From the Reserves to the First Team to the Physio Room – Bristol Downs League

bristol downs league half time team talk motivation

Division One teams get treated to the ‘better’ pitches

At the start of the season, I was a starting midfielder for Cotswool Reserves. By the middle of September, I was featuring for the first team regularly (admittedly, due largely to the heavy drop-out rate of the regular first team players). As I write this, I can barely remember the feeling of trudging through the mud on a Saturday thanks to a 4 month lay-off. It’s been a tough season up on the Clifton Downs…

The 1st goal for Cotswool

It was mid-September, and I had been called up to the first team for the game against high-flying Easton Cowboys. I remember this because:
a) They play in a bright yellow kit
b) They have a ginger Rastafarian-wannabe in the team, who happens to be quite good (click that link, it’s worth it)

rasta footballer dreadlocks

Rasta footballers – rare

The game started well and we were 2-0 up inside 20 minutes. ‘This is good’ I thought, ‘it’s nice playing in the first team’. Then it got better.

The Cowboys ‘keeper took a goal kick quickly to the left back, who dummied a pass inside and went to dribble down the line. Just inside their half, I read his move and nicked the ball from his feet. Suddenly the pitch opened up in front of me.

I ran forward and after a few surprisingly controlled knock-ons I was on the edge of the box. I could feel the full back and covering centre back breathing down my neck (quite literally) as I took one final touch into the box. Short of breath, I glanced at the keeper before slamming the ball home at the near post. It sounds a lot more composed than it was, and I’m pretty sure that I was actually aiming for the far post. Never mind, a goal’s a goal.

goal scored to the near post football

How to score at the near post – head down, hit it hard, hope for the best

I felt like a white Jermain Defoe.

The 3-0 lead promptly went to our heads. We quickly conceded 2 goals before half time, and went on to lose 6-3. Business as usual.

The Reserve Team Collapse

By October the reserve team had forfeited several games due to lack of players and I was a regular fixture in the first team squad. After a futile attempt to attract new players (who quickly lost interest when they saw the disorganised, shambolic performances) the decision was made to disband the reserve team and focus our limited resources on the first team’s fight to stave off relegation.

Rik Waller fat football

Rik “Fats” Waller – sporting hero

arjen robben injury bayern munich holland madrid chelsea

Midfielders – injury prone

One good thing came of this turn of events. As a member of the first team playing in Division One, I get to wear a Nike kit that actually fits my underwhelming physique. The reserves, on the other hand, had to wear a ProStar kit that looked as if it has just been peeled off Rik Waller’s bloated ‘body’.

You’d think that by switching from two teams to one we’d suddenly have massive competition for places? Think again. Those who rarely turned up now avoided Saturdays all together, and the regular players slowly became less and less until we had a solid core of around 14 players vying for a spot in the first team.

The Injury

The games came thick and fast and in November we faced top of the league Torpedo. This is a team that – after inflicting a 7-0 defeat earlier in the season – prompted our Spanish centre forward to conclude “they are like Barcelona”; a worrying prospect.

We planned a 4-5-1 formation for the game. I’d love to say it was a tactical decision to swamp the midfield, stifle their attacking movement and stick to set pieces to ensure we were defensively solid. I think the reality was that we only had one fit forward for the game.

Under constant pressure, the team of six-foot speed merchants made us work hard for our 0-0 scoreline going into the latter stages of the first half.

Then, assigned to a post due to my lack of height, an in-swinging corner evaded everyone and I stabbed a foot at the ball. I successfully cleared it…about 3 yards to their striker who slammed home the loose ball. Twat.
At half time we were 2-0 down but had managed to cause Torpedo a few problems with our long throws. This wasn’t over.

We started the second half well and pushed forward, but left ourselves exposed. It was only a matter of time until they broke us down and by 75 minutes we were 4-0 down. Then it happened.

Stretching for a 50:50 in midfield, I rooted my right foot in the turf and my leg jolted – I heard a pop. Immediately something felt very wrong. I went to stand up but it wasn’t happening, and I hobbled off the pitch.

ImageI went to the hospital later to find there was no bone damage, and that it was ‘most likely a muscle tear or ligament damage’. Nice and specific diagnosis there, thank you nurse. ‘Just use these [hands me crutches] and take some Ibuprofen’ [opens the door with a look of ‘stop wasting my time’]. Brilliant.

3 weeks on crutches, and I could just about walk unaided again. By this point – now December – walking was a novelty and playing football again was a distant prospect.

