Game 15, Season 35 Ballad of a Thin Centre Back

A grey sky …  the usual … angry and lowered … we lowered our expectations to match on the back of some awful results. Our leaky defence and charitable attack meant we’d shipped a net full of goals with only a few to balance the Bitch Godesses’ Golden Ledger.

The soft bellied mortgage payers of Island Bay represented our shot at redemption.  A chance to get nasty in the kindergarten. They looked even more decrepid than us and, desperate for a rare win themselves, IB had recruited  8 foot six Herman Munster into their line up.

The field was a collection of unplayable slopes and angles. Running on it was like being on a ship listing in bad storm. We swapped ends  before kick off running down our last reserves of energy and heard the local referee announce he would punish any studs up tackle with ten minutes in the sin bin. This arbitrary, extra-judicial frame of mind was to be a theme of the afternoon’s adjudicating.

He blew the whistle and six seconds later JB launched a full-on, late, studs-up lunge at one of their players (Correction: it was four seconds. Ed). There was no reaction from the referee.   Several million baffling decisions followed. The only logic they shared was that they all favoured Island Bay.

After an exhausting opening minute, the game slowed to a pedestrian pace. This was still too fast for most players on the pitch and noone seemed able to trap, pass or head the ball with any alacrity. Encouragement and abuse poured from the sideline in equal measure.

Fortunately, unlike the Serco-bound Upper Hutt team, Island Bay do not possess an aggressive, skillful front three. Although they attacked with vigour they blazed the ball high and wide every time and so the game relaxed into a rather casual and light-spirited knock about.

Then Jackal went and spoilt everything. Trying far too hard he crossed from a tight but probably offside position on the left flank. The referee, true to form, kept his whistle in his pocket and ignored the one biased decision he actually needed to make. The cross arrived and was bundled in by Son of God. One-nil Bombers.

There wasn’t long to bask in the glow – minutes later at a half time rev-up the Asst Gardener summed up first half efforts as ‘fucken inept.’

The second half arrived and with it a Baptist rain and wind. The Greek Chorus of unused players stared into the mud and muttered something about a two goal wind.

Our hastily rearranged defence were soon pinned back by the super storm. The ball grew slipperier and the Bitch Goddess intervened to make it 1 all thanks to a poor clearance or nine.

Encouraged by Cyclone Pam, the Island Bay mortgage brokers poured forward in unrelenting waves. Alistair’s deft touch suddenly deserted him, he shanked a clearance goal-wards and the Herman Munster figure chested the ball in to give the boys from the Bay an uplifting lead.

The Bombers legendary second half recuperative powers have not been in evidence of late – all 19 Bombers are required for that strategy to work. Island Bay resorted to that time honoured tactic of kicking the ball out as often as possible, as far as possible. We issued Snapper cards to their midfielders and defenders to speed up retrieval. One of the Island Bay team even attempted to burrow like a mole into the playing surface to evade detection.

But there was still plenty of fight left amongst the Bombers. Sceatsy, fresh from the Riviera, threw himself about with the energy of a man relieved at the thought of not having to see another beautiful, bikini-clad French woman.  His chasing caught on and soon there was a pandemic of chasing. Gene sprinted forward and found himself one on one with the goalkeeper but a bobbling ball caused his shot balloon over. That’s one version of what happened. Other theories abound. Island Bay were rattled and did their best to counter with some savvy refereeing. It would take a goal of unimpeachable credentials to thwart this team of unembarrassable referees.

Father Time wound the great clock in the clouds ever closer to 90 minutes and late in the game Alistair found himself upfield with a chance to atone for his earlier Grexit. 30 metres out, near the abandoned left sideline where the babbling brook weaves among the roots of ancient pines, he fired an arrow of a shot directly into the top right hand corner. A worldie. Incontrovertible. Two-all.

Redemption secured, the game petered out to a friendly draw, a rare example of the endangered pastime they used to call social soccer. Hearty hugs and handshakes were the order of the day upon the final whistle. There was nothing to separate the teams in terms of skill, fitness and determination. We’d prop up the table together.  

No one dwelt on that reality too long. In fact, all negative thoughts were banished by the time the Killers were bashing out  ‘Mr Brightside’ on the club room’s big screens. There was beer in jugs, there was fried food, there were insults and talk of Div. 5 next year and the assistant Gardener announced his triumphant return to the airwaves.

Meanwhile the lonely creek meandered ever faster through the mud of the last grass pitch left at Wakefield. Lined up beside it, a sprawling, shiny-surfaced, caged complex of astro turf and super fit youngsters. A Hollywood-lit theatre of lightning fast reaction times and dizzying ball skills honed around orange cones.

As I departed limping across the bog I reflected on the sneaking suspicion that the 21st century was getting the better of me.