[AMc] We certainly had our chances!
Si Holder was booked and I was sin binned. With about 5 minutes to go.
Convocation (4-4-2): Willis; Harper, Bastow, Southern, McLaren; Kent, Welsh J, Carnacina, Long J; Kaye, Williams; Sub: Holder
Bobby Mimms reports
Who forgot the goat? Well someone cocked up, because when Convocation arrived for this fixture on Saturday afternoon it was immediately clear that both Northop Hall pitches needed some serious caprine attention, the shin-high grass, buttercups, dandelion clocks, and daisies making them almost unplayable. The lower of the two was surely one of the worst surfaces Convo have ever graced, one that Iacopo Carnacina suggested could do with some “Alpine cows” to clear (your correspondent argued that a combine harvester might be more appropriate), while Dave Bastow joked that no one was allowed to have a burst on the sideline in case it made the foliage grow even more, and with there also being no pegs for the goal nets the game was in danger of becoming a farce before a ball had been kicked.
Which was a shame because it was Convo’s first trip to Wales in ages. The clear blue ‘Derby Day’ (well, one of them) sky augured well on the way to the Principality, but then it clouded over as soon as the chaps arrived at Northop Hall, and Andy Harper turned up telling tales of a dead fox on a nearby road – “You don’t see that every day” he marvelled, and indeed you don’t, because it was a dead badger that Andy McLaren had swerved to avoid running over (Phyllis wouldn’t have missed). The hosts also seemed a little young (relatively speaking), and on the midge-infested-ditch side of the Havana-esque pitch where Convocation set up camp – where a squirrel in the trees appeared to be doing bird impressions; Ben Prince suggested it might be ‘talking’ in Welsh – there were a few reservations about playing, especially as several of the visitors were already carrying knocks prior to kick off.
One of those was goalkeeper (and nineteenth century French geologist?) Jack “Who the fuck’s Keith?” Morgan, whose groin was apparently one stretch away from twanging like a lazzy band, and he was damn well going to make sure that everyone knew it, moaning and groaning throughout the game like some aquamarine-robed heretic on a rack. Ahead of him Convocation only had the bare bones – Steve Ross and Craig Kaye would eventually turn up ten minutes after the start – so McLaren put himself at right back, with Harper on the opposite side of the defence and Jamie Southern and Bastow in between, while in midfield Carnacina began on the left, Ian Poole and Jeff Wolfe were in the centre, and Collegiate Old Boys veteran Perry Foy was on the right, the latest in a long line of Convo debutants to make their bow in ridiculous circumstances; up front Prince partnered Richy Houston, whose black shorts appeared to have been spattered with some rather unfortunate-cum-suspicious stains, earning him the ninety-minute moniker “Jizz Boy” from his captain.
With a positive spin of ‘at least you can see the top of the ball’ the visitors got proceedings underway, but only after Vice-captain Prince had committed the mortifying faux pas of trying to take the pre-match toss – nothing to do with Houston – and McLaren was forced to pull rank; that’s not to say that Convo’s Breakthrough Star of 2001 was on some sort of power trip, no siree, and within a couple of minutes of the start he even had to admit that he couldn’t take a throw-in “with my arms” (which begs the question…). There was no such upper-limb problem for Morgan though, who got a spot of good early handling under his belt, with no further harm to his groin.
After an initial period in which the two teams felt each other out – though not in a way to concern HR – it was in the eighth minute that the goalkeeper was first really called into action, when the blue-and-black-striped home side advanced down their right and one of their ilk unleased a low Exocet of a shot (although it may have been a cross) that had to be pushed away from the back post at full stretch (with Morgan making a delicious ‘Oof!’ sound as he landed), while a follow-up effort from the edge of the penalty area, ten-or-so seconds later, was sent arrowing over the crossbar. It was a miss that would become something of a leitmotif throughout Northop Hall’s game as a whole.
By the time that’d happened though, the orange-shirted Convocation might already have been ahead, as a couple of minutes earlier, after a spell of good passing play around the peripheries of their hosts’ eighteen-yard box, Foy knocked a dangerous low cross in towards the nearest upright that Prince ran onto and tried to flick over the ‘keeper, but he only succeeded in kicking it straight to him. Not long after that the lanky forward was involved in a scoring chance again when, having received the ball from the right, he slipped in Poole along that side of the Northop Hall area, and he floated a looping effort towards the back post that the yellow-topped #1 just about pawed away; it would have been a delightful goal had it gone in.
