Thursday 12 June 2008

Whitgift I 5 - Avondale I 18 (Surrey League, 11 June 2008)

It’s a pleasure to visit the ample facilities at Whitgift School. You can knock the private education system (if you can’t afford it) but what could be more reassuring to those of us with an eye for the colonial past than to wander across the manicured cricket field in the warm summer evening with the sound of peacocks calling in the twilight. Next year’s prospective subscribers were emerging from the main school building brushing the crumbs away from their mouths as they ascended to the cool leather comfort of their lumpen four by fours. Satiated after the redundant but comforting smokes salmon sandwiches, Sauvignon Blanc and the Headmaster's address.

Rocky and I slipped through the throng as if invisible and made our way to the comfortable café area of the sports centre. The protagonists arrived in dribs and drabs and were diverted by a rather dull European soccer competition emerging without conviction from the large television screens. Rocky flopped beside me unenthusiastically.

My pre-match research had uncovered nothing about the form of the home team, Whitgift. They may have been playing as the home team, but the visitors looked just as comfortable as they chatted amiably in the cafe. I noticed a number of key players missing from the Avondale ranks, but picked up from their conversation that their dependable Captain had been forced to make a detour to collect a number of players after some vehicular malfunction. I saw no Bond, Konrad, Bind, Ford, Standley or Jacobs and wondered if Avondale were guilty of complacency. The Surrey league may not have quite the caché of the London Premiership, and Avondale went undefeated in this competition last season. Hubris is a dangerous and seductive companion and Whitgift can call upon a number of talented players. I felt an unexpected frisson of excitement and found myself considering that a rather more competitive encounter might be on the cards than I had envisaged when Rocky and I set out this evening.

As the teams warmed up it was apparent that the visitors had a solid but uninspired eight. And without their captain, no hats. It was all rather shambolic, with a gentle, casual air until the reason for their insouciance became clear. In short order, Konrad (as you’ll remember, tagged with the rather apposite moniker of “The Beast from the East”) their captain Petzer, Bond and Jacobs all arrived. A different prospect, suddenly, for the home team!

The late arrivals for Avondale had no time to warm up and the game started, late, with several of them dry. Two minutes later I was startled to find that the home team had the initial advantage with two unanswered goals. They weren’t goals that particularly inspired confidence and they owed something to the lack of attention that the visiting defenders managed to muster. The old Avondale keeper had only moved twice so far to retrieve the ball from the back of the net. When you’ve been at this game as long as I have you can sense an upset in the air. Rocky has a canine radar for these things that is more acute than his sense of smell; frankly it’s second to none, but he was comatose beneath my seat! Sure enough the tide turned in spectacular style when TBFTE somehow threaded a backhand shot through the Whitgift keeper. I say ‘through’ because there is no way to get a ball through the gaps between limb and post from the angle presented to the Hungarian wizard. Once again the laws of physics that bind the rest of us proved an ineffectual constraint and the Avondale show was back n the road. Jacobs arrived in the pool a moment later and warmed up with two strokes and a shot from the half way line that the keeper failed to even register. Remonstrating with a defender from one side of the goal when ‘The Sniper’ is in possession anywhere in the pool is a foolhardy pursuit. ‘The Sniper’ followed up with cross goal shot two minutes later and the keeper, who until this point had made a number of good saves, was simply operating in the wrong time frame to have any chance of interacting with the passing missile. The quarter closed at 3-2 to the visitors and now Rocky was scanning the pool eagerly from the seat beside me.

There might have been only a single goal between the teams, but both Rocky and I knew that the game was over. There was a time in Avondale’s past when I would have sneaked out and treated myself to a double decaf skinny mocha in the café. Now Rocky and I were looking forward to the entertainment. As a competitive spectacle, we were destined for disappointment, but there was some engaging water Polo ahead. The Avondale Captain began in style with a strong surge in the pit and scored at close quarters from a precise and well timed pass. Bond began to find his range and TBFTE delivered a trademark backhand that slammed in from the underside of the bar before anyone had even seen him pick up the ball. It must be rather demoralising for the opposition to shoot and three seconds later find youselves another goal down. It's simplicity itself and takes but a moment when the aged, but still surprisingly competent, Avondale keeper delivers a long accurate pass to the very slippery 007 who shoots and scores from ten metres. Suffice to say that the next two quarters were largely one-way traffic and they ended 9-3 and 16-5 to the visitors.

We had a moment of excitement towards the end of the third quarter then two of the players managed to spill some blood and perform a reasonable facsimile of Johnnie Weissmuller wrestling a crocodile in one of his 1940s Tarzan films. The referee laconically dismissed both players to the dressing room as a reward for their indulgent behaviour and both teams played with a man down for four minutes.

I was impressed with the efforts of Old Dave Brooks in the final quarter. For an old bloke he still gets about and in defence few adversaries get the better of him. On this occasion, cloaked in the invisibility of old age, he stole down the left wing undetected and put away a simple chance from a cross pass, whilst the keeper was busy attending to what appeared a moment earlier to be more important matters at the other side of his goal. Avondale finished with an outstanding bounce shot from the elusive 007 from all of 15 metres. The ball flew into the top of the net and Rocky gave a small bark of delight; a tasty little treat for my faithful companion at the end of another diverting Polo evening.

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