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No.8: Touched By The Gods.

There was so little to write about regarding a recent one-nil defeat I elected not to do so. In all honesty, I was somewhat peeved by the tactics employed by my teammates. Although I was playing up front in a striking red England second kit from the 1982 World Cup replete with white shorts and socks, I didn’t once receive a ball into the penalty area despite on several occasions losing my marker. The reason for this was obvious to me, and it had nothing to do with one of my teammates being Welsh as the worst miscreants were fellow Englishmen. No. It had, to my mind everything to do with the recent rule change we had made allowing shooting from anywhere on the pitch whereas it had been previously confined to the penalty area.

Of course, when scoring could only occur inside the opponent’s box I was seeing far more of the ball in that danger area. But since the start of March when the rule was changed I hadn’t seen anywhere near as much of it there. That one-nil defeat and the paucity of action in the penalty box, at both ends, led me to lament that I had ever agreed, as the organiser, to the change. And in that capacity I came very close to posting my thoughts on the matter on our What’s App group. Without naming names I wanted to say that although shooting from outside the box was allowed now it didn’t mean that it was compulsory. Moves now ended with a shot from distance with a midfielder going for glory and invariably failing instead of penetrating the defensive line further and getting it into the danger zone where someone like myself was more likely to score.

Something made me pause before posting the long message in which I also used the fact that I had scored several headed goals in the weeks just prior to the change but since the adoption of the new rule there had been about one cross for me to get my nut on, that Derek Nugget had pulled off a blinder to save. But I aborted it as I didn’t feel that my correct sentiments would come across and the erroneous message would instead be conveyed that I was peed off because other players were trying to score other than myself.

I am so very glad I didn’t post my heartfelt grievances as the very next match I did manage to experience some goalmouth action and emerged the unlikely hero.

I was on the darks side partnering Rich Wolf up front and we had the better of the play with Rich walloping the post with a spectacular volley on the turn and myself connecting sweetly with a shot that seen Gordon Angem pull off a fine save at full stretch to his left. However, we inexplicably found ourselves two down at the interval through goals by Pete Porter and Pete Hyde. In the latter’s case I was partly responsible as I had been marking him at a corner and thought the danger had passed and let him go from my observations from whence he pounced to head in a ball back into the box unmarked. At half-time I endeavoured to rally the lads by saying that we were better than the scoreline suggested and received a token response to the effect that I was right.

In the second half, Rich pulled one back with a shot from inside the area, but any hope of squaring the game appeared to evaporate swiftly thereafter when Timmy Garner restored the two goal lead for the whites with a neat header at the far post. It was at that moment our keeper, Derek Nugget, threw his gloves on the ground and announced he was coming out of goal to play up front. Derek is a very good, rumbustious striker who has had to play in goal due to a recurring Achillies injury. We wondered if it was wise for him to risk aggravating it and putting his comeback literally on ice yet again, but he was having none of it.

Having Nugget up front alongside Rich enabled me to play deeper and for a few minutes our side adapted to the change in personel in the forward positions. Derek put himself about a bit, as he usually does, for several minutes but in truth was receiving little change from the White’s defenders. We seemed to be somewhat benignly falling to defeat. There wasn’t much skillful play in our approach to reducing the deficit as we just pumped balls into the box.

Then, with just four minutes of play left on the watch, I latched onto a through ball from Phil Dallas behind the defenders and was one on one with the keeper. I cannot say that I ever had the ball under my control, it appeared to be doing all it could to evade that outcome as Gordon set himself in goal for a shot. I went to place it with a sidefoot to his right but the ball had all but succeeded in its intention of running away from Jonaldo to the extent that I connected with a couple of dimples on the sole of my right boot. Gordon, who was expecting a strike of some high velocity was totally flummoxed by this skimmed effort and lost his footing and fell as it span past him at a snail’s pace and into the corner of the net. Just as earlier in the match I had thought I couldn’t hit my strike or direct it much better and it had resulted in a great save from the White’s goalie, on this occasion I couldn’t have made a worse contact with the thing, yet it went in. As ugly a goal as there has ever been. But they all count the same.

With less than two minutes remaining, Rich headed a ball about forty yards out down the wing where Derek Nugget battled with Derek O’Connor near the corner flag and managed to direct a ball into the six-yard box. Gordon dived to intercept but only managed to divert the ball onto my left shin and thence into the net as I made my way into the area sniffing a chance. I had scored with two late and rather fortuitous strikes to level the scores at 3-3. And thus it remained for the little time left in the game.

In the pub afterwards for our post-match analysis, I ran the gauntlet of jibes about my apparent lack of ball control regarding my first goal. Mainly from Phil Dallas who loves to wind me up. Indeed, I am wondering if he put me through on goal instead of having a shot from range in the hope I would miss and it would provide him with the fuel to rib me afterwards. But obviously, having executed the chance, I was in the ascendancy. I told Phil and the others that I truly believe the best strikers are touched by the Gods. Some would say I’m touched in the head, more like. But it was like some diety had involved itself in making me deliberately appear to make a hash of it so that it would beat Gordon. It done such a great job of it that I too, initially thought I had made a pig’s ear of it until it surprisingly nestled in the net. (Actually, I don’t think it touched the net, it basically had only enough legs to cross the line by a few inches.)

The more I thought of it, the more it seemed to me that I’d been assisted by supernatural forces although, obviously, in the record books it goes down as an assist to Phil. But after the dust had settled on a quite remarkable match, I racked my brain as to the possible source of the heavenly interference on my behalf. There were several candidates as I have, as most sixty year olds would, known several close people who have departed this life. But I couldn’t think of any who would seemingly owe me a favour or two on the football pitch. Was there something nice I had done perhaps many years earlier, football related that would render the recipient of my kindness the necessity to bestow me favours in a match?

Then it occurred to me. In 1978, when Bristol City were in the top flight I was at Ashton Gate when they beat Leeds United 3-2. Up to that point, I had collected programmes from every match I had attended since my first match eight years earlier. Anyway, myself and a few mates waited behind after the game to collect a few autographs as the players emerged to board the Leeds United coach. It was then that a Leeds fan approached me and asked if he could buy my programme off of me as he had been unable to obtain one. I knew it would then mean I no longer had a momento for every match I attended but I genuinely felt sorry for the visiting supporter and acceded to his request in the spirit of hospitality to the man from afar (although it later occurred to me that he might have been a Yorkshireman living in Bedminster). My act of kindness was repaid as having made the transaction I discovered that he had placed 30 pence in my palm rather than the 15 pence the programme cost.

I was in my fairly early teens then and I’m guessing that the Leeds supporter was a good decade plus older than me, so as I am now sixty there’s every possibility that he has since met his maker (good timing on his part as Leeds look like they’ll get relegated this season). He has probably taken stock of his time on Earth and remembered my act of kindness and has further rewarded me. Little did he know that I became thankful my habit of buying a programme each match was broken as I realised they were crap and not worth the paper they were printed on. It is, however, daunting to realise that I was repaid well at the time and now handsomely many many years later.

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