Struggling for players this week.
Always the same at this time of year. Usual reasons given; injuries, players ‘away’ (which can be interpreted as being hung-over from a works party the night before), and the ‘hen-pecked’ brigade of course. Always difficult for their kind to squeeze a game in around December time.
Your reporter here today had even calculated that he had asked by text or whatsaap message THIRTY FIVE other chaps if they fancied a game this week but not one could make it down!
So, on a dry, dark December afternoon, 10 hardy souls made the trip to Harrison Park, New Brighton on a heavy pitch.
The opposition, who had already beaten Convo at Wyncote by a narrow margin some weeks back, lined up with a full team. So you always knew from the off it would be a struggle on a big pitch playing 10 v 11 against a decent opponent.
Convo started with Jack in goal, Billy Lamb right back, Ben Prince and Jamie Southern at the heart of defence with Paul Ross at left back. The four man midfield consisted of Geoff Poole on the right with Ian Poole and Graham Kaye centre mid – those 3 used to play regular for Wellington Road in the same midfield formation consistently for over 15- 20 years ago for a period. Only the hair-lines have changed! New boy Paul [Harper] was on the left of midfield with Matt Round the lone-raider up front.
The game started well for Convo. The midfield of Kaye-G and I Poole and Paul all combining well with short intricate passes but they struggled in the final third as Matt (all alone up there) had to work extra hard on the sloping big pitch so was feeding on scraps.
Rockville eventually started to get into their stride and played some neat football, especially down the left side, but on more than one occasion, the neat defending of Lamb and Prince and the incisive tackling of Jamie Southern, crowded them out.
Up the other end, Matt Round, did excellently to skip past a couple of challenges into the opposition box but was up-ended for the most blatant penalty you will ever see...however, the referee did see it but chose to turn a blind eye – as he did with most controversial decisions during the afternoon. It was a stone-wall penalty yet the referee for the day it has to be said was well behind the pace. I think he was just happy to turn up, walk around and collect his money at the end. But who would be a referee?
Convo fell behind to a sloppy goal. Prince and Lamb between them gifted the centre forward a simple finish. But then the first half turned. Kaye was all over the park and after a great run down the left, his direct ball across the box was met by Paul on the bounce. He controlled a header which wrong footed the keeper and ended up in the other side of the net for his first Convo goal.
[Since submitting this report your correspondent has recalled that Convocation actually scored first, before Rockville equalised.]
Convo hit their stride again and some excellent play between Ian Poole/ Geoff Poole and Kaye and then Round led to Round slipping G Poole in but a 25 yard shot just sailed over. Moments later though, Kaye again the architect, played another ball into Paul on the left side and he finished well, past the keeper and Convo 2-1 up at the break.
The second half was a bit of a different game though as the 10 men of Convo started to tire.
Rockville stepped up the pressure and there was a bit of an onslaught. Jack was in excellent form and tipped a point blank header over the bar and made other good saves. This despite him having a bitch of a hangover from his Xmas night out in the Devonshire the previous evening. A hangover did not phase the lad one bit. Although the equalizing goal from Rockville – a shot from inside the box – beat Jack at his near post (he got a hand on it), but may have saved it on another week who knows. Your reporter is probably being a bit harsh.
Further incidents happened during the half as Convo tried to protect their goal. Ian Poole caught a Rockville player just about entering the box. Could have been an argument for the foul being in the box too but due to the pathetic dive from the Rockville player it deserved not to be a penalty. Again, the ref was behind the pace and did give a free kick outside the box. Rockville also floated another one into the box and hit the post with a header. The Convo goal was living very dangerously.
Jamie Southern also put in a very meaty challenge on the Rockville forward resulting in the forward going off with what looked like ankle ligament damage.
As the game neared the end, Convo dug in brilliantly. Kaye again winning everything in midfield. The defence, solid, blocking everything coming through. Even managed to have a few sparse attacks of their own near the end of the game, Matt Round working tirelessly and G Poole feeding a ball across for Paul for his hatrick, but he couldnt get the ball into his feet.
So, 2-2 it finished. “it felt like a win that” said Graham Kaye as he left the pitch and no one playing would argue against that. Very hard working performance with just the 10 men.
Man of the match. Any one player in the team could have got it today. Special mentions go to Jack in goal for his saves, Southern in defence for his constant tackling and interceptions, I Poole and Kaye in the centre of midfield for ‘dogs of war’ performances and Round up-front for working very hard on his own against a tough back four. Man of the Match has to go to Graham Kaye though. Was solid throughout, won every tackle he competed for, was up and down all game and creator of 2 goals to earn the draw.
Convocation 4-4-1 Jack, Lamb, Prince, Southern, Ross, G Poole, I Poole, G Kaye, Harper, Round.
Another late kick off, saw Convo taking on Ramblers in the third game of The Corinthian World Series (best of 7).
