This competition meant something.
Last time St Andrew’s had hosted a tournament, I’d organised it and then my team had ended up winning it. Now, having been away for three years, I was bringing back a slick, professional outfit (alright, it was just a few mates) to take on a host of familiar faces and a wide selection of people I didn’t recognise. My usher Nick was even doing the organising this time!
It was going to be interesting.
When I arrived, I found out that the rest of my team were stuck on the M6 in a rolling roadblock and would struggle to make it in time for kick off. The competition itself was also two teams down so, rather than two groups of four, it was a league of six, then semis then a final.
My teammates made it just before 3pm and we were able to get going at the right time.
Playing 6 aside on half a pitch was a lot of running but good for us, particularly when we were only used to the small, walled five aside pitches of Powerleague. Think Rick got a little too optimistic when he battered a shot high over not just the crossbar but also the 10ft high fence surrounding the pitch. It even got a “wheey!” from my Dad!
We started the competition well, a comfortable 3-0 win before playing against the white team who had looked well organised in the early warm-up. From the kick-off, Rick played me in, I held off the defender and cut a left foot into the far corner. With a lead to defend, we battled hard to keep them out and secure the win.
Then, it was a case of holding our nerve for the rest of the group stage. A team of Matt in goal, Dave as sweeper, Mike and Pete as wingers, Rick in the middle and me up top proved to be a very solid unit. We took our chances when they arrived and won all our group games.
Top played fourth in the semis and, surprisingly, we played the white team again. No early goal this time and it was a tense and bad-tempered affair. Even Pete, our lovely and mild-tempered theology doctorate student, ended up in a bit of argy bargy with one of their players after a terrible tackle on him.
He got his own back though, firing the winning goal after my shot had been pushed out by the keeper. He almost had a second in the final moments too, but his close range attempted bundle was not only over the top but also came off the palms of his hands!
So, with one dangerous opponent conquered, we were through to the final and up against the scabby kneed and competitive Doug, who had been in my team three years previously when we’d won.
His team also boasted the prolific Dave K in midfield – a player I’d enjoyed playing with from my time at St Andrew’s and a member of the beaten finalists last time we’d played this tournament.
We were still to concede a goal with Matt and Dave proving a very reliable backline and we were full of confidence after the semis. On a hot day though, lots more running was going to take its toll. Fortunately, that was the same for both sides.
It was a very tough and competitive game. Both sides desperately wanted the win and had players capable of making the difference. Doug, all blood and thunder, drove his team on relentlessly, throwing himself into titanic challenges with Rick in the middle of the park.
From one of those challenges, Rick came out with the ball and spotted me darting down the middle. He picked me out with a through ball and as the keeper advanced I carefully slotted it under him. 1-0.
Corners were not exactly rich pickings in this tournament – five aside nets are difficult to score headers in but it was actually from a corner that we grabbed the next and decisive goal. It was swung in and cleared out as far as Dave who clubbed it back towards goal. As it landed at my feet, I controlled it with my back to the keeper before swivelling and hitting it left footed. Fortunately I connected well and it flew in. 2-0. All we had to do was keep our proud record up and we would head back to Nottingham as champions.
And that was exactly what we did. Despite another ten minutes on the clock and the burning sunshine, we held firm and Doug and Dave (who ended up top scorer for the tournament) could not break us down. We’d done it!
As I claimed the trophy off Nick (and realised my wife had ended up helping out with admin and my Dad’s business was sponsoring it!), I decided it was great to be back in Leyland and the Gammy Knees were capable of great success – if only in Christian tournaments! Maybe we could make this a thing and go round devouring Christian trophies? With this exciting thought buzzing in my head, we went out to celebrate in Preston that night and at Rick’s Dad’s for breakfast the following day.
Would it happen? Well, there was a tournament coming up in July which we had our eyes on…