The Return

Now early March, I’ve managed a few tentative runs on the gym treadmill and am nearly ready for a return to action. Unfortunately, this weekend is a double header in which we play two games back-to-back (yes, one after the other) to catch up on fixture congestion after many weather-induced postponements.

I’ll be lucky to make it through a 15 minute cameo.

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No Manager, No Players, No Corner Flags – Bristol Downs League 2012/13

As this is the first blog of the 2012/13 season, we should start with a quick catch up on the season so far.

Cotswool FC v Clifton Rockets Bristol Downs League 2012 football soccer

The Downs League is based in picturesque Clifton. Sadly the football isn’t quite as aesthetically pleasing

It’s now late October and the new season is well underway. Cotswool Reserves sit proudly at the foot of Bristol Downs League Division 3 after 7 games with no wins, no draws and a comprehensively shite -27 goal difference. All is not lost, though, as a confident 5-2 Cup win against the side rock bottom of the entire Bristol Downs football pyramid recently reminded us what it feels like to be happy on a Saturday afternoon.

 

After a summer spent watching Euro 2012, Olympic football (not dissimilar to Amateur South West football, it turns out) and generally forgetting what exercise feels like, we had a couple of pre-season friendlies to get us back in the mood. Like a poor man’s Newcastle United, we kept the majority of our squad together but failed to add the summer transfer signings we were hoping for. Nevertheless, after a couple of warm-up victories we were feeling confident for the new season.

 

The early season games didn’t go well. If anything, the team was even more disorganised than before. If you have played amateur football and you think you know taking-the-piss organisation, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This is a whole new world of incompetence.

Bristol football downs league clifton rockets cotswool fc soccer

A nice sliced left foot shot. I was just happy to have made contact at all.

For example, prior to one game I arrived at the prison-like changing rooms to find no manager, no kit, no balls (in any respect) and a grand total of 4 players. We waited and waited, but kick off was nearing so we headed out to the pitch. After ‘warming up’ (still just four of us) for 15 minutes (regular readers will know this constitutes standing in the goalmouth booting balls around aimlessly) there was no sign of the other players.

5 minutes before kick-off, 5 players arrived (but no manager as yet) and I asked the referee to delay the start of the match, citing some nonsensical and ill-thought-out excuse about a family emergency. It then became clear that the 5 late players were wearing kit which they had donned in the changing room after we’d left, but had not brought any for the rest of us.
A couple of us ran back the half mile back to the changing rooms and, after 10 minutes of trying to work out who had the keys to the locked prison cell, we grabbed the extra kits and headed back to the pitch.

We arrived at 2.20pm – 10 minutes into the already-delayed game – which we had started with 9 men. Blowing out our arses, we got to the pitch and ran straight on to complete the 11. Looking around, I didn’t recognise 4 of the guys on our team. Cue spending roughly a third of the game trying to being introduced to fellow midfielders at any possible pause in play. Somehow, we went on to score five goals in that match, but eventually lost 7-5.

What makes the whole thing worse is that it was against one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen in my life. Ever. In any kind of competitive activity.

It’s hard to swallow the fact that the team you play for is less competent than the worst team you’ve ever seen.

 

Bristol football downs league clifton rockets cotswool fc

I got tackled…not by Fatty, but by the 4 inch deep grass…

This was not an isolated incident. Repeatedly we have failed to have enough players to make up our two squads and have roped in friends of friends to help us out, literally minutes before kick-off. We’ve delayed multiple games for various reasons; played with 10 men due to injuries, hangovers and lack of substitutes; forgotten to bring corner flags to the pitch; and many other equally piss-poor reasons. Oh, and we had to pause a match because two of our players were wearing Number 7.

 

After this shambolic start, the team was in disarray. Something had to change. Rather unexpectedly, it did. The reserve team manager resigned with immediate effect. The management was restructured (this sounds more professional than it is) and the first team manager decided to take over the running of the reserve team to bring some stability, whilst the old hands in the first team were left to player-manage the team in the short term. I agreed to be right-hand man to the new reserve team manager, helping out on match day, reporting on players from training and generally being the AVB to our Mourinho. If Mourinho were a toothless 60 year old Bristolian, and AVB were a talentless 25 year old twonk.

 

The first week after the management change, the reserves won 5-2 in the Cup and some confidence was restored. But with the next game against a top-six team followed by an ‘away’ game (meaning you have to change kit if there’s a clash) versus the league leaders, this upturn in spirits is likely to be short-lived.