McLaren had a dozen fine chaps (a couple of late cry offs) to go in to battle. Convo started extremely quickly and were spraying the ball rather well. A fine free kick from Kevan (on a postage stamp) saw Convo take the lead. Ramblers levelled. Plenty of opportunities to score but none taken. The Bear feared it was going to one of those days! Some fine saves from Jack kept Convo in the first half. A Churchill-esque half time team talk worked its magic on the chaps. They produced a stunning second half performance with another goal from Kevan and 2 from Kaye, who was unlucky not to receive the match ball just clipping the post after lobbing Nigel (Ramblers No.1) Nigel had another fine game for them. The only black spot on the game was with a nasty challenge on Jamie Long (fractured patella and other injuries). He's to a speedy recovery. Convo kept hold of the ball and were playing like Barcelona. Ramblers didn't touch it for 10 minutes! Fine performances from Jack, Kevan and the whole team. Special mention to Holder who carried on playing despite being injured. MOM goes to Houston who was excellent at centre half. Talking throughout the game and had great vision. Well played chaps.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Jago, Houston, Prince, Lamb B; Long J, Kevan, Holder, Ross; Kaye, 'Paul'; Sub: Kearney
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Jago, Bastow, Southern, Lamb B; Poole G, Kevan, Houston, Prince; Knox, Holder; Subs: Round, Fairclough
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Long J, Southern, Bastow, Prince; Poole G, Kevan, Poole I, Houston; Round, Holder; Subs: Edwards, Ross
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Lamb B, Bastow, Railton, Edwards; Poole G, Poole I, Houston, Kaye; Round, Holder; Subs: Welsh A, Ross, Jago, McNally, McLaren (not used)
Peter Taylor Reports:
Convocation headed to Northop Hall with the Bear 11, and gave a good account of themselves, despite ultimately falling to a 3-1 defeat. The team was, Jack Morgan in goal, Billy Lamb right back, Ben Prince and Dave Baslow in the centre of defence, with Andy Willis at left back. Si Holder was on the right side of midfield, Criag Kaye on the left with Geordie and Johnny Welsh in the middle, while Matt Round and Chris McNally lead the line (Round had been re-assured, during a pre-match discussion, that he would not be a lone striker. However the announcement of Chris as his partner in crime, did nothing to reassure the rest of the team that we weren't playing 1 up front!).
The pitch was, as expected, pretty boggy, the opposition were as combative as ever and, appropriately given the closing of the Rugby World Cup that morning, had the physical appearance of a team about to chase an egg shaped ball around the pitch. The first half was a pretty even affair, although the hosts dealt with the conditions slightly better, and played some neat football going forward, ultimately going in to half time 2 goals up - the opening goal, however, was one of the most blatant offsides you will see. The move started with a Northop Hall player marginally offside, just within Convocation's half (the official referee hadn't turned up, so a Northop player was doing his best, and that one could be forgiven), however, when the Northop Hall striker reached the area and passed the ball forwards, around Morgan in goal, to a player behind the Convo keeper, who was then able to tap into the empty net, everyone expected it to be ruled out. Unfortunately not. 1-0. Another dubious refereeing decision later in the half would incense the usually placid* Willis who, after some verbal exchanges with a couple of players proceeded (as is his m.o.) to boot one of the opposition up the ar*e. It should be noted that the player in question was not the player who had committed the offence that had so angered Willis in the first place. Fortunately, the referee missed that as well, and at half time the Convo left back apologised to his victim and the situation diffused.
*have I got that right?
Northop Hall got the second when a cross from their left caught Prince on his heels, and the Welsh centre forward directed an excellent header back from whence it came into the bottom corner past Morgan. In his post-match interview, the Convocation 'keeper lamented that, had the game been on the 4G, he would have saved it, but his foot slipped slightly in the mire, which lost him the vital couple of inches needed to push the ball around the post. The rest of the half continued pretty evenly, with both teams continuing to try and attack. In particular, a number of through balls were played for McNally to run on to, but the Northop Hall keeper was extremely quick off his line, which seemed to confuse the big forward who, not wanting to end up like Patrick Battiston, never quite committed to the chase.
Convocation seemed like they had fully adapted to the conditions after the break, and started to assert themselves on the game. They got back into it when some good play between Geordie, Holder and Welsh in midfield, led to the latter putting in an excellent cross for Round to finish with a powerful header into the top corner. 2-1 and all to play for. The Northop 'keeper / McNally stand-off continued in the second half; unfortunately for Convo, there was a clear winner of this duel, and no goals for the first team captain this time out. Convocation continued to attack, Kaye went close after good work from Prince and Willis to bring the ball out from the back, Willis himself had a half chance from a corner, but couldn't quite fashion a decisive shot, and Geordie played in McNally, when it might have been better for him to shoot, while he also had a good effort from a free-kick deflected away from goal. It wasn't all one way traffic, however, and a spectacular goal-mouth scramble was eventually cleared (by Baslow, I think) after numerous deflections and blocks seemed to continually fall to Northop Hall forwards, who couldn't quite find a way through. The home team finally put the game to bed when one of their giant forwards got between Lamb and Prince on the edge of the 6 yard box, and side-footed in the pin-point cross - completely unmarked - before Morgan could get a block on it. "How did you miss him?" exclaimed Geordie. To be fair, he had a point, given the guy was the biggest player on the pitch (... bearing in mind Convocation had McNally, Prince and Baslow in their ranks).
