Jason Pinkett, 3s captain and nepotist extraordinaire played left-back. Barnaby and his cast iron skull had not played this season at all and played centre-half. Vic and Bailey from the 3s made up the team, and we were led by club captain Jonesy.
I bowled up a mere 30 minutes late and wandered into the dressing rooms to see Gibbo, the 2s keeper, with his gloves on. “Sorry mate, there’s been a mix-up,” he said, grinning. I thought for one awful moment that I’d been bumped again, but no, he was playing for the 2s at the same venue. They were on the pitch next to us as it turned out, and drew 1-1.
Out on the field I volunteered early to put the nets up in order to postpone as long as possible the warm-up which I absolutely hate. The reason is this: the warm up leaves my lungs turned inside out. It’s more exercise in 15 minutes than I do in a month. I need to light up a cigarette just thinking about it, it’s so traumatic.
The first sign that things might go my way today was during the “warm-up” shots, which normally serve only to remind me that I am not a real goalkeeper. I was wearing my spanking new gloves, purchased in defiance of my non-selection two weeks ago, and they were great. I was holding balls confidently which I would normally spill and I was getting to everything.
Nevertheless I had the normal butterflies in the stomach as the game kicked off which are only settled by a couple of decent saves, or at least competent reactions. Playing in goal still turns me into a scared child until I’m settled by doing something right. As regular readers will know, that can be anything up to several days after kick-off.
The first thing I did right today was to fail totally to get any purchase on a ball from a corner having shouted “Keepers!” at the top of my voice. I flailed at it too early, getting fingertips to it but no more. This allowed the opposition the opportunity to spank one straight at me which I somehow managed to hold, prompting “played keeps” comments and doing my confidence the world of good.
It was about 10 minutes before I decided that we were better than them. We are bottom of the league and they are mid-table. Our superiority yesterday was born partly of the influx of players from the 3s, partly of having 11 players on the pitch, and partly of the captaincy of Jonesy.
Experienced didgeridoo players can hold one note indefinitely. They do this using a technique called ‘circular breathing’ which involves breathing in while expelling air stored in the mouth. This means that the note does not need to be interrupted to allow inhalation and continues, in principle, for ever.
Club captain Jonesy has developed this technique to allow him to shout at his team non-stop for ninety minutes without the need to draw breath. It is quite extraordinary.
Most of my match reports concentrate on the goals scored at my end of the pitch because I don’t normally have a good view of action at the other end, and to be brutally frank there often isn’t much action up that end to report anyway. Today was very different.
Dave Cronin scored first, about 20 minutes in. I don’t remember this goal at all. [Edit: I got it wrong, this goal was actually scored by Barnaby.]
Dave Cronin scored second. This one I do remember – it was a one-on-one vs the keeper and with the confidence of a man with a goal in the bag and he bent it beautifully round the goalie and inside the far post.
In the meantime I was called upon only to gather loose balls, only one of which took any skill or courage as I dived forwards to gather it as a striker bore down on me, and indeed kicked me playfully in the shoulder on the follow through.
At half-time we were 2-0 up. We were the better side but they were very much still in it. The skipper urged us not to drop our game. I was already dreaming of a clean sheet by this stage and my motivation and confidence were high. Any real goalies reading this might wonder why, given that I didn’t have an awful lot to do in the first half but the mere fact that I hadn’t made an almighty screw-up during the entire 45 minutes, and actually looked quite competent at times, is much, much more than I expect at kick-off.
As we walked back onto the pitch Jonesy said to me, “I want to hear you more Steve, OK?” I told him if he would shut up for two seconds I might be able to get a word in edgeways.
In the second half, which dragged on for three hours at least, they pressed us much more. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we put another four past them.
The third goal was an absolute screaming volley from the midfield by Jonesy, towards the middle of the goal but hard and fast and dipping just at the right moment to go in over the keeper who was off his line.
The fourth was the pick of the bunch. James on the left wing performed the most unorthodox cross I’ve ever seen: straight at the goal from left, bouncing off the crossbar and dropping directly in the path of Dave Cronin’s magic boots. One from the training ground, that. A hattrick for Dave and he goes top of the golden boots for the season.
The fifth was also Dave, in another one-on-one which this time the keeper blocked well. But the ball cannoned off a defender who knew nothing about it and flew into the goal.
In the midst of all this champagne football they had plenty of periods of pressure and I was called upon much more, desperate to keep their tally at zero. In this I was aided and abetted by the simply awesome ariel ability of Barnaby McKay. Throughout the entire game he failed to get his head on the ball after shouting “Barney’s” only once and that was the result of a blatant foul.
The other centre-half Alex also had an outstanding game. One sliding tackle in particular, on very hard ground, eliminated what would have been a shot from 7 yards with only me to beat. He was well behind and slid in perfectly to remove the ball cleanly.
On another occasion he was chasing a defender towards goal, I came out screaming “keepers” by which time Alex had got in front and we collided at full pelt. I went down like a sack of broken bodily parts and felt cracks in my neck. I was in no pain but got up very slowly, checking all was well. Then I remembered what had just happened and Simon reassured me that the ball had not gone in.
I later got a kick in the stomach during a goal mouth scramble and looked up to see Alex apologising sheepishly. I resolve never to say anything bad about Alex in this blog for fear of violent reprisal on the pitch.
With ten minutes to go we were preparing to defend a corner and Jonesy said “Come on Rawly, you’re on for a clean sheet here.” Yes thanks for pointing that out, skipper. Good job you mentioned it. It’s not like I’ve been dreaming of nothing else for the last 35 minutes.
My best save came in the last few moments. Their left winger cut in past the defence on my right. I was defending the inside post and correctly anticipated the shot to the outside which I got with feet. Previously, ‘anticipating the shot’ would have involved me diving uselessly away from the near post several minutes before the shot is taken so I’m definitely improving there.
Our last goal was another 20-yard stunner from Jonesy, curling out wide before edging back in just inside the right post, the type of shot a keeper knows he is not getting anywhere near from the moment it leaves the boot.
The whistle finally went and I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day. Even watching my beloved Arsenal go out of their third competition in two weeks at the hands of the red scum couldn’t dampen my mood.
No other Latymer side kept a clean sheet this week and so the name of Rawlinson will move up into the slot on the teamsheet reserved for those keepers who have kept two clean sheets, the highest number this season so far. The fact that one was an abandoned game and the other mostly down to Barney’s ariel prowess bothers me not one bit.
That was a good performance. I would have said it was a great performance if I’d had to make any really great saves, but I didn’t. I made several competent saves and no howlers. The rest of the team, particularly the defence, and Dave of course, had a fantastic game.
The 3s have no game again next week so the 4s-on-steroids might be on a roll. Yesterday’s 3 points moves us off the bottom spot but we’re still in the relegation zone with four matches left to play.
A few years ago my wife bought me for my birthday a pair of goalie trousers with the words “SAFE HANDS RAWLY” printed on them in gold letters. Another game like this one and I might just have the guts to actually wear them.