The final whistle blew and Merton were 4-3 winners, Everyone took a breath, letting the feeling sink in for just a moment before beginning to cheer. Fryer looked over at Taylor, “We did it!” he said exhaustingly with a boyish smirk beginning to light up the right hand side of his face, as if he’d suffered a stroke from the pure jubilation. Taylor smiled back. Before the two had the chance to passionately embrace, everyone began to pack up their gear and head to the changing rooms. However, the entire team stopped in its tracks when they saw a dejected figure sat head in hands on the floor. “Terry,” asked JT “Are you okay?”. It was unlike Merton’s star Centre back not to take off his shirt and jump into the shower immediately after a win, so everyone knew that something serious was wrong. “I’m not okay lads” Terry responded dejectedly “I’m in a very, very bad way…”
Earlier that week Merton had 17 players available, but with threes gaffer TK looking short of a few he wanted to finalise an emergency loan deal for three of our players before the transfer deadline. With the office fax machine broken, Morton flew in to Peckham to finalise the offer agreeing the terms and conditions, which included (but were not limited to) a 90min clause for every player, a fresh towel for Loveday, a free bag of crisps and a Lucozade for Larkin Jr. (who gets cranky when his blood sugar drops) and a special clause just for Sam that if they lost, the entire team had to have a game of soggy biscuit back at the Wandle. The deals were done and the one-week loan deals were concluded. We were reduced to 13 when Elwell – who was in and out more times than the hokey cokey – failed a late fitness test on his knee.
Saturday arrived and despite the transfer window being firmly slammed shut, Anstey had been on the blower trying to do some “Wheeling and dealing” as he so eloquently put it. In reality it was more like ‘raping and pillaging’, since his generous offer was to take Ed Mac and leave us with no-one in return. Thankfully, we were able to fend off his Joop-stenched advances and head into the game with a full strength 13 against a Chessington side in good spirits fresh from beating league leaders Surbiton Eagles 5-2 the week previous.
Having not kicked a ball for three weeks, you’d think the lads would have got there early and been raring to go! However, Joe and Josh were still in the changing rooms 10-mins before kick-off discussing the challenges of ad-sales and PR, meaning Merton had a hopeless warm up. Ian, free from the shackles of Sam’s strict fitness regime abandoned all ball work and went for 10 straight minutes of groin lunges and downward dogs.
Looking at the state of the pitch and the howling winds. The skipper had a decision to make and abandoned his original starting line-up and tactics (which would have been to lump the ball into the channels for Chris to chase) and decided to go with a false-9 instead.
Much of the talk pre-match was all about keeping the ball on the floor and coming short for passes. So within the first 20 seconds of the game when Morton picked up the ball in midfield and Fryer shouted “SEND IZZZZ” and legged it toward the corner flag we knew everyone had been paying attention… Thankfully, Fryer was spared a telling off and Morton had to have a word with himself when his attempted 30-yard pass to fryer with the outside of his boot went straight into the floor and spazzed off the Chessington midfielders shin. Blaming the pitch, as all good players do, Morty was at it again 2 minutes later when JT played a nice little through ball into the channel. Morton skinned his man and got to the byline well - before shanking his cross into the ground and skimming it like a stone straight to the grateful keeper.
A few seconds later and Merton were 0-1 down… or at least that’s what you would have thought by the roar from the opposition. “GET INNNNNNNNNNNN, F**KING EXCELLENT THAT NEIL. BRILLIANT MATE” was the hysterical shout from the central midfielder who was chuffed that they had… a throw in. Seriously a throw in. AND it was a throw in, in their own half. It reminded me of the passionate roar the lads gave Michael Weightman at 14 years old as he returned triumphantly from behind Stanley Bus Station after he’d fingered his first bird after school.
The combination of the pitch and wind was causing Merton’s purists a bit of grief. Alex and Webber struggled to get the ball under control in the thick mud and Abbey and Taylor were finding it hard to keep the ball on the floor. Chessington were playing 5 at the back and Wilson and Josh were trying their best to cause them some trouble by making runs in behind and josh was the first to have a sighter at goal when Morton’s tackle landed in his path. Josh ran onto it and hit it first time, trying to dink it over the keeper to the far post. The delicate lob was picked up by Imogen and carried all the way out for what was nearly a throw in!
On a normal pitch and in normal conditions, Merton would likely have been 3-0 up but with conditions playing havoc, the score was still a stalemate.
1-0 Finally, Merton had their goal. Webber won a glorious tackle in the midfield which landed at Morton’s feet. The skipper played a 40-yard through-ball with his left foot (later described as “terrible and far too short” by the runner) was picked up by the timed run of Wilson, who sprinted past his fullback to get there. As he steamed through to the edge of the box Jon tripped over his own feet, landing on his tits. The referee, Micky Goldmill, ran through and pointed firmly for a freekick.
Favouring a left-footer, Josh Tovey eyed it up and remembering his last effort decided to use the wind to his advantage. Aiming for the corner flag Josh struck the ball high and hard and it curled nicely over the wall and into the goal. The Keeper dived for it getting a hand to it in the process but the strike was too strong to keep out and Merton were 1-0 up.
2-0 Less than 5 minutes later and we’d doubled the advantage, this time the roles were reversed and Josh became the provider sliding the ball into the path of Jon Wilson who again had sprinted past his runner and toward the edge of the box. Wilson’s first touch was excellent, and his second – absolutely scuffed. It didn’t matter though as ball crept under the keeper and bobbled toward the line. While the entire Chessy defence sprinted back to clear, Merton watched on as it crossed the line and doubled our advantage.
Merton made a double sub, with Chris and Ed Mac entering the field.