Convocation kept plugging away, but couldn't forge a decent chance in the remaining minutes, and the game ended with another defeat.
Other than the minor altercation in the first half, the game was played in a good, competitive spirit, and the chaps are looking forward to the return fixture at Wyncote, to reverse the result.
Back in the Northop Hall Cricket Club, the hosts were continuing the loose rugby theme, by showing the Leicester v Gloucester encounter, which no-one seemed to be even slightly interested in, while both Man City and Liverpool were behind in their respective games. This resulted in the bizarre scene where small groups of players (from both sides), were huddled around various smart devices trying to stream the last minutes of Aston Villa v Liverpool - all with different periods of delay. Some sporadic cheering and rushing to alternative screens later, and most of the chaps went home happy (Derby County had secured a 2-0 win as well, so the Vice-Captain was content!)
MOM: Despite the ar*e kicking, Willis had a good game, while Kaye, Holder and Round offered the biggest threat going forward. However, the central midfield pairing were the stand-out duo on the pitch; as Geordie let himself down with a couple of wayward passes, the nod goes to Johnny Welsh this week.
Sausage Stats: A choice of curry, chilli or hot-pot, with rice and/or chips provided an excellent offering. The downside was that they only had 5 sausages for both teams. Nevertheless, 4 out of 5 for the food and the friendly service!
Game Two to Ramblers in the 2019-20 World Series.
Jamie broke his nose.
[AMc] “Everything they hit today went in.”
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Lamb B, Bastow, Prince, McLaren; Kaye, Houston, Poole I, Poole G; Holder, Knox; Sub: Southern
Bobby Mimms reports
Heat up the scrumpy and get down to the offy for a wheelbarrow full of White Lightning because it’s cider-making season. Hurrah! For a while on Saturday the Convocation players who turned up for their fixture at Wyncote could have been mistaken for thinking that they’d already indulged in industrial quantities of the stuff (and some of them every night) because when they strolled out to their designated artificial pitch before kick-off there appeared to be spacemen everywhere. Upon closer inspection – putting on glasses and all that – they turned out to be practising American Footballers not hallucinations, but ninety-odd minutes later another defeat stretched the Seconds’ losing streak to nine (dating back to Dicko’s birthday in March), which is enough to drive anyone to drink.
They were supposed to have been facing Rhewl Vets on Saturday, but after last month’s reciprocal fixture in Denbighshire had to be postponed due to a lack of numbers it was the turn of the Welshmen to cry off this time and Captain Andy McLaren was left looking for a replacement, his address book clearly stuck open on ‘R’: first Ramblers were approached although they cancelled as quickly as they’d initially agreed to play, but then one-time nemeses Rockville came to the rescue. Both Convo teams were at home, the Firsts enjoying an Intermediate Cup game on the adjacent grass pitch against a side from Norris Green, and the sight of the brethren at such close quarters clearly made the Seconds’ head honcho lose track of himself, as he indulged in what can only be described as formational witchcraft, sending his charges out for what would be a goalless opening half in a 4-5-1 line-up.
It would be wrong to describe that first period as dull, but there’s no doubt it was much more famine than feast. Decked out in all-blue Rockville got the game underway and had its first opportunity to score in the fourth minute when one of their ilk sent a colleague clear of the hosts’ back line from his own half of the pitch, and despite opponents Dave Bastow and Jamie Southern breathing down the neck of the man on the ball he was able to fire off a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that zipped just wide of goalkeeper Jack Morgan’s right-hand post.
Bastow shouldn’t really have been one of the last men back because he was part of that diabolic five-man midfield, although behind it the defence was holding a very high line – even the Convo substitutes and supporters (“Five people who don't have to be here” as McLaren described them) noticed so quite early on, so presumably the visitors had – so the two tiers did frequently get mixed up. Nonetheless, despite giving their opponents plenty of incentive to play the long ball the home side’s goal wouldn’t be threatened again until the half-hour point had been reached.
They themselves would create the best chances until then, although admittedly those chances were islands of incident in a great sea of sterile and poor passing, tedious game-breaking throw-ins, and general stop-start nothingness. Geoff ‘The Only’ Poole was the first Convocation player to go close when he was sent through down the inside-right channel and ran almost to the by-line before shooting straight at the Rockville ‘keeper from a ridiculously tight angle; free at the back post had been lone-forward Matt Round, the guy who’d played him in in the first place.