 

In the words of the Chuckle Brothers – “oh dear oh dear”.

Bristol football downs league clifton rockets cotswool fc throw in rules

Long throws are our biggest weapon thanks to our very own Rory Delap

 

Bristol football downs league clifton rockets cotswool fc throw in rules

Pitch markings – optional, apparently

 

Coming soon…

After a summer break, soccersagacity.com will be back soon with weekly updates from the Bristol Downs League. Check back regularly for more nonsensical ramblings and vitriolic outbursts that would make Ashley Cole proud.

In the meantime, here’s a few pictures from pre-season to whet the appetite…

bristol downs league kick off night match football soccer

Bristol Downs League midweek matches – hardly the Champions League

Bristol Downs League goal football soccer

Bristol Downs League sunset football soccer evening beautifulAdidas Predator football boots hard ground blades

 

 

The Penultimate Game – Bristol Downs League

With the final Cotswool Reserves game cancelled due to lack of players (golfing in Argentina probably), I was called up to the First Team squad for their penultimate fixture in the Bristol Downs League Division One season.

Downs League

Dry pitches are a nightmare for keepers

Sitting comfortably mid-table, the First Team had little to play for. The opponents were a side battling relegation, but who – more importantly – are sponsored by the same local bar as we are, thus making them our rivals. The quagmire pitches have now – thanks to the widely-reported ‘drought’ in England – been transformed into rock solid, knee-twisting ankle-devastators. Slide tackles leave you feeling like someone took a blowtorch to your legs, and any kind of passing game goes out the window.

I’ve previously mentioned that the Reserve Team ‘warm up’ by pelting the goalkeeper with shots for 20 minutes, and you’d probably expect that the First Team are much more regimented in their preparations. Organised stretching routines, pass-and-move practise, and detailed tactical team talks are the kind of things you’d anticipate a top division team go through as a matter of course. Alas, this is Cotswool, and warm ups are not our thing.
During the pre-match chaos it became apparent that we were several players down (one text to the manager read, “Sorry boss, wasted…can’t get out of bed, I’m a douche bag”). We started the game with 10 players, in the vague hope that an 11th man would materialise (I’m not sure where from, perhaps the kit bag or from an army-style trap door under the turf). The opponents, despite battling relegation and with little chance of retaining Division One status, managed a full team plus three substitutes.

Bristol Funderworld

Caravans - popular with fairground folk

Now, it’s hard enough to play with 11 players and no substitutes, as it means there is no one to replace you if you can feel that Friday night curry making its way back up your digestive system, but to be a man down from the outset really is facing the impossible. When I explained this to my girlfriend later that night, she looked confused and commented, “That’s not that bad, it’s only one player less. It’s not like you’re playing with 5”. Brilliant. I have forwarded her CV to ITV for a punditry role, as she’d still be better than Roy Keane.

A whole town of Rollercoaster-towing Gypsies (don’t worry, they can’t read and so can’t be offended by this) had parked up adjacent to the football pitches. Whilst the giant Ferris Wheels and flashing lights of “Funderworld” (this is honestly what is on the posters) were a little distracting, the screams of teenage girls echoing around the pitches gave me the feeling of being David Beckham, if only for a moment.
For 35 minutes we managed to hold out well. My role was Right Midfielder but with the remit to “support the [lone] striker at every opportunity”, which is easier said than done when you’ve got the stamina of an American Burger Eating Champion. This also wouldn’t be such an issue if we had a strong all-rounder in attack holding the ball up. Unfortunately, we had the Reserve Team Manager who is hardly Didier Drogba (although he does stay on his feet more).
Around 10 minutes before half time, one of our defenders stupidly pushed an opponent when going for a header, and the resulting penalty left us 1-0 down at half time – a real kick in the proverbial.
The second half continued with much of the same; our ten men ‘frantically’ (I’ll use this word as it makes us sounds gallant in defeat) pressing and closing the ball down in vain. Rather heroically, the First Team manager put himself on as a second striker for the final 20 minutes. You might wonder why he didn’t play the whole game to make up the numbers. I should probably point out that Steve is a wonderfully enthusiastic manager (hoping he reads this and gives me a permanent First Team place next season) but who I estimate must be in his late 50s/early 60s, and thus isn’t really built for Downs League competition (which is home to athletes in the pinnacle of their careers, of course).
3 goals later, the relegation-threatened chumps were revelling in what they saw as a glorious victory. I am certain that at no point did they realise they were playing against 10 men for most of the game.
And that, as they say, was that; a disappointing game which was always going to be frustrating and tiring in equal measures. However, I was pleased to have played a full game under what I consider to be reasonable playing conditions for once (no rain, not knee deep in mud, and on a pitch which was comparatively flat for the Downs League).
With just one game to go this season, it remains to be seen if I am called up for the First Team. If not, this will have been my final game of the season. I may go into hiding to avoid paying my backlog of match day fees, and put these towards some new boots for next season. It would be nice to play for 90 minutes without volcanic blisters erupting on the way home.
Fret not readers (I use the plural tentatively), there will be plenty more blogs to come.

