From the South London Correspondent:
Avondale 16 - Croydon 9
It’s Putney, it’s Monday evening, it’s nine thirty, it must be an Avondale water polo match. Rocky and I are safely ensconced high in the spectators’ seats with a great view of the teams assembling for this Surrey League match between the Avondale and Croydon first teams.
I can see from some of the profiles on the visitor’s bench that Croydon do not have all of their strong players tonight, they have a stronger London League squad and may need the missing firepower this evening. Several of the older campaigners must surely have invested in the optional reinforced chord for their trunks! Avondale look to be at close to full strength, but they have their replacement keeper and are missing “the Sniper” Jacobs and their fulcrum in the pit, Frank “the Tank” Ford. Of more immediate interest to the visiting team will be the presence of the prolific Mike “007” Bond and “The Beast From The East”. I can see Rocky has spotted the latter showman and is already licking his chops in anticipation of some tasty Polo morsels that are bound to be served up tonight.
We have two referees for the game which is the exception rather than the rule in the Surrey league and whilst it will hopefully not be relevant tonight, previous clashes between these two teams have generated their fair share of ‘incidents’ and even the occasional moment of dissent from some players.
The first quarter is an evenly balanced affair. Croydon are rather more one dimensional than the home team and play the ball more frequently to the pit, whereas Avondale tend to spread the play earlier to the wings than is perhaps ideal. However the net effect is the same in terms of goals. Ominously for Croydon Avondale’s “007” scores twice with lightning fast shots from six or seven meter free throws and TBFTE drills a shot from an impossible angle over the keeper’s head. Surprisingly he also misses from a meter, flicking a shot against the post having rounded his man to take a well timed pass from “007”; Rocky looks up at me in surprise at this unlikely outcome. Croydon rely heavily on their keeper in these matches. He’s the best keeper in either the Surrey or London Leagues by some distance and he certainly earns his keep against these Avondale players, and tonight is no exception. The teams retire to their ends, equal at three – three.
In retrospect, the next quarter decided the outcome of the match. The difference between tonight and the performance of the mixed Avondale team at Reading last Thursday is profound, and led from the back. The inscrutable and highly effective Moorhouse (who earlier in the day had been in Mexico, I later discover!) transforms the Avondale defence. Again and again his anticipation and guile result in Avondale possession from a Croydon attack. Factor in the perpetual motion of “Stretch” Standley and constant interventions from “Binder”, as well as several good stops from the Kiwi Keeper and Croydon failed to improve their score in the quarter.
At the other end of the pool, even the talented Croydon keeper was struggling to keep back the onslaught. The Avondale players combined in varied and effective combinations to open up the Croydon defence. Their lack of a dedicated hole man produced a very different outcome in this quarter. Whereas in the first they seemed to lack focus, now it seemed to drive a more creative attack and the frequent cross passes and dynamic forward play resulted in six goals and as many saves and misses. Poor old Rocky was almost swooning with delight.
I must admit to having slightly switched off at this point and Rocky certainly had to have a little lie down beneath my seat, allowing the cool concrete floor to dissipate some of the heat and excitement of the quarter. Avondale continued to play some great polo, but failed to convert as many opportunities into goals has they had done in the previous quarter. Croydon plugged away, but just didn’t have the firepower to seriously threaten the home defence. My concentration wandered and for a moment I was back on the plains of Afghanistan, concealed in my burka, sitting in the back of a pickup truck on my way to meet with a tribal leader. The reverberations of the sound bouncing from the hard surfaces around me were replaced by the memory of harsh sunlight beating down on me and reflecting from the tarmac and every rock and stone that littered the ground as far the eye could see. The haze in the distance cloaks the transition from plain to rugged mountain and shimmers with a cruel illusion of water. Rocky chewing on my laces brought me back to the present. The teams were leaving the pool and Avondale had won with room to spare.