The two would combine again, just before the home side made their first substitutions a little over fifteen minutes before the break, when after good build-up work Poole won a challenge on the edge of the Rockville penalty area, ran on into it and then pulled a pass back for whoever might be in the middle, and despite Round being that man and getting his toes to the ball he could only redirect it just wide of the foot of the upright. Before then though, Simon Holder had gained possession in the middle of the visitors’ half and, as a bespectacled blue-shirted defender closed him down, shot from about eighteen yards out, but his effort sailed just over the bar, while the closest that anyone went to scoring during the first period was when the pink-socked Craig Kaye had chased a punt forward and lobbed the opposition ‘keeper as he’d advanced, but his attempt struck the front of the horizontal and rebounded away before being cleared; how much his lack of a goal was down to the #1 being a spitting image of Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay can only be guessed at, but the Convo man admitted later in the game that he was “having trouble coming to terms with” the resemblance.
At the other end of the pitch Morgan made a great save in the latter stages of the half, tipping a very-close range effort from a corner over his crossbar, while at about the same time Rockville were probably only denied an opening goal when one of their players got on the end of a pull-back, about ten yards out, because his shot struck a loitering team mate and was then hoofed away from danger by an opponent in orange. Back on the half-hour mark though, had come the first clue that the charmed life the home side’s defence had being living up until then wasn’t so much their doing, when a ball into the box had been ‘cleared’ by Billy ‘Ten Times a Night’ Lamb straight to a nearby blue-shirted adversary and from inside the corner of the area he’d whistled an attempt across the face of the target, missing the furthest upright by inches.
The hosts’ back line barely put a foot wrong during the first period, but as previously alluded to that was more down to them not being given too many opportunities to put a foot wrong, and when the goals finally arrived after the break there was defensive culpability. They lined-up for most of the match with Lamb on the left, Paul Fairclough on the right, and Southern and Ben Prince in the middle, the latter also wearing pink socks; McLaren suggested that this creeping sartorial insubordination was the club's attempt to show solidarity with the gay community, and that rainbow laces and a Convo float at the next Liverpool Pride were in the pipeline. Of the four, it was the former First Team captain who was most likely to venture forward (often with midfielder, and former First Team captain, Richy Houston slipping in behind him intelligently to cover), and he wasn’t averse to showing the odd bit of fancy footwork either, although on one occasion when he then immediately boobed the watching Kaye mused, “Billy's just gone from Messi to Bramble in 0.5 seconds.” Miaow!
Convo's Superbitch was on the sideline by then having been hooked in a straight swap with the club’s other CK, Colin Knox, while at the same time Poole had made way for Steve Ross. The two substituted players had begun the game on the flanks, with Houston, Holder and Bastow in between, and despite the weirdness of the Seconds playing with five in midfield the seven different men who took part in the occultist experiment over the ninety minutes carried out their duties reasonably well.
Possibly Knox’s first touch of the ball was to head just wide, unmarked and from six yards out, with Fairclough’s lovely cross into the box not deserving such a poor miss, while the substitute also had Convocation’s last chance of the half when he was played one-on-one-ish in the final minute but was blocked by the Rockville ‘keeper. Not long before that the #1 had had little problem with a Houston shot from the centre circle, so after a couple of close calls, but not much else, that was it for the opening three-quarters-of-an-hour.
Playing in the general direction of the changing rooms the hosts got the game underway again and it didn’t take long for Knox to set up the re-introduced Kaye with a chance, but his ‘shot’ from about fifteen yards out was a disgrace to the term and flew miles over the target. But then, after a brief spell of more nothingness that didn’t bode well for the second period being any better than the first, without warning there were four goals in six minutes. The first was for the visitors, with one of their players being sent clear of the dozing Convo back line by a great pass from his own half, and as he entered the penalty area and Morgan attempted to close him down he squared the ball to a team mate who then had the easiest of tap-ins.
Within sixty seconds Convocation had equalised. There was a series of good passes and flicks between Houston and Prince, the latter having started wandering like a medieval womb, before the ball was played out to Poole along the inside-right channel (he’d also come back on for the start of the second half; Holder and Round were off), and as he approached the edge of the penalty area he let fly with a low diagonal shot that was palmed into the back of the net by the floundering #1 – the scorer won’t appreciate the comparison but it was almost a carbon copy of Vladimir Smicer’s goal in the 2005 Champions League final.
Parity lasted for a little over two minutes. Kaye was caught daydreaming, while Poole was still mentally celebrating his goal, so a blue-shirted player momentarily had the freedom of the flank and he knocked a clever, low diagonal pass through the heart of the Convocation back line for a colleague to run onto, and from inside the penalty area he slotted first time past Morgan with the outside of his right foot.
Straight from the restart Kaye attacked down the right and put a delightful cross into the visitors’ box that Bastow got onto the end of but headed over, however at the other end of the pitch Convo's rearguard suddenly seemed as leaky as Rebekah Vardy’s Instagram account. The high line they’d been playing all game came back to haunt them when the Rockville ‘keeper paid tribute to the 1980s by launching a huge long-ball over the top of them and only-man-back Prince fluffed his attempted clearance on the edge of the eighteen-yard box, allowing an opponent to run on and score into the far corner of the goal despite Morgan getting a hand to the effort.
