Tuesday 20 May 2008

"Real Avondale" Open in Surrey - 14 April 2008

From The South London Correspondent:

Real Avondale 12 – Croydon II 10 (Surrey League, 14 April 2008)

It felt good to be back at Putney after so long. The coarse sand of the Middle East and the dry dust of Africa replaced by the all too familiar tang of chlorine put me in mind of so many nerve tingling battles at here. The old building is sporting a new fresh look and as I surveyed the shimmering azure water from my lofty eyrie at the back of the stands I thought could detected that same fresh spirit in both teams as we set forth together into another London Water Polo League Season. My fellow spectators, a solitary gentleman hunched, unmoving in concentration on the front row (he later became alarmingly animated when one of the young Croydon boys was excluded from the game) and a few rows away a woman with two small children completed what is a substantial gathering by Avondale standards.

The referee called the teams together and I recognised one of Avondale’s old campaigners at the ‘table’, his familiar bald head glinting under the bright lights, having been in the ‘cage’ a week before at the equivalent First team away fixture. I scanned the team sheets and could see both the Avondale Captain, Blayney, and one of their more reliable goal scorers, Jonckers were both absent. I sensed that this could be a problem, because although Croydon had only brought a sparse eight players, they had a good balance of experience and youth. Without two of their more mobile players I sensed that Real might find the pace difficult to sustain.

My instincts were spot on. Real looked ponderous in attack and in truth rarely threatened the Croydon goal in the first quarter – clearly lacking the pace and enthusiasm that their captain always brings. On the other hand Croydon were positively feisty! Their young players set about the Real defence with gusto and combined with the wily Jotic in the pit and the ever solid Leach directing operations from the rear were in no time five unanswered goals to the good.

I must admit that had it not been the first home game of the season I might have contemplated slipping quietly from the scene to “do an armchair” on the rest of the match report. Even the normally attentive Rocky seemed disaffected and I could hear him shoring gently under my seat as the teams gathered themselves for the second quarter. It was as well that I remained because by the end of the second quarter the match had a very different complexion indeed. Real had finally managed to find the net and the score for the quarter ended even at three apiece. However that was of less significance than was the mounting majors count for Croydon.

The game looked effectively over as a contest after one quarter and it was really only a series of naive and pointless infringements by a couple of the younger Croydon players that undermined what should have been an easy victory against an oddly toothless Real.

But that is sport. The table waved the red flag part way through the second quarter for one of the Croydon players and the warning bells should have been ringing loud and clear at half time when another player was on two majors and they were down to a bare seven. Croydon’s show came off the rails early in the third quarter when something and nothing of an incident resulted in some strident verbal advice being proffered to the referee. This isn’t football, where referees prostrate themselves with masochistic somnambulance before players, managers and supporters. Guess what, shock horror, who would have thought it, the referee pointed to the corner! The table waved the red flag quietly in the background, and then there were six! Real inevitably lost the “Combined Harvester” in the fourth quarter, but by his standards it was a good return of Polo for his customary three major fouls. After my time away it is nice to see that some things never change.

With the best part of half a game to go and a deficit at that point of four goals, the game still had a frisson of excitement left as Real set about their task in a particularly clueless fashion. They didn’t immediately press the ball and in the absence of a shot clock that is clearly not a winning strategy. However, after suitable encouragement from their temporary coach they began to throw their Anaconda like coils around Croydon. The victim was inexorably suffocated and they slipped under as the game was stolen from them.

The final score of 12 – 10 was an unlikely result given the 0 – 5 score after the first quarter and Croydon will have left kicking themselves for throwing this one away. Rocky and I left with a spring in our steps at the prospect of a whole season of such entertainment.

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