Bristol Downs

Satellite view of the Downs - see if you can spot the pitches (there are about 20-25 in total)

Training – a perfect example of imperfect preparation

Training with Cotswool FC is an interesting experience. Certainly, the preparation for matches is a little lacklustre in terms of preparing us for the league games, and this is evidenced by our bottom-of-the-league status. Remember the Derby County team of 2007/08 who finished with 11 points from 38 Premier League games? I imagine they trained in a similar way. That’s not to say training isn’t enjoyable – it is, and that’s the whole point of playing for Cotswool. I think. It’s certainly not the success.

premier league 2007

Derby County - the Cotswool of the Premier League

Firstly, the training pitches couldn’t be any more different from the ones we use for competitive action on a weekend. When Saturday comes, we wade across the pitch in pursuit of a ball which is wallowing in the mud like a pig in shit. However, the training facilities of our local college (aside from the luscious 3G pitches which we unfortunately avoid like the plague) involve well-worn sand Astros from the 1990’s. After years of being trampled by overweight, flat-footed, beer-bellied blokes, these pitches have been compressed and squashed to being almost unrecognisable from what I’ve come to know as artificial grass. The surface more closely resembles a student carpet than a sports pitch. These astroturf surfaces provide a perfectly flat surface which are great for practising Barcelona style tiki-taka football, but not so great for preparing for the Downs League. A more suitable simulation of an average Saturday playing surface would perhaps be a giant bouncy castle with goals at either end, half inflated. Covered in shit.

The training pitches are essentially one giant sand astro about 80m x 250m, which is then divided into five pitches – each around 80m x 50m – separated by large nets stretched along a 7ft-high wire. These nets prove to be pretty hazardous, especially when you accidently step on the bottom of it and it swallows you like a giant polyester Venus fly trap.

astroturf at night

Venus human trap netting just about visible

The footballing philosophy in training also differs greatly from Saturdays. Training takes a stylish turn for the better and we play 3-touch football for the entire hour. This is great for developing composure on the ball, vision, passing and movement. What isn’t so great however is that we come to rely on playing the ball to feet and knocking short passes around like a poor man’s Spain. Should you dare to try and play short passes on a Saturday, you will soon experience a swift kick in the bollocks, or my previously mentioned elbow to the face. Downs League doesn’t have time for pretty football. Training encourages and empowers good, technical footballers who often fail to reproduce any kind of form on Saturday in the brawl that is the 11-a-side games (I would probably include myself in this category).

Corners are so often our undoing in league matches, so you would think that the sensible thing to do would be to practise some heading, marking and set piece tactics in training. Readers of previous blog entries will know that this isn’t Cotswool’s modus operandi. We don’t stand for such foresight and planning. What’s that you say – we’re conceding a lot of goals from corners? So be it. It’s nothing that can’t be solved using the three cornerstones of English football:

–          “Get into ‘em”

–          “Fuck ‘em up”

wet grass

Beware!

–          “Give it a clout”
Then there’s the speed of the game during a wet training session. Nothing knocks a player’s confidence like a complete and utter inability to judge the speed and bounce of the ball. On several occasions it has bucketed down with rain during training, making judging the speed of passes completely impossible. On the plus side, however, you can shoot from just about anywhere and feel like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (as in having a rocket-powered shot, not being a mental Dutchman). In fact, the speed of the rain-soaked pitch develops a very useful skill for the Downs League – I call it “hammer the ball into the ground and see where it goes”. This is particularly effective on Saturdays, where the pitches are more uneven than a teenager’s face. Because of this, a keeper in the Downs league experiences a Paul Robinson moment on average every 5 minutes.

As a result, I would argue that the main function of training is to help rebuild team camaraderie following what was inevitably another comprehensive defeat the weekend before, as well as keeping us out of the pubs for at least one night of the week. The opportunity to have a kick around with a smile on our faces midweek also encourages us to turn up the following Saturday – and so the cycle continues!