There was still half-an-hour to play so there was no need for Convocation to panic, and in fairness they didn’t. Within minutes Ross curled a first-time effort over the opposition bar from about twenty yards out, while shortly after that Kaye picked up possession just inside the angle of the penalty area, drifted inside and then shot, forcing the ‘keeper to make a good save to concede a corner: when the set piece was put into the mixer it was cleared but then immediately returned, at which point Southern, within spitting distance of goal, got Knox out of the way with a shove in the back that would have moved an illegally-parked lorry and bulleted a header on target but straight at the #1’s knees, whereupon the loose ball was hacked hastily to safety.
As the game entered its final quarter fortune appeared to have started favouring the hosts, as in the space of sixty seconds they had a lucky escape at their end and then scored at the other. They lost the ball in midfield and Rockville attacked down the inside-right channel until, inside the area, their man crossed low towards the back post, and when Fairclough couldn’t quite reach to intercept another blue shirt ran in and wellied a shot against the underside of the crossbar that bounced down and out; from his ideal vantage point on the halfway line referee Mr Webster signalled to play on through the age-old gesture of looking like he was guiding a plane into land on an aircraft carrier.
Convo weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and halved the deficit within half-a-dozen touches. It was Bastow – who’s making a habit of scoring memorable goals – who found the net: he received the ball thirty-odd yards out and with his back to the target, and with no one putting him under any pressure he was able to turn and smash an effort into the top corner before running of in admirable childish glee; on the sideline his son seemed thoroughly unimpressed.
It had clearly whetted his appetite because several minutes later he blasted another effort across the face of the goal, going some way towards proving that the one he’d scored was a fluke. With about a quarter-of-an-hour remaining the home side should have equalised when the ball was knocked into the penalty area, and to Knox, and he turned with a speed that suggested he thought he was in one of Sky’s irritating pre-match slow-motion montages before having a shot blocked at close range. The rebound fell to Kaye, only yards away, and he smashed a riser that was definitely on target, but had the bad luck to have a Rockville player’s mush get in the way – it certainly blew the cobwebs away.
One of the visitors had his collar felt by Mr Webster (who had a quiet game by his standards) for a spot of back chat as the game neared its final ten minutes, while moments later Southern forced the opposition ‘keeper into making a great flying save to his left with another bullet-but-this-time-stooping header at a corner. But the defender’s number was up and he was hooked not long after that in a triple substitution that had been a quarter-of-an-hour in the making: Lamb and Fairclough were also told to gerroff, and Holder, Round and McLaren replaced them, although your correspondent has no idea where they all fitted in.
The last chance of the afternoon fell to Prince when he got on the end of a lovely Poole free kick but put the ball over the bar with the back of his head. The big Derby supporter played an equally pin-point pass in the closing moments, but unfortunately it was to the watching Richy Schofield after he’d called out from the sideline to suggest that the nearby Kaye was free, although by then very few people were paying attention to the Convo-Rockville game as they were watching the First Team’s penalty shoot-out on the next pitch (and that includes most of the combatants): they won that and followed it up with the most unenthusiastic of celebrations, Mike Nawrocki acting as spokesperson by enquiring, “Have we won?” How very Convocation.
It had started to rain by the time Mr Webster called it a day, angels’ tears for another Convocation defeat, but despite their losing streak heading towards double figures the Seconds aren’t playing badly. McLaren hasn’t yet received the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’, but there’s no doubt that he has the support of his players even though Extinction Rebellion look more likely to get a positive result before they do. But life’s too short to worry about things like winning and gluing yourself to roads, and talk in the APH after the game concerned how to remain feeling young for as long as possible: one whippersnapper (who may have a trophy named after him) suggested getting smashed on ten cans a night, every night, although he never revealed whether his choice of beverage was scrumpy; Holder’s earlier suggestion paled into insignificance by comparison and he was promptly told to, “shove your fish up your arse.”
Do they still make White Lightning...?
Man Of The Match: Kaye deserves a mention for his bitchiness, and for going back to the pub afterwards (as did Andy Parsons – strange times), while the super-human boozing efforts of Lamb mustn’t go unheralded; Bastow didn’t do too badly and scored a great goal, but the best performance was probably once again Poole’s – at times the erstwhile club secretary seemed to be everywhere on Saturday, working tirelessly for the benefit of his team mates, and he also found the back of the net to boot. He’s beginning to make a habit of winning this.
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Lamb B, Southern, Prince, Fairclough; Poole G, Houston, Holder, Bastow, Kaye; Round; Subs: Ross, Knox, McLaren
[BP] Starting to think we might not be competitive in the Garrison Cup!
The Liverpool match decimated the squad, and the "Geoff Poole 4" [Mark Kerry, Andy Russell, Andy Morris, Mark Houston] meant we could at least get a game, so many thanks to them for that. Unfortunately, a scratch team against a much younger, fitter and faster side that clearly play together regularly, was never going to give us much of a chance, although, despite the score it wasn't totally one way traffic!
