With injuries plaguing the team and a starting XI that featured some returning from recent injury, the day was set to be a long one for PPR. Upon arrival at the pitch, however, it seemed team spirit was high and the possible appearance from the elusive team mascot created a buzz around the pitch that no one could ignore.
My nomination as captain came as both a surprise and a great honour, and came off the back of what I can only assume is my calm and rational attitude, and a likeable nature that referee’s and players alike will warm to. I fear I may never be selected as captain again.
The first half got underway upon a bobbly pitch in our home arena, Regents Park. With instructions to come out firing on all cylinders from the gaffer, Priory showed a fire in their belly that would see them control the game with composure. Even with a heavy blow dealt early on when Priory’s talisman Med’s was forced to withdraw, they looked confident.
The gaffer’s instructions seemed to be ringing clear in the Belfast Butcher’s ears when on 10 mins he lost sight of the ball and ploughed through one of the Wogm midfielders shinpads. The referee reached for his pocket and withdrew a yellow, possibly the only decision he got right in the game.
Priory’s confidence and ability was clear for all to see as they played it comfortably from the back and held it up well in midfield and attack. One such attack ended in a glancing header from Mooney that narrowly missed the net after Aldy had picked him out from what seemed an impossible angle. We were on the verge and we could feel it.
The break came on 35 minutes when a halfway line free kick was launched into the box and Gomme, the in form poacher, nodded home to make it 1-0.
The mood was upbeat at half time and other than a few mazy runs from washboard abs on the left wing, there wasn’t too much to trouble PPR. Or so we thought...
The start of the second half saw some pretty scattered play from both teams and it seemed no-one could get the ball under control. The referee’s erratic and biased calls did nothing to allay PPR’s already dwindling confidence in his ability and this began to show in our un-characteristically nervous play.
One player on the pitch who refused to let the ref or any other circumstances get to him was MoM Neil. After Wogm’s captain lashed a shot away from the edge of the area heading towards the bottom left corner, Neil somehow managed to stick out a concrete right hand only for the ball to fall to Wogm’s striker on the penalty spot. It looked as though the inevitable was about to happen as the striker looked up to see Neil sprawled across the floor reeling from the first save. Not on Neil’s watch. Cat like, he returned to his feet and had dived to his left in the blink of an eye only to stick his left forearm out showing his ambidexterity. I, along with everyone on the pitch (apart from the ref who was still thinking up ways to award Wogm a goal at any excuse) was in shock. Honestly the best goal keeping I have seen at this standard, and better than a lot of what I see regularly in the premiership, well done Neil.
The elation was short lived however. From the corner PPR were caught unawares from a short ball and Wogm were able to get in behind enemy lines and blast home from a couple of yards. 1-1.
Things then took another turn for the worse when the second bout of bullet like cramp forced our midfield dynamo, Chunter, off the pitch. His replacement, Ween, showed great courage to play on an injured ankle after pole dancing in Inferno’s the night before and made an immediate impact by helping to win a corner..
He stepped up and whipped a Roberto Carlos-esque ball into the far side of the 6 yard box from. With one eye on the ball and one eye on Owly, Mooney rose like a leaping salmon to meet Ween’s cross and head butt the ball over the line. Gomme however had other plans, trying to maintain his 100% goal poaching record, raced inside the goal like a headless chicken. Although already inside the goal, and therefore not technically on the pitch, the ref saw this as a perfect opportunity not to allow the goal. I lost it. I’m not proud of my behaviour and I hope I was a shining example for how you should NOT behave when you are captain.
Wogm pounced on the ref’s new found hatred of PPR (mainly me) by playing a ball so offside that even Sian Massey would have called it, and watched as play was waved on and our calls fell on deaf ears. Wogm converted opportunity that was presented to them on a plate. At this point, Carsten lost it. I would like to write about the gentlemanly conduct of footballers on the pitch, how the ref’s only there to help and how Carsten should not have behaved in that manner, but that may seem hypocritical of me as I was actually stood over Carsten’s shoulder egging him on and refusing to pay. Luckily Carsten’s beard must have obscured my face as he chose only to book Carsten leaving me to make a hasty exit. 2-1.
Minutes later we were reduced to 10 men when Baker’s incredible energy proved to be his downfall. Twisting his ankle under pressure he hobbled off to the sideline. Another blow to PPR’s increasing injury woes.
Wogm were able to capitalise on PPR’s reduced team and scored what unfortunately was a great goal from a tough angle. All credit to the central midfielder that scored and apart from looking dejected, I didn’t have a single thing to say about the goal. The referee obviously saw this as the perfect opportunity to really rub it in, I must applaud him, he knew that it might slightly annoy me if he ran up to me celebrating the goal as if he had scored it. When I benignly questioned the motives behind his inexplicable behaviour, he started on me. Luckily Mooney’s calming influence soothed the ref so much so that, instead of wanting to beat me up, he was happy if I was stood 20 yards away facing the opposite direction like a naughty school child.
With all this going on, I hadn’t taken much notice of who exactly it was that had scored or what happened after etc. It seems this wasn’t the case for Nils, as within a couple of minutes the very same player capitalised on a miscommunication, leaving him almost one-on-one with Neil. It seems that this miscommunication may have been a ruse, conjured up so that Nils could exact revenge by unleashing a Bruce Lee style shin snapper on the poor boy. An instant red card on any other part of the pitch, the presence of Carsten’s shirt sleeve must have saved him as he was deemed not to be last man and let off with a yellow.
Although PPR’s spirits were dampened, we refused to give up and battled on ‘til the end. This is the true fighting spirit that is so hard to come by and sees many fledgling teams fall by the wayside. PPR absolutely refuses to do so and even the mood in the changing room after the match was one of optimism at the education they had just received. Wogm may have won the battle but they certainly haven’t won the war, victory will be all the more sweet when we do a number on them at their ground. Hopefully Goddard can continue his unlikely friendship with the winger through a FabAbs program and get the inside info. In fact, I’m feeling so positive about how the team responded to the result and the prospect of next weekend’s match that I won't tarnish the report by mentioning Nils’ incredible 2 yard miss with the dying kick of the game.
I will leave you with an inspirational quote from Vince Lombardi. Although an American football coach, I feel his words ring true to our situation.
“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory."