After last year’s final heartbreak, the Gammy Knees entered the 2014 Grace Church ON:Side Tournament determined to set the record straight.

Still struggling to find a goalkeeper, they at least had solid centreback Dave to call on, up from Nottingham for his first Gammies appearance in over two years. Great to have him!

Also involved and lending an international flavour to our team was rock solid defender and Grace Church minister Rich, freshly arrived from Australia. He was meant to be in goal – although I think his days as a rugby player and cricketer certainly served to confuse him in this role!

Upfront was pacy Alex, a late draft into the side but somehow unsnapped up by other aspiring teams. Liam, a rugged and determined tackler from Eccleston (there’s a whole variety of blog posts on that part of the world I could write!) was also in the team.

Stalwart Mike was injured and unavailable – he’d still come up – but my colleague from work was due to play for us. When the clock ticked to quarter past 10 and he’d still not arrived, I became a little dubious. Phone call after phone call followed with no answer, and it was only in our first game that he rang back. He spoke to my Dad, explained he was hideously hungover and wasn’t going to be able to play. We were a man down.

Furious.

It meant Mike had to play, holding his back and in an awful lot of pain but we aimed to protect him as much as possible. With two teams down, we were also faced with a group stage involving everyone rather than two groups. Got to love the last minute reshuffles!

The reshuffled Gammy Knees team

The reshuffled Gammy Knees team

We got off to a great start. Rick scored early on against the talented Colombian team, who had a player called “James” and he did play in a similar vein to the superstar. With Falcao having arrived in the city only a few days earlier, we’d been a bit nervous about this team but we held on comfortably to triumph 1-0.

A game against the Random side got us up and running and with Rich keener to come out of goal, Mike slotted into that position. Our brief was simple: “Don’t let them shoot”.

This worked well. We beat the Randoms, we beat Dan’s Pork Vale (even though they’d managed to secure the in-demand Gareth for their side!) and we eeked out a close victory against Ivy Galaxy who came fully prepared in their green kit.

Then was the break. A fascinating story from Tony Ford, ex-footballer and now Oldham rugby chaplain whose background and Christian faith is a remarkable testament to God’s grace. He was inspirational.

However, we lost momentum and our next game was against Ivory Toast who were gunning for us. They’d not lost either but had drawn a couple of games so we had the advantage. They swarmed over us at the start and were handed a golden chance to score the first goal against us when Rich inexplicably caught the ball in the box. We wanted to change keeper (Mike was injured after all!) but it wasn’t really in the spirit of the tournament so we couldn’t. They blasted home and scored again to make it 2-0. A blow.

Mike was done for now. We needed an extra player so we recruited a passerby who just happened to be watching. About 17, he didn’t have the right shoes but he was fit and liked football. He’d have to do.

We won our last game, 1-0, but it was scraped and our flow was gone.

When the results were counted, we’d won the league from Ivory Toast and would face Ivy Galaxy in the semi. Dave was now in goal, Rich and Liam at the back, me and Rick in midfield, then Alex and this new guy upfront. Not quite as smooth as we would like.

The game was extremely tight and low on chances. We hit the post and they came close with a well-worked move but the clock ticked on and it stayed goalless. With penalties looming and referee Steve preparing to blow his whistle, their midfielder found a bit of space on the edge of the box – I didn’t close him quick enough – and unleashed a blockbuster of a shot. It flew past Dave and found the back of the net as the whistle blew and we were out.

Stunned, we slumped to the floor. We’d been beaten.

Ivy celebrated and attention turned to the Ivory-Colombia game which was full throttle and very close. It went to penalties, with Mark Till’s Ivory team triumphing.

We had to watch as they took on Ivy in the final in yet another closely fought battle. In the end, it was a poor tackle that decided it. Phill’s lunge on James took him down in the area and the Colombian striker picked himself up to bury what proved to be the winning penalty.

Personally, with just one goal and a semi-final exit, it was a disappointing tournament. However on reflection, in the circumstances, with a player dropping out as we kicked off, an injured player, a totally obscure passerby in the side, we did remarkably well.

The Gammies had been without silverware for three and a half years. Were there winning days behind them?