In other news Willo got lost, and Chris Mac was about an hour late!
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Kerry, Bastow, Prince, Kearney; Poole G, Poole I, Morris, Russell; Houston M, Willis; Sub: McNally
Bobby Mimms reports
Dog shit. No, not Convocation’s performance on Saturday, nor the awful tackle by a Chester player in the dying seconds that led to a sixteen-man brawl. Certainly not the sausage roll, chips and beans in the Nomads clubhouse after the match, and not even its manager informing the chaps that they would have to leave (admittedly “before quarter-to-six”, which was half-an-hour away). No, it was the psychosomatic discomfort that plagued the participants throughout this game after a pile of the stuff was discovered on the pitch shortly before kick-off and Craig Kaye had to perform that most ancient of footballing rituals, the ceremonial removal of the turd – it’s been too long. After that, with everyone paranoid to hell about there being more of the stuff about, they kept getting occasional faecal whiffs even though it was (probably) all in their heads.
It was a wonder anybody could smell anything though, as it was extremely windy, and odourless, fresh air was in abundance. The conditions in Chester were as autumnal as could be for the last weekend in September and dead leaves bestrew the pitch, the pitch that was only marginally less steep than Brownlow Hill; the ‘fresh air’ was blowing down the incline, and buffeted the ball all over the place whenever it was above head height, which was fairly often (it was forever disappearing into the bordering back gardens, although they all had gates so that it could be retrieved easily enough – or so that the home owners could let their dogs out for a shit), while whenever the sun briefly made an appearance it would also glare into the eyes of those playing towards the summit. At least it was mainly dry and the sward was in decent nick, despite it having been as wet as an otter’s pocket of late; there was the occasional moment of very light rain during the game, although it had tipped down overnight and earlier in the morning.
Convo had turned up at Boughton Hall with (eventually) thirteen men at their disposal, but Captain Andy McLaren decided to sit the first half out in the company of the tardy Steve Ross. On the pitch Keith Purcell was in goal behind a back four of (l to r) Billy Lamb, Justin Shanahan, Dave Bastow – who scored “a worldie” last week, apparently – and Paul Fairclough. Up front Ben Prince partnered Kaye, and in midfield Geoff Poole started on the left, Simon Holder and Ian Poole were in the middle, and on the right flank was (cousin of the Pooles) Mark Kerry.
Decked out in orange-and-white Convocation got the game underway – Prince having lost the toss: quelle surprise – facing up the incline, and into the capricious bluster and sun: thankyou very much Mr Vice-captain. Unsurprisingly under such circumstances, the Nomads were well on top during the opening quarter-of-an-hour and at times it looked as if they might overwhelm their guests with their fervour, but it was certainly not one-way traffic: Convo had a great chance to take the lead when Poole (G) was played in down the inside-left channel, but he cracked his subsequent shot against the nearest upright and the rebound was hoofed to safety. The former club secretary vexed his opponents again some minutes later, albeit inadvertently, when he put a looping cross into the Chester box and got it much closer to the goal than he'd intended, so close in fact that a number of visitors in the vicinity were of the opinion that the ball had crossed the line before it was cleared and he’d scored. The referee was unimpressed though, and waved away their appeals – he’d obviously left his special vibrating watch in the changies.
Unfortunately for Convocation though, by then, back down in base camp, they’d already conceded themselves. Chester too had hit the woodwork in the opening stages, a screamer of an effort that may well have been round a particle accelerator a few times beforehand, but then with about ten minutes on the clock they attacked down their left and put a low cross in towards the near post that caused the visitors no end of trouble. After what felt like an eternity of Bastow and Fairclough trying to block the gold-shirted player who received the ball and shepherd him away from goal he squared the thing to a colleague on the other side of the target, and from about six yards out he took advantage of being unmarked to slot past Purcell’s desperate lunge.
In fairness, taking the lead was no more than Chester deserved for their general superiority in the early part of the game, but when they scored again several minutes later it was only because they benefitted from a huge dollop of good luck. Convocation would go on to dominate the centre of midfield for long periods of the contest, but even when they were definitely second best at the start of proceedings their hosts were still strangely unambitious there, although on the one occasion that they did put a decent couple of passes together in that part of the pitch the ball ended up with one of their midfielders just outside the corner of the Convo penalty area and he let fly with a shot that appeared to be pretty much straight at Purcell. The #1 later admitted that he’d realised straight away something wasn’t right as the effort seemed to be wobbling in mid-flight, and sure enough, just as he was about to get his hands on the thing the wind blasted it away to his left and into the net, leaving him with more than a bit of egg on his face; he was the first to accept that he’d hardly covered himself in glory, but his embarrassment was compounded by him also doing the full Wheller and making an untimely mishap look like a Frank Spencer special.