2-1 In the most bizarre of circumstances, Merton found their lead halved. Now, Merton are a charitable bunch and we’re all nice, kind-hearted lads - so we’ll have a little respect for the grandad refereeing. However, it was without doubt the worst refereeing we’d ever seen as Merton players. If the first freekick decision was bad, the second was worse – as Abbey made a tremendous tackle on the edge of the box – clearly winning the ball – the referee gave a freekick.
Christian Benteke lined up the free-kick and hit a tame shot around the wall which bounced twice evading two Merton attempted clearances and rolled into the far bottom corner of the net. A shocking goal for Merton’s defence to concede after they’d been having such a strong game.
Half time came and Merton were still a goal to the good, but with the literal uphill battle we faced, we knew our resilience would be tested in the second half to come.
As we started the second half, Merton were playing some tidy football. Taylor & Wilson were getting down the left hand side at every opportunity and Alex Hall, moving to right back was supporting Josh well in attack while Ed Mac and Webber were carrying the ball forward with their feet. Merton always looked like adding another.
2-2 Again, Chessington had a chance thanks to another bizarre decision. This time it was Webber, who followed in the footsteps of Terry Denness, Chris Anstey and Gavin Larkin (x3) in giving away a penalty for Merton. The man often confused with a Pepperami, used his giant nipples to push over the little striker. While even the Chessington players were laughing at the decision, Benteke grabbed the ball and stepped up, as the referee was about to blow for the spot kick to be taken, Morty tried a bit of gamesman ship and called sub, taking 3 hours to sub himself off. The tactic didn’t work though and both Benteke and Chessington had their second.
2-3 It got worse for Merton just a few moments later. Merton’s midfield were caught to high up the pitch and failure to clear a routine ball saw it whipped into the corridor of Uncertainty. Benteke and Ed Mac threw a leg at it and somehow it evaded Scott and ended up in the bottom corner. Somehow, we’d surrendered a 2 goal lead and were now losing. Was this the definitive moment of the season that would knock another nail in the coffin of promotion?
3-3 Not quite and there was a degree of light shining through the tunnel. As Wilson and Fryer played a one-two and danced their way down the left hand side into the box – the former fired a shot at goal which hit the chest of the defender. Fryer screamed “howzaaaat?” at the referee and he pointed to the spot. In fairness to both fryer and the ref, neither had a good view, but both were better than their manager/linesman who came charging over as Micky pointed to the spot. Bitter and twisted, the linesman – who had missed a fair few easy decisions – decided to berate the poor old referee calling him an “utter disgrace” and threatened to take his team off the pitch in protest. He was all hot air though and bottled it. As soon as he got back in to his little box, Jon Wilson stepped up and rolled the ball down the middle to make it 3-all.
It had been a bizarre afternoon and with time ticking away, it didn’t look like Merton would be victorious. A few decent runs resulted in wasted chances as Merton looked exhausted.
4-3 Webber and Alex Hall had been a handful all afternoon and when Webber sprinted down the right and played a 1-2 with Alex, it resulted in a throw in deep into Chessington Territory. The throw was fired in by Ed Mac and Morton and Fryer both jumped for the ball. Morton was hauled down in the box which had Ed and Alex screaming for a penalty. But the ball was still live and Fryer managed to get a nod on the ball. It landed to Josh who laid it off the Chris edge of the box. It wasn’t the cleanest strike, but Chris hit it first time into the ground and into the air. As the ball floated in slow motion, the entire team watched on to see where it would land. The keeper was back peddling trying to judge it but could do nothing as it sailed over his head and into the back of the net. Chris wheeled away doing his best Ray Houghton celebration as he was mobbed in his own Roy of the Rovers moment.
2 goals up. 3-2 down. Finally, Merton had the game at their fingertips with just 5 minutes left.
Chris’ reward for the goal? Being subbed off. However, it was all tactical. As Chris left the field to a standing ovation, Ian Taylor re-entered to form a 5 at the back and see the game out. Merton defended resolutely and saw out the game well. Taking a vital three points on the road to promotion.
Hands were shaken and a few laughs exchanged between the sets of players over what had been a truly bizarre game of football. Their manager however, stormed off in the huff over our penalty, then came back quickly to ask for his £1.99 Sondico linesman flag back.
And so here we are, back to the beginning of the fairy tale. The final whistle had just blown and Merton were 4-3 winners. Everyone had taken their breath, felt the win sink and started to cheer. Fryer and Taylor had nearly kissed and everyone was beginning to pack up and head to the changing rooms. After reading this report you may say, how on earth could Terry – who along with Joe, John, Ian and Alex had been brilliant at the back all game – be a dejected figure sat head in hands on the floor? All became clear when he said the words he’d hated to utter “lads, I’ve got to go out with the Mrs and her mates tonight – I can’t stay around for the annual £2.49 pint of carling and my favourite ever plate of nachos”. We had a minutes silence for his loss.
Then… we went back to the North Star and absolutely smashed two plates of Nachos. Rubbing it in at every opportunity. Ian even left one nacho on the plate just to piss Tezza off and Scotty FitzGerald danced around as below…
The M. Night Shyamalan twist is that Terry was in fact….. his own dad!
Man of the Match It wasn’t a classic and the conditions were horrible as everyone struggled to get their touch and passes right. But notable mentions to Josh for his goal and assists, Wilson for his running and brace and Chris, for grafting all afternoon and for bagging the winning goal. However, man of the match this week is Joe Cox. Together with Terry, the pair defended resolutely and dealt with everything thrown at them, but Joe just beats him for the award because he came back to the pub for Nachos… hmmmmmm… Nachos…..