The Wild West of Kimber Road. No grass to graze a cow, more holes to fill than a Saturday night in Clapham Grand and an opposition that were less Billy the Kidd and more Billy the Flid. Yet despite the barren pitch, the hardened ground and the intellectually challenged opposition, Saturday threw up an emotional rollercoaster of a match that gave us an incredible victory… albeit at an expensive price.
The Good, The Bad and the fuck-ugly rolled into town on their mules, confident of getting a result away from home. Our chief scout telling us pre-match that they’d actually had a decent pre-season and last year won the Divison below at a canter, losing only once on their way to the title. So we were concerned that this might be a tough game until they arrived. The opposition were a team of clichés:
The Bumbling, Clumsy Centre-Back = Check
The Fat Lad = Check
The Kid Who Had a Trial Somewhere Once = Check
The Lad with More Kids than Teeth = Check
The Knob-Head = Check
Overall, we knew that keeping the ball on the floor would result in a Merton Victory, all we had to do was keep our heads and avoid the shitty Sunday league tactics and the three points would be ours.
The dressing room was buzzing with our dope-producer DJ-JT on the decks, cracking out some New Order, Fiddy and some Sugababes – while Gary Webber’s new sponsorship deal with Kipsta was causing a stir. For those asking where they can get their hands on some of his top quality gear, you can either head down to Peckham market on a Sunday and ask for Del and Rodders or alternatively log-on to http://www.kipsta.co.uk/webbers-clothes-are-absolutely-fucking-terrible.html
Thankfully, there were plenty of recognised brands on show with Josh again the Lone Ranger up front and a strong midfield featuring Moffatt, Findlater and Taylor. Kipsta and Morty came back in to replace Elwell and Tom Pye – the former who got arrested for tossing off over a girl’s dress on the northern line and the latter whose impressive performance the week previous had resulted in a call-up to the first team. Alex Redhead came into the team in place of the injured Terry and Andrew Larkin’s suspension was delayed for a week so he could play and then go back home next week and spent some quality time with Mary Larkin for her birthday. Sam Wowk was sadly still missing, having flown to Atlanta to host a seminar at the annual convention for wanking on biscuits.
We started strong, but that was of little surprise – I mean, ruts weren’t exactly gunslingers - as the vast majority of their shots troubled only the trees and houses 100 yards over the fence. Mind, one bright spark on their team later commented that it was their “tactic”.
“Their keeper will get tired from kicking the ball innit?! And then we can smash some past him yeah!?” The fucking brains on that one…
Their main threat was from throw-ins *yawn* zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz *yawn* as their own Dirty Harry on the left wing was making a fool of himself. First by leaving the odd leg in trying to draw a foul from Alex, then by throwing himself on the floor in the box in spectacular fasion and then stamping on Morty off the ball as Moffatt prepared to take a corner. Thankfully, the ref was wise to it all and when Merton didn’t retaliate and let their feet do the talking, Ruts struggled to get a hold in the game and couldn’t cope with a ball actually being on the floor! It was no surprise that Merton would come closest to taking the lead with a couple of pinball moments in the opponent’s half agonisingly being deflected wide and Kipsta and Findlater also had a couple of smart efforts that both fizzed wide of the post. The pressure was firmly coming from Merton and while we hadn’t been playing vintage two’s stuff, we were turning the screw.
We took the lead deservedly half an hour in, when a defence-splitting through ball by Ian Taylor (fucking hell, what did I just write???) was seized by Josh who out-sprinted the centre back and rounded their keeper. Taking it wide, he and cut back onto his left foot and curled a shot toward the bottom corner – only for their left back to “Pull a Larkin” and handle the ball on the line. The ref pointed to the spot instantly and while the opposition complained, the referee issued a yellow card – deeming the touch to be “accidental”. Not quite sure how he came to that conclusion but it mattered little to us. We were outplaying them with 11 and didn’t need the extra advantage.
With the goalkeeper, defence and even their skipper all trying to play mindgames - only one man was arrogant enough to score from the spot in, step forward the Skipper Andy Moffatt who didn’t let any of their shite phase him as he stroked the ball calmly into the bottom corner of the net. Extending his excellent, le-Tissier-esque penalty record to “loads scored, none missed*” (*on non-windy days, in competitive competition only, while wearing shirts with stripes on them).
