Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Avondale 1 v Croydon 1 - Surrey League 19 May 2008

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.

Reading 1 v Avondale 1 - London Premiership 15 May 2008

From the South London Correspondent:

Reading I 10 - Avondale I 12 (London League, 15 May 2008)

Rocky and I braved the journey westwards from Putney to Reading on this late spring evening. My faithful companion watched the traffic from the comfort of the passenger seat in our luxurious old Citroen with his ears twitching to the Doobie Brothers cassette. The don’t make them like they used to!

Reading, in parts, and the Central Pool in particular have all the aesthetic charm of a slag heap, but we were in good spirits when we arrived, buoyed by the memory of the two previous Avondale games in the London League. We were looking forward to our first view of Reading this season and I found myself doodling happily as I sat nibbling and sharing my Marmite sandwiched with Rocky. Avondale seemed to have a very mixed team and it took me a few seconds to recognise four or five second team regulars, or as they style themselves “Real Avondale”, in the team. A trip to Reading is a serious commitment for a Thursday evening (I hope my editor is reading this!) and clearly one or two of the stronger Avondale players had received better offers tonight.

Reading are missing some of the youthful players that I remember from a few seasons ago, on my last visit, but as I watched them warm up I recognised a couple of their very handy shooters. With a mixed Avondale team this might be a competitive game.

Avondale lost the toss and began defending the shallow end. I find myself tutting and muttering to myself more and more these days as senility beckons, but really, the standard of facilities for Waterpolo in England is lamentable and Rocky and I exchanged a few choice words about the state of the shallow end. Avondale’s evergreen keeper barely had his trunks wet as the game started. Mind you, watching the old boy warming up he didn’t look particularly sharp and the support of the pool floor appeared welcome.

I had forgotten how entertaining Avondale’s “Beast from the East” is to watch – and clearly judging by the fact that most of the Avondale team were now venturing no further than the half way line, they were enjoying the show as much as Rocky and I. The game was but a few minutes old before he had scored three outstanding goals. His backhand is a particularly dangerous weapon and based on the fact that the keeper’s first move in response is to retrieve the ball from the back of the net I suspect that there’s little warning of the impending missile from the recipients perspective. Avondale somewhat cruised through the first chukka, leading by tow at the close, but Reading posted their intentions clearly with one excellent long range shot into the top of the cavernous shallow end goal and a second well worked effort aided by some slack Avondale defending.

The advantage of playing into the deep end became evident in the second quarter. Reading were the better side and with some good break away play and an organised attack evened the scores at half time. Despite their consistently good play and Avondale’s lack of penetration in the duck pond of a shallow end the highlight of the half was a lightning fast move in the form of a simple pass from the Avondale keeper two thirds of the length of the pool to the breaking Hungarian. Blink and you would miss it, as with a magician’s slight of hand the ball apparently took on a life of it’s own and a split second later it appeared in the goal above the keepers head without him having time to so much as blink. The Beast From the East was taking the plaudits, but the teams swapped ends with seven goals each. Rocky knows when there’s a game to watch and he was perched on the seat beside me eyes and ears alert.

For a change there was what appeared to be real concentration at the Avondale end during the break. I noticed again that Mark Bind has emerged as the player with the ability to see what is important and to communicate that to the team. He was animated and the team were attentive. Despite the extravagant contribution from TBFTE, in the absence of their other leading goal scorers Avondale were not going to simply outgun the opposition tonight.

The team responded well to the entreaties of their de-facto coach and played a very solid quarter. I’ve noticed both Eakins and Brooks finding “Binder” with the long cross pass and when it’s delivered on target he misses few. Avondale’s old keeper managed to block out a couple of strong shots with the effective use of his face, he’s probably getting too slow to avoid them now. This resistance, coupled with a much tighter defence frustrated Reading and Avondale eased into a three goal advantage for the final quarter.

But, the game was far from dead and Rocky paid scant attention to the remaining Marmite sandwich crumbs beneath his seat, rapt with the entertainment as the whistle started the final quarter. He knew that three goals might not be enough given how dominant Reading had been during the second quarter, playing into the deep end. Again, the home team started well with immediate pressure on the Avondale goal. But somehow they could not turn the advantage into goals and the minutes slipped by. Avondale were getting no change in the shallow end and their Captain, the indomitable King Louis, was unable to use the bottom of the pool as effectively as the defenders. Reading pulled a goal back but Avondale stayed strong and over four minutes into the quarter Binder took another good cross pass wide on the left and bounced the ball high into the net, effectively sealing the win. Reading pulled another back but it was too late and the visitors ran out worthy winners in a very entertaining contest.

As the teams headed for their mandatory post match re-hydration, Rocky and I trotted out into the cool night satisfied with the reward for our long journey.

Otter 1 v Avondale 1 (London Premiership 17 April 2008)

From The South London Correspondent:

Otter I 10 – Avondale I 15 (London League, 17 April 2008)

The University pool at Mallet Street always has a quiet bustle about it, a sense of activity. The Penguin ladies seemed reluctant to cede the water to the Avondale players and there were people on both sides of the pool, busy with setting up this season opener for these two quality sides. I missed this fixture last season, being inside a Burka somewhere in Afghanistan, but from the snatches of conversation I had overheard, Otter won the contest convincingly from the start. Their recent haul of Kiwis and usual meticulous preparation easily overcame the irrepressible joie-de-vivre of Avondale.