It was shortly after the stragglers had finally turned up that the pitch – let’s continue to call it that for clarity’s sake – had its first noticeable impact on proceedings, when a Northop Hall midfielder attempted to make a defence-splitting pass out to the wing for a colleague but the ball held up on the edge of the visitors’ penalty area, and Morgan – who was soldiering on, bless him – was able to sprint out and intercept (and then hobble back into position). It wasn’t just on the ground that the home side were having problems though, as two foul throws by the same player in the space of a couple of minutes could testify, but they did manage to fire off a succession of very tame shots from middle distance as the mid-point of the half neared, all of which the Convo #1 could have thrown a dandelion clock on (in the absence of a cap).
The next time the hosts went close was after they won a free kick out on the flank (conceded by Carnacina – natch) that, when punted into the box, was headed towards the bottom corner of his adopted side’s net by Foy, who clearly was quickly up to scratch with all things Convo – Bastow though, inside the six-yard box, prevented what would have been a debut own goal, the big spoil sport. Immediately after that the referee (who rumour had it was the dad of one of the Northop Hall players) blew for a drinks break, just as it had gone particularly overcast.
The visitors made their first changes at the same time, with Kaye going on for Foy (Houston dropped into midfield to make place for the incomer; Wolfe moved out to the flank), and Ross replacing McLaren – who, it turns out, was the Firsts’ Masked Defender in the mid ‘90s; who knew? – on the right of the rearguard. For several minutes after the game restarted one particular Northop Hall player kept smashing back passes past his ‘keeper and out for corners, one of which was curled into the box by Wolfe for Houston (who doesn’t like your correspondent making notes) to flick an unmarked header across the face of the opposition goal. It’s fair to say that the former First Team captain should have done better with his chance.
In general though, he was playing well, had been lively up front alongside Prince without getting any clear-cut chances to score, and continued to show his class in midfield; the Derby supporter also looked good at, what was for him these days, the wrong end of the pitch, and there’s no doubt that his unpredictability had the Northop Hall defence on high alert. Back in midfield Wolfe and Poole had held their own on a combative and tricky stage, the latter in particular having his best (and most involved) game for Convo in a while, but out on the left Carnacina, though performing perfectly well, didn’t seem interested in partaking in the dark arts that are usually his wont, although midway through the half he did launch into a quite fantastic never-ending rant in Italian when someone in orange lost the ball.
The final dozen-or-so minutes of the first period were spent predominantly in the Convocation half of ‘the pitch’, and it was credit to one man in particular that the visitors nearly got to the interval unscathed; they finally conceded the only goal of the game just before the turnaround. Before then a huge kick out of his hands by the Northop Hall #1 allowed one of his colleagues to wriggle past Southern and set off towards Morgan, but just as it seemed that he had to shoot the player in question squared the ball to another striped shirt running in at the back post, and to the accompaniment of a couple of half-hearted Convo calls for offside he somehow fired wide of the upright from inside the six-yard box. Moments after that the hosts attacked down their right through a guy who appeared to be called ‘Chico’, but from inside the penalty area his eventual shot was deflected out against the stanchion behind the nets by an excellent last-ditch challenge from Carnacina.
Morgan continually had the referee watching over him at corners, an Irish growl warning the outfield players to “Stay off the ‘keeper” at every one, but the man in black wasn’t infallible and not long before the interval he awarded the home side a free kick not far from the Convo ‘D’ despite the supposedly fouled midfielder not being touched; somewhat sheepishly the chap in question admitted that he had gone to ground unnecessarily, and a drop ball ensued instead. After that, the game entered a phase where the visitors’ glover appeared to turn into Doctor Octopus.
He began by saving Poole’s blushes when the midfielder attempted to clear a cross into the area but headed it straight to a striped-shirted loiterer who would have otherwise been offside: the ‘keeper gave the subsequent flicked attempt from about eight yards out a reflex slap and then pounced on the loose ball. Shortly after that a long Northop Hall punt forward sent two players clear through on the Convo goal, and even though they managed to get in each other’s’ way one did eventually get a shot off, yet Morgan was perfectly placed to get down and fingertip it around his left-hand upright.
In between those two chances the home side felt that they should have been awarded a spot kick when Ross upended one of them inside the Convocation area, and though from your correspondent’s angle it looked like he’d made a well-timed, clean tackle, the defender himself admitted after the match that he was surprised when the ref waved play on. After that Northop Hall began to create opportunities at a rate of about one every twenty seconds.
Firstly one of their forwards, who looked suspiciously offside, got on the end of a cross into the box and eyebrowed the ball down into the ground and up against the crossbar (while pretty much everyone in the vicinity stood motionless, gobs agape, waiting to see what would happen), and when the rebound was only half cleared a follow-up strike from the edge of the area flashed just wide of the target. After that a rising screamer of a shot from about twenty-five yards out on the right flank required Morgan to palm over the horizontal at full stretch, and from the resultant corner another of the hosts powered an unmarked header straight at the ‘keeper, who still did well to parry the effort from such close range.
No one could seriously argue that the Convo goal wasn’t living a bit of a charmed life, but the visitors’ luck was about to run out. Ross lost the ball about ten yards outside his own penalty area and the striped shirt who dispossessed him dribbled on towards the goal, easily past Bastow who was clearly reluctant to put in a challenge inside the box, and from maybe ten yards out blasted a shot into the roof of the net, beating Morgan at his near post with the sheer ferocity of the strike. Half time was called not long after the restart, sixty seconds early.
Foy returned for the second period in place of Carnacina, with Houston and Wolfe also swapping positions in midfield, but nobody could do anything for what felt like ages as the referee had vanished; just as people began wondering whether he’d murdered his nanny and done a bunk to Goa he came waddling out of the changing block, to a heckle from McLaren of, “He’s had a shit!”
Once the game was underway again Convo had two early chances to equalise, the first when Kaye forced a good diving save out of the Northop Hall ‘keeper after a spot of grappling with a defender on the edge of the penalty area, and then when Houston (who’d set his colleague up for that effort) fired off a looping, bouncing shot from about twenty-five yards out that was on target but which would have needed the mother of all howlers from the #1 to have found the back of the net. In between those two attempts the same home player as in the first period was penalised for his third foul throw of the afternoon.
That was about as good as it got for Convocation though, as, a couple of half chances aside, later in the half, their hosts cranked up the pressure for the remainder of the game and but for some awful finishing would have won by a greater margin. There was a good opportunity for those in orange to load their opponents’ box when Kaye was upended just outside the centre circle and a free kick was awarded, but as the watching McLaren urged his charges to “Slow it down, slow it down…”, Houston ran up and wellied the ball straight out of play for a goal kick, and his exasperated captain grumbled, “…or take it quick.”
By then Houston was in central defence, Southern having limped off after pulling his groin (Carnacina returned in his place, only out on the wing), and it’s fair to say that the back line’s boon was the midfield’s loss as Northop Hall had started to really run the show there. After a lengthy spell of passing around the edges of their guests’ area one of the striped shirts fired an effort just over the target – a trick that would be seriously overplayed during the second period – while ten minutes into the half another of their ilk slipped a colleague in along the right-hand side of the Convo eighteen-yard box and, despite it looking as if he’d needed to take his chance first time, he eventually crashed a shot against the front of the crossbar, whereupon the ball was cleared to safety.
Moments after that things took another turn for the worse for the visitors when Prince, who’d been a consistent annoyance to the Northop Hall rearguard, became the latest casualty of The Meadow, turning his knee under the mildest of pressure from an opponent and then writhing around on the floor making “Derbyshire noises” for what felt like an eternity; someone suggested that he sounded like he was calving. He was eventually replaced by McLaren – who, it turns out, gave Brian Holder the idea to found Convocation in 1973; who knew? – who slotted into central defence, thus shunting Houston back into midfield and Carnacina up front.
The home side were really turning the screw on Convo by this point and yet they just couldn’t score that nerve-soothing second. A sign of their increasing dominance as the midpoint of the half neared was the way one of their men was allowed to run twenty or thirty yards at the visitors’ defence, completely unchallenged, before eventually firing off a shot that Morgan got down to his left to paw away; a minute-or-two later the ‘keeper tipped a cross into his goalmouth over the bar (nobody could be sure whether the thing was going in or not), and by this stage of the game he was truly getting to grips with his re-enactment of the Death of Nelson, performed after every save and moment in the spotlight. There was nothing he could’ve done though, when an unmarked Northop Hall header zipped just wide of the target moments before the referee signalled for another tea break, this time as the sun came out.
Temporarily the refreshments appeared to rejuvenate the visitors, as almost immediately after the restart they broke from their own half, Kaye used a bit of muscle, ahem, to turn an opponent in the centre circle, and, having ran on and been pushed a tad wide, fired off a strong, low shot that the Northop Hall #1 did well to clutch to his right. The good vibes didn’t last though, and quite soon they looked rather panicky, with their passes regularly being underhit and overhit (and once or twice, Wombling free); when one of the hosts played the ball back from the edge of the Convo area for a team mate running in, the only reason the chaps in orange went unpunished was because the subsequent wallop was yet again sent over the horizontal.
For those not in the thick of the action, those on the sideline for example, the constant swish of ball and boots on long grass was ethereally intoxicating, but on the ‘pitch’ things were not so serene and with about a quarter-of-an-hour remaining there was handbags between Poole – a man who could cause a fight in a vacuum, never mind an empty room – and an opponent who fouled him, near the spot of Prince’s earlier labour (as opposed to ‘his labours’); newcomer Foy later suggested that their spat had looked like a pair of hares boxing. And not long after that there was another Northop Hall foul throw (albeit, not by the same serial offender, as he’d been substituted).
Just as irregular was the clearance made by McLaren – who, it turns out, invented crossbars in 1875; who knew? – using the back of his neck, a manoeuvre that produced a terrific Slap! noise that everyone in the vicinity felt and which left the Convo captain rubbing the afflicted area for minutes to come. By that time defending at both ends was looking increasingly desperate and the only reason neither Carnacina nor Kaye scored from close range, after a good Bastow free kick from near the especially tall buttercups on the halfway line, was because their chances arose in the middle of a frenzied goalmouth scramble.
The same couldn’t be said of the home side, who persisted in firing mid-distant shots over Morgan’s crossbar and into the wheatfield behind, to the extent that the referee might as well have moved the game over there. They did force the #1 into a save with about five minutes remaining when one of their lads, having advanced through the wildernesses of the central midfield, played a pass out towards a colleague on the right, McLaren was slow across to deal with him, and a low rasper inevitably ensued; the shooter then missed what was more-or-less an open goal with the subsequent loose ball.
There was one final off-target strike from the home side before the referee called it a day, a low effort from thirty yards out that drifted wide and didn’t end up in the field – Hurray! – but otherwise the last ‘action’ of the game occurred when Poole put in a poor challenge on his slapping partner from earlier, and there was another bout of afters; the orange-shirted avenger definitely knew what he was doing, so the Northop Hall captain’s furious reaction was somewhat understandable.
The full-time whistle brought harrowing scenes akin to the retreat from Moscow, with mangled and bloodied players moaning and groaning all over the place, but unlike that Napoleonic farce there were no fatalities, mainly because no reaper, Grim or otherwise, had been near the Northop Hall pitch in ages. There’s no doubt the state of the surface affected the game, but how much would have changed had it been properly tended is debatable – Convo played well but their hosts probably just about deserved to win, and maybe under more suitable conditions they would have done so by more.
There was a nightmarish vision even worse than the plight of the poor casualties though, as the occupants of McLaren’s car were forced to sit in horror after the match as he got dressed in front of it (the changing rooms were still out of bounds) and unsuspectingly mooned them, the sight of the Hairy Hole of Hell and the swollen turkey neck hanging underneath burnt into their retinas, never to leave their minds, and infinitely more horrific than anything witnessed at Borodino. After that everyone retired to The Top Monkey pub around the corner – even those with early-onset PTSD – where the home players were finally able to retrieve some of their shots, and Southern tipped nearly a full bottle of vinegar over his sausage and chips.
Elsewhere, Adayar won the Derby (well, one of them), and will now surely be put out to stud. But can anyone think of somewhere with plenty of grass for a retired hero to dine?
Man Of The Match: Houston put in a great shift at the coalface – well several coalfaces actually, seeing as how he was relocated all over the pitch all afternoon – but he was outshone by a player without whom Convo could have suffered a thumping. Morgan made at least half-a-dozen great saves and was only beaten by a howitzer from close range, and all whilst on the verge of death. Give that man a medal.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Harper, Southern, Bastow, McLaren; Carnacina, Poole I, Wolfe, Foy; Prince, Houston; Subs: Kaye, Ross
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Peers; Shanahan, Bastow, Ross; Carnacina, Holder, Poole I, Prince; Kaye, Poole G; Subs: McLaren, 'Tomasz'
[AMc] A fantastic team performance today. Each chap played extremely well. Holder scored a worldie and was immediately substituted. Poolie nutmegged the keeper.
Some proper challenges.
Knoxy man of the match. Scored a great header and had 4 assists. A new Ramblers Vets team. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Well played chaps. Huzzah. Bell-end manager of the month award to Andy Mc.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Harper, Southern, Prince, Jago; Poole G, Poole I, Bastow, Holder; Round, Kaye; Subs: Knox, McLaren, Ross, Carnacina
Having netted a brace, Matt Round then hot-footed it up to Fazakerley to play for the Firsts, where he scored again.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Harper, Bastow, Southern, Wolfe; Kearney, Poole G, Poole I, Prince; Holder, Round; Subs: Knox, McLaren, Carnacina
Bobby Mimms reports
Oh, May Day, what a day, to lounge around with friends, sup some beers, and chew the cud. That’s exactly what the chaps of Convocation and Ramblers did on Saturday after this hard-fought draw in Crosby. They weren’t allowed indoors, of course – Miss Rona was still ruling out that – but it was no hardship to sit outside and discuss what had just gone down in the match (Jack Morgan decried the ariel proficiency of the First Team captain: “Chris Mc is the smallest big fella I know”), debate the concept of ‘bros before hoes’ (Geoff Poole had gone camping with his missus, rather than play footy), and politely not mention the lack of sausage and beans; the final episode of Viewpoint being dropped by ITV was also given a conversational wide berth. But all in all, it was just nice to have a few drinks elsewhere than in the house for a change. And Hell – even Craig Kaye stayed for a bevy.
That everyone could unwind outdoors on this rare visit, ahem, to Moor Lane was thanks to the clement spring conditions, which had also been ideal for the match beforehand – the odd cloud drifted occasionally across the sky, otherwise the sun had shone brightly and unencumbered athwart the field of play, while a slight breeze had been enough to prevent anyone from burning up. The pitch was on the hard side of unyielding, but even so the fare served up by the two teams engendered an enjoyable encounter that wasn’t spoilt by the match official, notorious for giving Convocation nothing, adhering to his principles (although in fairness he didn’t give Ramblers much either), and the eventual draw was a fair result.
Before kick-off and at the request of Convocation captain Andy McLaren the two teams had observed a minute’s silence for Geoff Lambertsen, formerly of this parish, who suffered a heart attack and died on Thursday. Only a handful of those present actually knew him and yet everyone stood in quiet reflection (for what felt like an eternity) – at least they did on their pitch; on the adjacent one a game had already started and in the middle of the respectful hush a call was heard, clear as a bell: “Fuckin’ Hell ref, give us a chance” – maybe wondering what was for tea, possibly contemplating their own mortality and, what’s that woman doing in that window…?
Ramblers were, as usual, decked out in blue-and-gold quarters, but their shirts had no numbers on the backs which, as Jeff Wolfe pointed out during the interval, made them hard to mark, although when they created the game’s first chance to score it was after one of their players ran free through the high Convocation back line from his own half – he eventually fired wide of the target at the subsequent one-on-one with goalkeeper Morgan. Several minutes later the visitors responded when Kaye was slipped in by Simon Holder, outmuscled a defender on the edge of the penalty area, and then shot as the opposition #1 advanced, his good block ricocheting back against the Convo man and rebounding just wide of the clubhouse-end goal.
The visitors had kicked off in their new orange-and-black kit (sponsored by Noggin Sport, a mental health awareness C. I. C. – they’d also supplied the club with hats, proclaiming them to be representing the University of Livepool), with a back four comprising of (left to right) Andy Harper, Dave Bastow, Ben Prince and Jerome Galy. Ahead of them Wolfe and Ian Poole were in the centre of midfield, flanked by ‘The Woodchopper’ Iacopo Carnacina (l) and Little Big Manc, McNally (r), while up front KFC aficionado Kaye partnered the James May-thatched (and not far off the Tony Blair-thatched – Yikes!) Holder. Starting on the bench alongside McLaren were Jon Kearney and the tardy Matt Round.
In the thirteenth minute Convo took the lead when Holder and Kaye teamed up again. The midfielder won the ball in the middle of the hosts’ half and played it forward to his colleague on the edge of the penalty area, and with a nonchalant flick (that bordered on boredom) with the outside of the boot he curled a shot over the flailing dive of the ‘keeper that dropped into the net just under the crossbar. Ramblers needed to call for a doctor because, as the kids might say, the goal was sick.
For reasons that have already been lost to the mists of time (and alcohol) the Convo bench got into a discussion about that 1980s Scotch video cassette advert with the skeleton and the Rolling Stones song, but they quickly snapped back to the present day when a Ramblers defender quite clearly handled inside his own area – ‘penalty’ screamed everyone in and associated with orange, but in the first sign that the referee was going to apply a rather laissez faire interpretation of the rules he pooh-poohed the appeals and waved play on. Did he feel guilty about his stance? Well, who knows? But several minutes later Carnacina received the ball out on the left, more-or-less in front of his own side’s substitutes, and executed a quite impressive swivel to turn an opponent and, you’d have thought, leave him for dead, but instead he immediately and quite unnecessarily went down like Tom Daley, and the official bought it; “Embarrassing” was the perfectly justified opinion of the player adjudged to have fouled him, who, the way things were going, could consider himself fortunate not to have been sent off and banned for six months. But justice did prevail, as the subsequent free kick into the box was a complete waste of everybody’s time.
Carnacina’s theatrics were doubly needless as he wasn’t playing badly and, as previously suggested, had he chosen to stay on his feet he would have been away down his flank. On the opposite side of the pitch McNally looked decent, going forward, while in the middle Wolfe carried out numerous crunching but legitimate challenges to make sure Ramblers knew they were in a match (not that any illegitimate ones would have been punished by the ‘anything goes’ ref), and Poole… Overall though, Convo were playing well, and more pleasingly, passing well.
They made their first substitutions at about the midpoint of the forty-minute half, with Round going on in a straight swap with Kaye, and McNally being hooked for Kearney, who moments before his introduction had described himself as, “like a coiled sausage” – you can’t beat a Cumberland Ring… Not long after the changes Convo twice went close from middle distance, firstly when Carnacina tried his luck from about twenty-five yards out and only just cleared the crossbar, and then when Wolfe ran on to a pull-back but fired wide from the edge of the ‘D’.
That Carnacina shot had been from almost dead centre in front of goal and was symptomatic of the Convo left flank’s constant impulse to drift inside; there was an awful lot of space down their right for the hosts. It was from along the other side of the pitch that they next attacked though, in the twenty-fifth minute, when one of their ilk put a deep cross into the middle rather than take on Galy and a tall guy in quarters looked set to put his nut on the ball, only for the Italian to come up behind him and quite blatantly administer the sort of shove in the back kids give to mates standing on the edge of a swimming pool. The Ramblers man did manage to get something on the ball, but headed well wide; once again the referee waved play on.
They went close again not long after that when, again, they attacked down their left and one of their men drifted into the area onto a pass but was thwarted by Morgan flying off his line and making a fine block, the loose ball then being cleared by Galy. On the sideline though, there were concerns that the home side wanted to play mind games as, several minutes later, one of their substitutes sidled up to his orange-shirted equivalents and tried playing with their heads: “You’ve got an amazing back line.”
What the…?! ‘Amazing’ could mean anything. If it was psychological warfare then it worked pretty quickly, as shortly after the half-hour mark Ramblers pushed forward down the plains of their right wing, and with Harper at sixes and sevens (and possibly even eights), and being turned one way and then the other, a player in quarters pulled the ball back from the corner of the Convo area for a colleague and he took a touch to go around Prince then blasted past Morgan to level the scores.
The official actually blew for the break a minute early but nobody complained as the closing stages of the half after the Ramblers equaliser were as close as the game came to a lull, although Carnacina continued to keep things lively by regularly giving possession away and clipping the odd heel here and there; on the sideline he was described, tongue in cheek, as “the Andy Willis de nos jours – he’s spoiling it for everyone.”
The half-time air was filled with the scent of nostalgia, namely Holder’s excessive use of Deep Heat, which has barely been smelled since the changing rooms have been locked down. For the restart he was moved back into midfield to replace the substituted Wolfe and his place up front was filled by the returning Kaye; McNally was also back, back on the right flank he loves so much, while Kearney swapped sides to fill in for the hooked Carnacina on the left. And the gist of McLaren’s team talk was that everyone should just keep on doing what they’d been doing, as they’d been doing it alright.
As for Ramblers, well their philosophy seemed to be ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, as within a minute-or-two of the restart one of their players executed a rather pathetic dive just outside the Convo penalty area that the referee didn’t even deign with acknowledgement, although it received kudos on the visitors’ sideline where Carnacina chuckled away to himself in appreciation. Immediately after that McNally was fed the ball inside his own half and set off up the wing in a manner that you wouldn’t exactly call surging, until eventually he swapped passes with Kaye near the corner of the home side’s eighteen-yard box and the quartered-shirted defence opened up to allow the First Team captain in, but he then shot tamely straight at the ‘keeper and would have done better trying to will the ball home rather than kick it.
Back down the other end of the pitch the Convocation rearguard was putting in a fairly competent shift, although it did help that most of their opponents’ attacks were not so much a hot knife through butter as the flat of a wooden spoon on a tub of Lurpak. Prince and Bastow looked as cool and unflustered as it’s possible to be, while Harper was unfortunate that his only spot of iffy play had been at the equaliser, though he did seem to be following McNally’s lead and drifting inside on a regular basis; Galy was defending beautifully on the right and at times it felt like he was incapable of putting a foot wrong, while he always seemed to be in the right place to mop up loose balls.
By the time the second period was ten minutes old the corner of the pitch nearest the track to the main road had become overrun with local teenage boys, who’d been appearing from all over the place – like a Crosby version of Hitchcock’s The Birds – as the game had progressed and who kept having to be moved whenever Ramblers needed to take a quadrant kick. Carnacina returned to proceedings when Kearney asked to take a short breather (he wouldn’t go back on), moments before a wicked, bouncing shot more-or-less straight at Morgan could well have snuck past him such was its ferocity, although at the last split-second he flicked out an arm to ping the ball up and over his bar – it was an excellent reflex save. The home side would take on several other shots from distance over the following quarter-of-an-hour, all of them wide.
Once again McLaren made changes at the midpoint of the half, going on himself at left back in place of Harper, while Wolfe returned to partner Poole – turned out he was on the pitch after all – in a straight swap with Holder. The Captain was in the thick of the action almost immediately when Ramblers went a-thrusting down their right and, in a moment that was as inevitable as the revenge of Dominic Cummings, he was left for dead by an opponent who then sped into the Convo area and smashed a low shot across Morgan, although Bastow had covered intelligently and cleared off the goal line; seconds later another stabbed effort was easy pickings for the recovered and repositioned ‘keeper.