English football summed up in 75 minutes

Running late for last Saturday’s latest instalment of the Bristol Downs League, I hurriedly headed for the pitches under a sky of light-grey mediocrity. “At least it’s not raining” I thought, as I put my boots on and joined the rest of my teammates for the warm up.

[By warm up, I mean standing around the penalty area lumping rock-solid balls at whoever the unlucky chump between the sticks is. All of the other teams in the league (without exception) huddle together pre-game, applaud each others’ names as the team sheet is read out, and perform stretches that wouldn’t look out of place prior to an Olympic gymnastic floor routine. Cotswool FC, instead, have a long and proud history of what is technically known as “dicking around” before a game, followed by 2 minutes of the famous warm up routine ‘jogging back and forth almost in a group, but not quite’.]

Image

Urinating - worse than punching an opponent

A few minutes prior to the game, I headed for a few trees away from the pitches to empty the old bladder (to improve my speed, of course). On returning to the pitch, I was informed that this is an offence which – if seen by the referee – results in an immediate red card and a four-game ban. Apparently, this is part of the etiquette of the league and the respect for The Downs. This came as a bit of a shock, considering that it seems to be acceptable to commit GBH on an opponent during the match without even a yellow card, yet you can’t piss on a tree. Odd.

Anyway, the game got underway and in typical Cotswool fashion we were 2-0 down within 20 minutes to a couple of sloppy goals. Nevertheless, we dug in and kept the game competitive. Around 30 minutes into the game I realised that the skies had turned a darker shade of grey. The temperature started dropping and my testicles headed in the opposite direction. Then the rain came. I can’t think of a better description than to say it was absolutely c**ting it down. By half time (somehow still 2-0) we were all soaked through, not an inch of dry skin on any of us. A wry smile crept across my face as I realised I was the only idiot wearing Nike Pro under my shirt – which was a daft idea when I left the house and it was 8°c, but was now paying dividends.

neymarimage

Neymar - loves Bristolian amateur football

After the usual pep talk at half time, we soldiered out for the second half. Almost immediately after kick off, I jumped for a header (which is reason enough to write a blog entry) and was promptly elbowed in the face, leaving me flat on my back in a puddle of muddy water and despair. With my cheekbone throbbing, I got up and got on with the game. The weather got worse and worse, as did the score line. 3-0 followed. Then 4-0. Brief respite at 4-1 was misleading and soon we were 5-1 down after 60 minutes. Bizarrely, a player who appeared to be Brazilian wonderkid Neymar appeared from the bench of the opposing team, did a few stepovers and promptly fell to the floor – almost in tears – with no one around. What at first seemed to be a peculiar fall was then explained to be a reoccurrence of a broken foot that he had only recently recovered from. In the true spirit of the Downs League, we offered to let them substitute him with another player, despite having used all three of their allocated substitutes. Whilst the referee wasn’t feeling the love and declined our offer, we applauded him as he was carried off the pitch and into the arms of the equally-miserable St John’s Ambulance crew. The compassion shown by both sets of players was a heart-warming moment in this otherwise utterly abysmal example of a football match.

slidetackle

Fouls - more fun on a wet pitch

Time dragged on and the referee was soon being asked “how long left, ref?” every time the ball went out of play (he soon resorted to replying with “too bloody long”). The downpour continued and soon the pitch had become a 50:50 concoction of mud and water, with no grass in sight. The ball was sticking in places – leaving players to perform amusing air-kicks – and skidding in others. The ground was so wet, players were starting a slide tackle in one box and finishing it in the other.

The final straw came when, in one of our rare ventures forward, we lofted a cross into the opposing box. After a few token bobbles and deflections, the skid of the ball eluded a defender who accidently clattered into our striker instead of the ball. The referee allowed us the time to convert the ensuing penalty, and then called a halt to the game on the grounds that the conditions were too dangerous. This left me pretty annoyed that all of our perseverance in the face of Mother Nature’s best attempt to ruin our game was for nothing. In his final act of the day, the referee announced that the result would stand, as any game abandoned after 2/3rd completion (62nd minute onward) is counted as a result. In all honestly, I was glad that the last 75 minutes had actually counted for something. If we had replayed on a dry, hot day, the score would likely have been much less flattering.