The pitch was causing a lot of problems with unfilled potholes as the only Cowboys we encountered were the ones employed by the council! Groundsmen my arse… Alex Redhead had been absolutely outstanding, judging the flight of every ball, winning every tackle and marking his man out of the game. Clearly this was noticed by the opposition as, from out of nowhere, a sniper appeared, took aim with his Winchester Repeater and fired into the knee of Alex as he jumped for a header. We all heard the horrifying crack when he landed and feared the worst, running over to our mate to see if he was alright. The lad couldn’t move. This is where the men and the boys were separated. Taylor, quick on the draw called 999 for an ambulance, Scott cut off Alex’s sock and shin pad to assess the damage (thankfully they belonged to Larkin snr. so no harm done there…) and Moffatt and Larkin kept Alex in good spirits while we waited for the Ambulance. The referee blew for half time while we waited for the ambulance to arrive and it was then that the opposition showed themselves up. One of them asking if we could quote: “drag him off the pitch” while another said – “if the games called off we better get the points” …stay classy lads…
As the paramedics walked over, Morty and Webber filled them in on the situation. As they assessed Alex, half of us expected them to just say “get up you big girl” while the other half genuinely feared the worst. As he was wheeled off on a mobile bed toward the ambulance, the centre-back got a standing ovation from the team while Gavin Larkin excitingly jumped in the ambulance with him, just to make sure he didn’t go anywhere – after all, Alex owed him a new right shin pad!
Merton Re-grouped and did a little warm-up, the half-time team talk was simple. We were all emotional, but we had to win. For Alex.
Michael Logan came on for Alex as we looked to bring last week’s goal hero into the game but sadly, within minutes of the restart, the sniper had struck again. This time it wasn’t a bolt-action rifle that did the damage – but it was a dirty tackle from their DM that came over the top of the ball and clattered the winger. After that, Michael wasn’t the same and had to leave the field, feeling a painful strain in his thigh as he hobbled off the pitch. Moores came on in his place to play the remaining 50 minutes and was a constant thorn in the side of the opposition and we had a number of chances through Chris and Josh on the right wing, but as chance after chance was created – we just couldn’t find the back of the net.
Eventually, Merton had their second and again, it came from a surging run to punish their defence’s high line. Morty headed the ball forward to Josh who gambled when their centre back came rushing forward to meet the ball and missed it – leaving Josh Tovey with the whole half to run at the keeper. Keeping his cool, JT sprinted to the edge of the 18-yard box before putting the keeper on his arse and slotting down the middle of the goal. A just reward for the striker (I think we can call him that now…) who had worked tirelessly all afternoon.
Merton began to make their mark on the game with Findlater at the heart of everything deep in midfield, picking up the ball and driving forward at every opportunity. The defence were being shelled as Ruts kept going long, but as always – were up to the task. Abbey and Alex Hall were commanding in the absence of Redhead and Chris out wide was chasing down every loose ball.
With 15 minutes left we were still pressing, but the game didn’t end without further incident. Firstly, Moffatt had to keep his cool when ol’ toothless went nut-to-nut over an innocuous challenge, then Ian Taylor nearly had to call back the ambulance when Morty had his ankle stamped on by their left winger. Turns out the NHS can fix a busted knee – but still haven’t found a cure for “Small-man syndrome”.
With seconds left on the clock we nearly made it three, when some beautiful footwork in the middle of the pitch found Josh with a two-on-one. Josh settling into his role as a striker well, opting to go for goal and narrowly missing. We’ll let him off though…. Everyone gets one :)
The final whistle went and it was time to get the fuck out of dodge. Now I love winning… there’s no better feeling than it. Whether It’s a taught 5-4 or a drab 1-0. Beating any team at any time is an absolute joy. It’s what separates the men from the boys. However, beating this team had an extra sweet feeling. We’d have easily lost this game last season and struggled to cope with the physicality, however every player in a Merton shirt rose to the challenge and gave as good as they got. It was great to keep a clean sheet - especially against a team of bullies.
AND the best feeling of all was getting the “HE’S ALIVE” text from Larkin Snr. from the hospital as word came through that Redhead was okay. While the revolver may have taken him out, we’re sure he’ll be back on the pitch for his redemption soon.
Man of the Match
Everyone was spectacular, Alex Hall was brilliant in defence, Larkin had a strong game at fullback, Kipsta and Moffatt were exceptional in the centre of the pitch and just like last week, Josh was the difference bagging one goal and drawing a penalty for the other. However, I think the voting was almost unanimous for one Merton player. Andrew Findlater barely got a mention in the report above, but that’s because he did the unfashionable job. He wasn’t amongst the goals or the assists, but the job he did in the centre of the pitch constantly breaking up the play and driving the game forward was every bit as valuable. Reminding me of a white Makelele. He competed, grafted and put his body on the line for the team and was at the start of almost every attacking move. Well played mate. An excellent performance… Now start getting that Spotify playlist ready for next week son…!