Avondale seem to coalesce at away fixtures rather than arrive, they happily ‘bump into one another’ in pool receptions across London and chat as if unmindful of the contest that will precede their later refreshments. Last year, they got "stuffed" by all accounts, but they seemed just as relaxed as ever as I passed them on my way through the reception tonight.

Both teams seemed to have close to a full squad in attendance, although I noticed that Avondale’s 007 was absent, one rumour had it that Otter could not get extra insurance cover for their goalposts at short notice, but I suspected a woman’s hand!

The referee used the simple and effective ruse of starting both sets of players at the two meter mark for the drop to remove the advantage of the pool side… now why didn’t I think of that! Avondale were clearly better organised than last year with the influential Mark Bind at the centre of their pre-game chat, and it showed from the outset. Otter won the swim and looked as well drilled and sharp as ever with clean passing around the arc. For a change Avondale looked solid in defence. They have always had good defenders, one or two or them exceptionally so, but they seemed ‘tighter’ tonight.

Otter sometimes over elaborate. I guess if you have a coach with a clipboard you need to have something to show for it, and they have a couple of players with outstanding shots who found the goal corners twice in the first quarter, but they were being kept out of the pit and when the ball did come in the Avondale defence was quick to jump back and reclaim the ball. It was a tight and absorbing quarter which Avondale ended up winning 3 -2. At this point I must mention Avondale’s “wild card”. I heard someone refer to “The Beast from the East” whilst they were engaged in their usual animated banter on the pool side before the game, this surely is Konrad. It was my first glimpse of this ex Hungarian national player, and whilst he’s some way from his youthful best you will go a long way to see a more entertaining player in this league. He opened with what I gather is a trademark pull past a defensive player on the right wing, but the referee saw some foul play and gave Otter the ball. My Hungarian is a little rusty, but it would seem that the referee knows enough to suggest that he was unimpressed with Konrad’s suggestion as to his credentials. Konrads’s second intervention was a successful version of the first, this time he rounded the defender who for some inexplicable reason seemed powerless to interfere, and whilst the rest of us, including their very competent keeper were either looking somewhere else or blinking, somehow contrived to have the ball hit the back of the net.

By way of a small digression, I am told that the Hungarian language has a very wide selection of swear words and phrases. My Internet research on this point would tend to confirm this as it revealed a substantial choice, from which my persona favourite (translated) is : “I'll tear your head off and vomit into your lung”.

The game remained tight in the second quarter. Avondale’s seasoned keeper failed to get out of the way of several good shots and at the other end Wayne “The Sniper” Jacobs was holding the defence’s attention, but was not converting at his accustomed rate. Otter’s sharp shooters managed to hit the inside wood and top corner with impressive shooting, but the Avondale defence kept them under pressure and at a distance.

The game turned in the third quarter. The fabulously consistent “Binder” opened with a pinpoint bottom corner shot from a foul on six or seven meters and Avondale’s excellent defence had what is technically referred to as “a blinder”. Dave “Stretch” Standley, lived up to his name with some excellent improbably distant steals, Moorhouse was impregnable and the keeper pulled off an unlikely save moving across the whole goal to deny Otter an inevitable score and blocking another point blank backhand with his wizened head. Two penalties drawn from aggressive drives around the rock solid “Tank” in the pit and a late steal and break from “Stretch” capped off an excellent quarter for the visitors. Judging by the somewhat ironic cheer that issued from the whole squad when Stretch beat the keeper on both of his one-on-one breaks the confidence with which he finished tonight may not reflect his normal modus operandi!

The quarter ended with Avondale six clear and baring accidents, past the post. There were no accidents and whilst they did let their foot off the gas a little the game had moved beyond Otter. There was a suggestion from one of the Avondale players that at five down and within the last minute that Otter’s last timeout was a chance for the coach to write their drinks order on the clipboard; you never can tell.

It promises to be an eventful season…..

"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.

London League 1 - 7 April 2008

From The South London Correspondent:

Croydon I 10 - Avondale I 12 (London League, 7 April 2008)

This was my first visit to the new facility at Whitgift School, having spent the previous season unavoidably absent as a result of several regional conflicts – such is life and war! It’s a considerable improvement on the old pool and nice to see that someone thought to provide a deep pool for Water Polo, they are too few and far between.

Croydon have aspirations in all competitions this season and with some talented old hands and some rapidly improving youngsters they have a lot of potential. Avondale are much the same as I remember them; relaxed seemingly to the point of indifference on occasions, they still have a wealth of talent to call on and are a difficult team to beat.

Avondale led from the start and could have been seven or eight goals clear by half time. Croydon have an excellent young keeper (they are all young compared with the wizened old goat the Avondale keep trotting out) who stopped several good shots, but the people looking most nervous were the pool management. Their nice new goal posts took a terrible drubbing from the lightning fast shots of Avondale’s “007” and “The Sniper”. On tonight’s showing Avondale should bring some spare timber and a Black and Decker when “007” is playing.

Croydon have several dangerous shooters and will always score goals if they are not marked. Perhaps Avondale were far enough clear in the last quarter that they could afford to be somewhat relaxed in their close marking – although perhaps I’m being charitable and the big pool had taken its toll by then. In any event Croydon were too far down for their comeback to really threaten the final result, but it made for a more exciting last few minutes for Rocky and me.