As we trudged off, the water sloshing around inside my boots reminded me of when you are a little kid, sitting in the bath, and you slide up and down the tub creating a wave effect which inevitably overflows onto the bathroom floor.

Feeling a bit miserable (par for the course), I began the walk home. The adrenaline started to wear off, and my nervous system reminded me that my right foot had been stamped on twice during the game. My right shoe started to feel tight under the swelling, and my cheekbone began to hurt even more. I must have looked like some kind of disabled hobbit limping down the street, covered in mud, face bruised like a gypsy’s wife, in a monsoon, with no jacket. I started to wonder what it would be like playing football in the lower leagues of Madrid or Lisbon.

Enough of the moaning; a few days have passed and the wounds are healing. Same again next week? Why not. Forecast for next Saturday: rain.

rainyday

An accurate reflection of the visibility during the game

The life of an amateur footballer in Bristol

I have recently had the pleasure of joining the Bristol Downs Football League. Despite the name, this is not a league for sufferers of the chromosomal condition. Instead, this entirely independent league is a 4-tier system for amateur players in Bristol. The league is unusual in that all games – home and away – are played atop the blustery and exposed Durdham Down’s in Clifton. There is something quite charming about the league, the spirit of the game and indeed the Downs themselves.

Downs

One part of the illustrious Clifton Downs

The first thing that struck me was the use of communal Victorian changing rooms, located in the centre of the 400-acre parkland. The changing rooms are a complex of box-sized team ‘rooms’, shower areas and toilet blocks. The scent of urine, mud and sweat fills the corridors. Bristolian banter echoes around the brick maze, with the clattering of studs on the concrete floor providing a backing track. A long walk through the corridors leads me to a room, no more than 3m x 3m, filled with 22 men getting ready for the game. Apparently, someone thought it was a good idea to place both the first team and reserves in one room.

Once you’re out on the pitch (following an orienteering exercise in locating which one of the 25 pitches you are scheduled to play on) you can’t help but worry about the playing surface. The pitches are so uneven they remind me of the Wavy Top building (see below) from my days at Loughborough University. In fact, there are some pitches on which parts of the touchline disappear temporarily from view. It wasn’t long into my first game before I succumbed to the pitches, as I let a slow pass bobble over my foot and out of play, leaving me looking like a short, white Emile Heskey.

Wavy Top

Classic example of a Bristol Downs League pitch

It had been six years since I’d player 11-a-side football on a regular basis. After a while, you get used to the relentless basketball-like nature of Power League 3G kick-abouts. Coupled with watching the bowling green pitches in the Premier League week-in week-out, I’d almost forgotten what ‘real’ pitches looked like. However, after a couple of games you learn not to trust the bounce of the ball (think of a rugby ball being dropped down a flight of stairs), and get used to the ball flying around the pitch like a giant game of pinball.

Without doubt the most pleasant surprise has been the way in which the game is played. I had expected to leave the Downs in an Ambulance most weeks, after going 90 minutes with a team of Joey Bartons and Lee Cattermoles constantly looking to remove one of my vital organs every time I touched the ball. Instead, I found a league which is generally played in a fair manner with respect given to both the opponents and the referees. Perhaps this is because my team are languishing at the bottom of the 2nd of 4 divisions, and rarely do we threaten a team enough to warrant an aggressive response. Nevertheless, my experiences thus far have been largely positive, and even the usual in-game abuse ends with a joke and a handshake.

Cotswool

The Argentina shirt design inspires us to greater levels of performance...perhaps

So far we’ve been relatively fortunate with the weather too, having enjoyed sunshine in 3 of the past 4 games. The one bad day in that period was, however, the kind of weather that would make Sir Ranulph Fiennes say “you know what lads, let’s cancel this trip and play FIFA instead”.

All-in-all, it’s been good so far. It’s not one for the purists, but it is good old fashioned ‘English’ football in every way. Gentlemanly conduct from beer-bellied blokes/hungover students, occasionally trying to play ‘pass-and-move’ football but generally trying to avoid getting the ball stuck in the quagmire by lumping it over the top of the centre backs in the hope of someone getting a toe-end on it. No matter what pitch you play on, in what weather conditions, and against who you’re competing, you can’t beat getting back to competitive football*.

Downs panorama

A picturesque view of the Downs

*Expect a less optimistic blog entry when I’ve had my nose caved in by the aforementioned Lee Cattermole-wannabe, been racially-abused by the local Luis Suarez, or had my right tibia and fibula sent in opposite directions when I attempt to run at a defender.