It was at that point, with about a quarter-of-an-hour gone, that you feared the worst for Convocation because a rout looked quite possible, but then, without warning, they got one back and Chester completely lost the plot. And the home side had no one to blame but themselves: their #1 played the ball out to one of the full backs and he then, inexplicably, knocked it square through the penalty area for a colleague despite Prince lurking, and when the big Derby supporter easily intercepted the pass in the middle he was faced with opponents all out of position and what was effectively an open goal, and side-footed into the net with ease. Before kick-off McLaren had suggested that the Nomads ‘keeper “can't bend”, but he’d said nothing about him being unable to read the minds of divvy defenders either.
That hadn’t been in the Chester game plan and it was evident almost immediately that they had no contingency procedure for it either because they suddenly didn’t seem to know what they should be doing. Within a couple of minutes however, they did the one thing they must have known they shouldn’t do, handle the ball in the area, and the referee duly pointed to the spot. It was Poole (G) who stepped forward to take the kick, and after presumably eyeing up where he wanted to put it he smashed his effort off towards the Van Allen belt – seriously, it was an awful penalty, and if there’d been another goal on top of the goal it would still have cleared the bar. He should have had a chance to atone later on in the half, when another cross into the box produced not so much a whiff of handball as a stench, but the official wasn’t interested in that one, which for eschewers of high farce was probably just as well.
Shortly after that, with the half reaching its mid-point, McLaren made his first change, sending on Ross in a straight swap with Kerry, and within about thirty seconds the incomer had equalised. Convo won a corner and while the majority of the players in the box did the dance of the damned that accompanies every such set piece the winger kept his distance near the back post and then leapt at the delivery to butt the ball into net and send the visitors into raptures. Within the space of five-ish minutes they’d gone from fearing the worst to fearing nothing.
The twenty minutes leading up to the break weren’t much cop as neither team seemed to know whether to stick or twist, and the highlight was probably a couple of quadrant kicks at either end that can’t have lived long in the memory of anyone present (Chester’s corners were poor all game). Nonetheless Convocation were by then the dominant side and their altitudinal disadvantage had been all but forgotten, especially as the hosts continued to languish when in the middle of the pitch where Poole (I) and Holder were making hay while the sun (occasionally) shined – the former was getting stuck in and had turned the place into his own, while the latter took full advantage of being given too much time and space by the opposition and picked them apart easily with clever passes.
Behind them the rearguard was as serene as it had earlier been ruffled and on the few occasions that Chester threatened Shanahan showed them that he was the scrapper his team mates already knew he was; beside him Bastow was the reassuring (and threatening to the opposition) presence that proved Convo were in control. Out on the flanks Poole (G) could gallivant freely knowing that Lamb had his back, while on the right side Ross had taken over seamlessly from the impressive Kerry and was causing the home side all sorts of trouble (admittedly, without any end result), and Fairclough too got the odd chance to venture forward. All in all Convo looked in good shape as the teams swapped elevations.
Wouldn’t you just know it, but after three-quarters-of-an-hour of Convocation defending at what felt like the wrong end of a wind tunnel the bluster died down considerably once the teams swapped ends, and the visitors couldn’t rely on the Nomads being distracted by face freeze as they had at first. Nonetheless, for twenty-or-so minutes after the restart the chaps from Liverpool were the next best thing to imperious and Chester had trouble keeping up with them; the pressure on the home side’s goal was unrelenting and, surely enough, before you could say ‘can anyone else smell dog shit’ they fell behind: Convo won a throw-in on their right-hand flank near one of their opponents corner flags, which Ross hurled into the area, Poole (I) flicked on, and in the middle his brother swivelled onto the ball just outside the six-yard box and smashed it into the net.
Suddenly it was those in gold who must have feared the worst, and with good cause. For about fifteen minutes the ball barely entered the heights of the Convocation half of the pitch and the visitors concocted chance after chance to run away with the game; Kerry had returned for the start of the second period, at left back in place of Lamb, but he might as well have been on the side line twiddling his thumbs for all the defending he had to do. Kaye nearly scored with a low shot across goal that the Nomads ‘keeper did well to get down to his left and push around the post, while Poole (I) tried his luck from downtown and was only just off-target.
Fairclough got stung to buggery by nettles when he had to crawl into the neighbouring hedges to retrieve the ball at one point – emerging, he looked like something from Wind in the Willows (or The Wool in the Willows) – but his pain was surely nothing compared to Prince’s when he wasted a glorious chance to put some daylight between the sides with about twenty-five minutes remaining: Ross, again, had engaged in a spot of fine work down the right before knocking a lovely cross into the opposition six-yard box that was just perfect for the vice-captain, but with the goal at his mercy he showed it mercy and sent his header over the crossbar. Obviously the Viagra salesman had been in town because, like Poole (G) before him, Prince couldn’t keep it down (after that pun be grateful that neither was substituted…).