There was talk on the sideline about whether the club should cough up for one of those electric scooters to help McNally get back down then pitch whenever it was time to defend, and his performance on the wing was described as ‘Dermot-esque’, but out near the opposite flank there was less to kvetch about when Wolfe played in Kaye with a dozen-or-so minutes remaining, and from just outside the Ramblers penalty area he toe-poked a shot that looked a fairly routine stop at first, but then at the last second the #1 went scrambling down to his right to push the ball around his post, the pitch having done its thing once again.
Not long after that the Convo forward received an accidental smack to the face (and possibly a finger in the eye) but with only flavoured water on the sideline he had to soldier on ‘untreated’ and never got near the home side’s goal again. Neither did anyone else in orange mind, and for the final ten minutes it was all Ramblers, although they just couldn’t get the ball in their guests’ net. Firstly they attacked down their right and, with McLaren in the vicinity, one of their men put a cross into the box that became a shot when it twanged against the back post with a middle C before rebounding back into the area, whereupon Galy cleared the danger. Shortly after that another bouncing effort from distance had Morgan touching cloth, if his ‘jazz hands while dancing on a leccy plate’ jitter was anything to go by.
The nearest the visitors got to their opponents’ goal in the closing stages of the game was when an attempted pass from Poole to Round was misplaced not far from the penalty area, at which point everyone in orange, quite literally, stopped for a tut. Back at the Convo end of the pitch though, the official continued to give the impression that he was making it all up as he went along by penalising Bastow for a perceived hand ball – it was a very harsh decision – and when the subsequent free kick was wellied towards the back post from the edge of the ‘D’ a spot of pinball ensued in the six-yard box between defenders and attackers. Eventually a foot stabbed the ball towards the net but Morgan threw out a hand to palm it away towards the opposite side of the packed area, and then got across himself to make a great save low at the post from a player in quarters running in; the subsequent corner came to nothing.
In the final sixty seconds of ordinary time Prince had an attack of the Harry Maguires when he strolled out of the back in possession but then gave it up in the middle of his own half to the first opponent he tried to take on. Fortunately no great harm was done there, while in the only minute of the added stuff the hosts went as close to scoring without doing so as it’s possible: they won a corner that, once all the kids were cleared out of the way, was pumped into the six-yard box where one of their men eyebrowed the ball goalward, but Bastow was again perfectly placed and headed it up against the underside of the crossbar from where it bounced out and was cleared. A couple of Ramblers players claimed that the effort had crossed the line, but the referee was having none of it and within seconds whistled proceedings to an end.
“Unbeaten in May” was McLaren’s verdict once the beers were flowing, and you can’t blame him for hyperbolising even the slightest of achievements considering that the Seconds have lost every game they’ve played since the start of December (admittedly, that’s only three). Although they rode their luck a little bit, particularly towards the end, they deserved their share of the spoils as they were the equals of their hosts all over the pitch and contributed plenty to what was a rather enjoyable encounter; it’s not every day that you have a chance to leave Moor Lane with a draw (that’s more like every fortnight) so the visitors can be pleased that they ended their losing streak in such an entertaining way.
And in other heart-warming news, the teenagers’ molls turned up just before the Convocation players left for home, leading one Ramblers man to suggest that, “the pregnancy rate in Sefton will be through the roof tonight.” Oh, May Day, what a day…
Man Of The Match: Kaye may have scored Convo’s goal and Bastow may have cleared off the line, but Galy’s was the best all-round performance so he’s MOTM.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Harper, Bastow, Prince, Galy; Carnacina, Wolfe, Poole I, McNally; Kaye, Holder; Subs: Kearney, Round, McLaren
[AMc] "A great game."
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Harper, Southern, Bastow, Galy; Kaye, Kay, Wolfe, Poole I, Long J; Holder; Subs: Prince, Carnacina, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Jones, Bastow, Southern, Harper; Poole G, Poole I, Kay, Long J; Holder, Kaye; Subs: Jago, Lamb B, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Harper, Southern, Bastow, McLaren; Kearney, Holder, Poole I, Ross; Knox, Kaye
The day had finally arrived. After a wait that felt longer than the 5 weeks it was, Convo were back in action before Chrimbo!
It did not start well. The gates were locked at the famous Ramblers club and a convoy of vehicles waited for what felt like an eternity (*especially when having to endure Burnley v Everton on the car radio!). So although a Ramblers representative finally opened the gates, the news was not good about the post-match tea and sausage butties as the club house would clearly be closed.
Convo were to play on ‘the other pitch’ against ‘another’ Ramblers Vets team.
This pitch was looking like a mud bath already considering it hadn’t been played on for 5 weeks. The rain we had recently seen may have usually seen the game called off, but it did drain quite well as no pools of water anywhere at least.
