New season, new danger.
The first thing that struck me about the teamsheet this week is that it was sent out on Wednesday, a full 24 hours before the cry-off deadline of Thursday 7pm (which it mentions in big red letters). I’m tempted to start looking for a star in the East since this is clearly the age of miracles.
The second thing I noticed was that I was picked to play for the 5s. The 4s new skipper Sam Whitewood had selected a certain T Whitewood to play for the 4s. Yes, once again I am a victim of nepotism as Sam selects his brother to play in goal on the spurious grounds that his brother is a much better goalkeeper than I am.
(If I had a brother who captained an LOBFC team I think we can be reasonably confident that he would have picked T Whitewood too. The 4s went on to win 5-0.)
Skipper-in-absentia Ashley texted me on Thursday to remind me that the game was in “fucking Harrow” – a reference to the same fixture last year when I left at the usual time before realising how far away the game was and ending up there about an hour late. Yesterday I was fully prepared and left with an hour to spare, hit horrendous traffic on the North Circular Road and arrived an hour late. This time however I was still there before most of the rest of the team who had hit the same traffic and we kicked off about 30 minutes late with nine men on the pitch.
And within two minutes I’d made a really good save!
For some reason playing in goal is the only aspect of my life where I really suffer from nerves, and this one was nerves squared being the first game of the new season. A decent save normally settles me down a bit (assuming I make one – sometimes I go whole months feeling nervous) but this one didn’t work for some reason. Maybe it was too early on.
A striker got in behind the defence slightly to my left and with only me to beat from 10 yards put it to my right just within reach. I dived low and fast and got a hand to it, and the resulting scramble saw the ball go behind for a goal kick.
A few minutes later I had one of the funniest moments of my goalkeeping career in the sense that I thought it was funny at the time rather than funny a few hours later looking back on it.
They had a corner. I stayed on my line, which is my MO. (I gave up coming out for corners shortly after a) punching my team-mate in the head on my first attempt at intercepting a corner and b) missing every other corner I’ve ever come out for. ) Somebody kicked the ball quite near my near post, I followed it, lost it, heard a kick behind me, turned, heard the ball ping the post, turned again, heard another shot, turned, and finally fell over dizzy. Fortunately the ball was out of play by the time I collapsed. I got up giggling and said to a defender, “I had no idea what was going on there.” He said “Really.”
There was another shot to my left which barely missed the post as I ineffectually threw my legs out to stop it. “I had it covered,” I said to skipper Andy Shewring. “Of course you did,” he said.
In the meantime our wiry young striker Luke scored a great goal off a long low cross from the left wing, putting us 1-0 up.
They had several corners each of which seemed to curl nearer and neared to me. I was starting to think that my policy of staying on my line was looking more and more ridiculous until finally one corner actually curled right to me on the line. I punched it out. By which I mean I actually punched the ball, made contact, and put it out behind the line without being a danger to myself or others. (That’s the first time I’ve ever done so. It’s only taken a season.)
However I don’t wish to give the impression that my performance was good, or even adequate. Aside from the heroic saves, accurate placement of fists and falling-over-dizzy there was serious work to be done and I’m afraid to say that I shopped two goals in the first half. Neither was really a goalie blunder, I’m pleased to report, but both might have been saved by a better man. The first was a masked shot from a goalmouth scramble – a striker hooked his foot around the ball 6 yards out in front of Ashley (who was playing despite being absent) and it shot it past me as I barely saw it. The second was a one-on-one on my right, a few yards from goal with the striker under pressure from a chasing defender he put it low and hard at my near post and I got down to it too late.
One of the weakest parts of my game is kicking. I generally don’t take my own goal kicks because they struggle to reach the edge of the 18 yard box. Three weeks ago I went out into the park with a couple of balls and took thirty or forty practice kicks.
The next day I couldn’t walk. My right ankle was jiggered. It took three weeks before I felt able to play on it again, and that turned out to be a mistake. So at half time I hobbled across and told skipper Andy Shewring that I had to come off.
Ashley volunteered to go between the sticks and I offered him a choice of goalie tops: yellow or green. He said, “I’ll take the green, I don’t think I’ve seen you wear that one, it might be less cursed.” I playfully stamped on his knee, the cheeky bastard.
I think it’s fair to say that when I make a goalkeeping howler I am quite up-front about it on this blog. I make no attempt to excuse myself, and only offer up the defence of being, basically, rubbish. But there is an ethical dilemma when another keeper, one who has gallantly stepped in to take my place, does something so unbelievably stupid it makes even me blush. Do I play it down? Do I assure him that I would have done no better and that everyone makes mistakes? Do I fuck.
Partly out of journalistic integrity but mostly because he loudly announced his desire to avoid the Curse of the Rawly, I’m going to tell you exactly what happened. Five minutes into the second half Ashley took a goal kick which was indistinguishable from a through-ball to their striker. It was perfectly weighted and landed right at his feet just outside the area from which position he could hardly miss. Ashley came running out, arms and legs flailing, which had precisely zero effect on the result. 3-1. Welcome to the land of the cursed, Ash.
Aside from that, and a few other wayward goal kicks Ash had a very good game in goal, claiming several crosses and corners that I would not even have attempted, and at least two good saves. They did score one more but there was nothing he could do about that.
Watching from the sidelines I could see how much better a team the 5s are than they were last season. A few new players have joined, Pat in particular ran and ran until he was brought off after 70 minutes, but also the existing youngsters are a year older and bigger. Ross is clearly going to be a very good defender, assuming he can stop thumping people in the back and Alan was winning balls and headers he would have shrunk from last year. (I have a feeling his name isn’t actually Alan. I’ll correct this later.) [Edit: his name is indeed Alan and apparently it was he who scored, not Luke. It's a good thing somebody was paying attention.]
I might be out for a while with this ankle issue but I think the 5s will manage without me for a bit.