Bastow began inching forward as the half progressed, firing off a number of long-distance howitzers that must have scared the life out of the Nomads ‘keeper such was their proximity to his goal, and when McLaren made his bow with a little over twenty minutes remaining he gave his centre half’s move into midfield a belated stamp of approval by going three at the back. Kerry (again) and Fairclough took their leave around that time, the latter for Lamb, who would influence proceedings yet, while the former was replaced by the tell-tale-tit captain, who earlier in the game had taken umbrage with one of the home players for tricking Kaye into leaving the ball so that it ran out of play for a Chester throw, complaining from the side line, “Ref, he’s lied.”
McLaren had only been on the pitch a minute (or so) when everything turned ugly for Convocation. Having been so dominant all game the visitors’ midfield went AWOL on one of the rare occasions that their hosts got near their penalty area, and taking advantage of nobody closing him down a player in gold lifted a shot over the defence and Purcell from the edge of the ‘D’. And with one swish of a foot Convo started to redefine the definition of ‘flapping’.
The visitors kept attacking and kept creating decent scoring opportunities, but suddenly every time the Nomads got anywhere near their opponents’ penalty area it was like watching a henhouse with a fox around, and they would convert their chances while Convo continued to be profligate. McLaren could have scored when he snuck around the back of the gold-shirted defence at a corner like a stealth bear, but when the ball duly reached him he directed his shot straight at the #1 from a tight angle, while Poole (I) – whose ‘finest’ hour was still to come – took atoms of paint off the Chester goal frame in the final few minutes with a free kick that just wouldn’t curl enough.
Destiny had caught up with Convocation by then though. They’d been on the attack, looking for an equaliser almost in a state of bewilderment at how they found themselves in such a situation, when they were sucker-punched by Chester breaking uphill at speed; understandably the visitors had pushed almost everyone forward, so when a long pass was played through the deserted middle third of the pitch only Shanahan was back to deal with two attackers, and when the free one was fed by his mate he had all the time in the world to slam a shot past the exposed Purcell from down the side of the area.
You could almost see the players in orange deflate as it flew in, although Bastow was well and truly re-flated moments later when he got the ball right up his hoop at a corner from a blast at point-blank range that pretty much lifted him off the ground. From more-or-less the same spot Chester scored their fifth in what should have been the third minute from time, when their left winger advanced into the penalty area and cracked a shot across goal that Purcell blocked with one foot but, alas, the rebound then hit his other peg and deflected back into the net behind him. The player in gold who struck the effort would surely disagree, but it was difficult not to mark it down as an own goal.
Moments after the restart the home side got forward again and fired of a pretty tame shot from outside the ‘D’ that Purcell smothered down to his right, and with not enough energy to get to his feet the ’keeper passed the ball out to Lamb while still on his knees with what was later described as “a hospital roll”, and on the edge of the penalty area a slightly unhinged player in gold launched himself two-footed at the veteran. There was a howl of pain followed by much effing and jeffing, and once they both got back to their feet – thankfully, uninjured – the two foes seemed to indulge in a spot of Eskimo kissing, while all around them an umpteen-man stramash erupted. The last thing the situation needed was anyone making matters worse, but Convo’s #1 diplomat disagreed and went in all guns blazing, arms swinging like windmill sails, before eventually Shanahan stumbled out of the melee hollering, “Fuck off Pooley, you've just punched me in the face.”
That may have been a spot of friendly fire, but there was no mistaking the total lack of friendliness in the glazed-over eyes of Lamb’s assaulter (like a cross between a Vietnam vet and the Terminator), so once everything had finally been calmed down, and the visitors had taken their free kick, the referee – one of the Nomads players – waited for about ten seconds and then blew up a couple of minutes early to prevent anyone getting seriously hurt.
A strong smell of weed drifted around the place as the players trudged back to the changing rooms, and after the shenanigans of moments earlier quite a few of them could have done with a puff or two (and at least it made a change from dog shit). Convo didn't deserve to lose; you could argue that they didn't deserve not to win, as for the majority of the game they were the better side and fought hard for their advantage. But they wasted far too many good chances to put the game to bed so they can’t complain about their plight, and at least that means it wasn't all Prince's fault (it was joked afterwards that he was the new Andy Willis, as with losing the pre-match toss and then missing his gilt-edged header he had “spoiled it for everyone”).
The punch-up at the end was a strange denouement to what was otherwise an enjoyable and amiable encounter, but as it was on the same pitch that the lovely Deano went on his one-man charm offensive several years ago maybe someone should dig up its centre circle and see if there are any psychotic Indians buried underneath. They shouldn’t be surprised to find excrement, mind.
Man Of The Match: It’s probably Holder, but he never reads the website so it can go to Poole (G), although everyone was in with a shout.
Convocation (4-4-2): Purcell; Lamb B, Shanahan, Bastow, Fairclough; Poole G, Holder, Poole I, Kerry; Prince, Kaye; Subs: Ross, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; McLaren, Bastow, Prince, Ross; Poole G, Poole I, Kay, Kaye; Knox, Holder; Subs: Round, Fairclough, Lamb B
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; O’Brien S, Southern, Bastow, Lamb B; Ross, Poole I, Welsh J, Prince; Holder, Houston; Subs: Kaye, Carnacina, McLaren