With a couple of new signing’s expectations were high in the Grapevine F.C camp. This game had been put back a week due to a pitch booking mix up, hence we had no report in the March edition. However, we're back with a vengeance and a real eventful rollercoaster ride of a match this one. So strap yourself in and here we go.
This week we had a couple of new signing’s available and it was just as well as we were struggling again to get a team. 'Simon the Pieman' was back in UK so we had 25% of our defence missing. In truth and without wanting to sound rude Simon is a little more than 25% of the defence but I think you get the drift. Our new 'signings' came in the form of Andreas, our Polish goalkeeper, and Mark who was here visiting and was rumoured to be on Preston North End's radar. We were sure that once he'd tasted the high life of playing for The Grapevine, he'd see the error of playing for PNE. Come on, playing in the Foreigners Abroad League or the Coca Cola Championship, no contest. And doesn't it always rain in Preston whereas the lure of playing on the coast in Nerja in the sunshine, it's a no brainer.
Our third 'signing' was Alan from the , an ex Maui player who was to be an extra pair of fresh legs, which inevitably would be needed. As always we kicked off full of hope and as we did the hope seemed vilified as we played good football. Mark was working hard in midfield and Vinny was sweeping up anything that threatened to get near our defence, so us defenders were having an easy time. Time to get out the deckchair, sit back and watch the game unfold in front of us! You see it's definitely not like this in the Championship. We did actually have some defending to do and as our normal keeper, Sam, had been replaced by our new Polish keeper he was following in his Dad's footsteps and playing left back. The difference was he made up less than 25% of the back four, unlike his Dad, but I made up any shortfall. He was being Mr Versatile and was stopping their attacks down the right flank. Nothing much was getting past our Sam.
As usual we toiled hard for the first 20 minutes without seeing any result for our efforts. We were first to everything and they were certainly rattled. Any breakthroughs they got were either stopped by Vinny in midfield and if they got past him we defended well and the few shots on goal were
stopped by our Polish keeper. It was like watching Jan Tomaszewski, him of England v Poland 1974 World Cup qualifying fame.
Mid-way through the first half we got a free kick on the right mid-way inside their half. Football Phil stepped up to take it and I did my usual thing and made my way up front to try and use my height advantage. It must be pointed out this happens every time we get a corner or free kick but inevitably comes to nothing. Despite my 6' 3” height, it's still difficult to get a 17 stone frame off the ground. 6' 5” is about my best effort. On this occasion Football Phil floated in a great free kick (they don't call him 'Football Phil' for nothing) and somehow I think I managed a personal best with 6' 6“ and met the ball with a John Terryesque header into the back of the net. I was as surprised as everyone else I'd managed to rise majestically above their defence and score with my head but there it was. I jumped around manically celebrating the goal shouting, “Come on! 'Ave some of that!” Pathetic! If it was a regular occurrence I may have been able to pre-prepare my celebration in advance as some pros do. You know, pull my shirt over my head and run around as per Ravenelli (if you've seen my waistline, perhaps not a good idea), or pull a Zorro mask from my sock and put it on as per Facundo Sava (with my looks maybe it should be permanent), run over to the corner flag and act out a boxing one-two combination as per Tim Cahill, (the flag would probably rebound back and beat me) or a backward flip as per Nani (rhinoceroses just don't do it, it's a physical impossibility). As it was a manic runaround is what I managed.
As the end of the half approached they seemed to get a little bit more into the game but 'Tomaszewski' was gaining in confidence and making some good saves. We then had another chance up front as Vinny cleaned up in midfield and with a combination of passing between Sam, Stu and Euan, it ended up with Mark (now beginning to realize PNE perhaps wasn't for him) hitting a low shot, which confused their keeper who seemed to think it was going wide and raised his hands as if to indicate as such only to see the ball in the back of his net. He should have gone to Specsavers with 2-0 the score as we reached half-time. I always feel half-time is a bad time for us as, despite having time to rest and get a breather, we take time to get going again in the second half. I think the beer running through our veins in the first half from the night before wears off and water just doesn't work. It seemed to be the case again as they seemed to start stronger. Maybe they drink San Miguel at half-time. It wasn't long before they'd pulled a goal back and were 2-1 down. We still pushed forward but their confidence was growing. As they attacked into our box, their attacker pushed the ball past me but I got the faintest of touches on the ball but also got some of their man. The ref paused but then blew for a penalty.
Now, without wanting to sound like Arsene Whinger of Arsenal, I definitely got the ball first and if I hadn't made a point of looking at the ref and protesting I had, maybe the ref would have allowed play to go on. Could 'Tomaszewski' pull off the save of his life? Nope, 2-2.
We started to lose our shape and we made a few substitutions as Euan and Football Phil both took knocks. An incident then occurred where Mark tackled one of their players who thought it was a bit over the top. As they squared up to each other their guy pushed Mark who retaliated. That kicked off what I can only describe as a 22 man melee. Vinny was running around threatening to take everyone on and I tried to act as peacemaker trying to catch Vinny and pull him away from his one man crusade. As I did I came off worse.
By now most of you will have heard this tale once but believe me, I've had to tell it 189 times to our customers as the results were there for all to see. This is officially the last time I'll tell the tale so here's the official line.
As I tried my peacekeeping bit somebody decided to take a dislike to me and punched me clean in the face. I didn't see it coming so needless to say it caught me by surprise. I still think if I'd tried the 'Tim Cahill one-two punch combination goal celebration' I'd have come off worse from the corner flag rebounding but it was still a surprise. By the time things were calmed down and both players who started the melee were sent off I realized who had been the protagonist in my assault. A guy who I can only describe as 'Lurch' from the Addams Family stood on the touchline
with his arms crossed watching the events as though nothing had happened. I politely asked him what his problem was (!) at which point he proceeded to apologise profusely for his actions, which threw me completely. He was nothing to do with either team and was in fact the goalkeeper in the next match. Now, I'd never met this guy before and don't know his medical history but I have some advice for him. If he's reading this (or more likely having it read to him!) firstly, if he's on pills he needs to take a stronger dose. Secondly, if he's not then he needs to chill out and perhaps take a holiday. I could recommend a place to stay if he wants. It has very comfortable rooms in which to stay and relax. In fact they're so comfortable even the walls are padded.
The match continued with both teams down to 10 men and the match seemed subdued after the affray. We were still pushing forward and we made a great move which ended with Sam shooting only to see the ball striking the post. It rebounded to Stu but as it came back at him at speed he could only shoot wide. I felt if we could just get one more goal we could still win this.
I then went to clear a ball which struck one of their guys on the hands as he raised them above his head to prevent my clearance only for the ball to rebound into the path of their forward to make it 3-2. Now again, I'm not Arsene Whinger but it was a handball however the decision went against us as per the penalty I “hadn't” given away.
Before the end of the match they managed to score another goal making the score 4-2 to them. We'd grasped defeat from the jaws of victory. It was no consolation to hear one of their players sportingly say we hadn't deserved to lose. Isn't that the story of our season. Man of the Match was difficult as there were good performances from Vinny, Sam up front and Mark, who had made a difference despite his red card. However, for stepping out of goal and playing in defence more than adequately, Sam, son of 'The Pieman', gets the vote.
So it was back to the namesake bar of our opponents, The Victoria, for a few beers, egg and ham sandwiches and to tell the tale for the first time as to why my eye was turning black. Little did I know then that I only had to recall it another 188 times.