Convo lined up with Cappuccino Kid Morgan back between the sticks, sporting a Jim Morrison style hair do. I think someone forgot to tell him the Barbers had been back open on Wednesday. Fairclough at right back with Prince, Southern and Kearney making up the back four. The midfield saw the welcome return of Schofield after a lengthy period away, alongside Graham Kay in the middle. (Ian Poole drew the short straw with work so was unavailable). Craig Kaye was on the left wing, G Poole right. Roy of the Rovers Billy Lamb retained his position up front alongside Holder.
There may have been a general assumption amongst the players that Convo were playing possibly a weaker Ramblers outfit. So they naturally took their foot off the gas right away. However, this did not appear a weaker Ramblers side and for the first 20 minutes they seemed more up for the game and created some neat moves. Southern and Morgan in goal made some vital interceptions but it was not long before Ramblers stuck.
A ball was played into the box and flicked on. Ramblers had a lean tall forward (who was all round better than Jordan, who was usually in that position), who leaped onto a cross into the box and got the wrong side of Southern to glance one over the despairing dive of Morgan. 1-0.
The heads could have gone down but Convo did fight back well. Schofield, Kay and Kaye involved is some good moves on the left that did not really come to anything and Lamb was making some good touches up front too, showing that at his grand old age, the wisdom to play up front is never beyond him.
Then G Poole flashed a ball into the box but unfortunately Lamb had not yet arrived and it went beyond anyone. But the signs were good.
A Few minutes later, after more battling from Graham Kay in the centre of the midfield and Holder dropping deep up-front making vital interceptions and passes, the ball was laid back to Schofield 25 yards out and bang! It was like he had never been away. Top bin, off the underside of the bar! 1-1!
Now usually, in previous seasons, it would take Schofield about 10 shots a game to hit the target, so despite the long break, his first shot in his first game for over 12 months hits the old onion bag, the omens were good on his return.
Convo then got a bit complacent and let Ramblers back in towards the end of the half and it took some great defending by Southern to prevent them going ahead. 2 last ditch headers and also a fine save by Morgan kept them at bay.
Jago had come on the field for Kearney and shortly after being on, a clumsy challenge from the centre midfielder had totally taken Jago out and he had to come off clutching his midriff. Turns out it was likely to be broken ribs. Graham Kay who had incurred the same injury last season from the same Ramblers player had some words of comfort for him though, explaining that it would kill him to have a shit after a few days which im sure will have made Jago feel a lot better in his recovery!
The 2nd half saw Knox introduced up front. Other changes during the half saw Bairstow come on for Southern and McClaren slot in at the back. Schofield also came off after playing 60/70 minutes which was probably more than enough on that pitch after so long out of the game.
Convo started pretty reasonably. They won a few corners and G Poole ensured they came right into the mix but there never seemed enough Convo players attacking it or putting pressure on the keeper so they were easily cleared away.
As the half wore on, the heavy pitch certainly was telling on the players. The energy levels dipped a bit from both sides, aside from Graham Kay who was still putting it about in midfield and the 2 Ramblers players – the forward again and the right midfielder, who seemed to have more energy than anyone and made some decent runs down the left evading C Kaye and Kearney on that side.
Convo had created a good move between Bairstow, G Poole, and Knox, Craig Kaye and the ball then came inside the edge of the D for Holder who then laid it back for what he thought was a simple pass but to no one. Then the ball was sprayed out of the Ramblers defence to the speedy right winger who crossed for it to be met by another Ramblers player shooting which appeared to hit Lamb’s arse and past Morgan in goal. 2-1. Lamb maintained his goalscoring streak but in the wrong end of the pitch. He certainly was better staying up front than in defence!
The away side were not going to lie down though. Again, some inventive play, G Kay, Bairstow and G Poole involved, Poole whipped in a cross for Knox and the ball appeared to hang in the air for a while but the former Skem United maverick could not meet the header with a good connection and the chance fell by the wayside. Another similar chance fell is way soon later but he did not get the right connection. He was getting in all the right positions, but like a lot of the Convo attacks today, they were not coming to much. G Poole also had a chance after a corner came back to him on the left. He cut in but the shot was a bit tame and the keeper made a meal of it palming it out for another corner.
Convo did keep pressing though and soon after G Poole slotted a ball through to Holder who evaded the offside trap, tried to round the keeper and nearly messed it up but then managed to slot home a neat equaliser! 2-2! On his birthday too!
Convo did have the chance to nick it near the end. A good ball by holder to Knox but he could not get the connection again on it and the keeper saved comfortably. A few more games under his belt though and he will be scoring these chances in his sleep no doubt at all.
The game ended all square. A fine competitive battle and it has to be said no team deserved to lose today.
Man of the Match. Convo had a lot of workmanlike performance today, nothing pretty really. Prince, Fairclough, Kearney all liked stable at the back and made some good interceptions, McClaren looked comfortable when he came on and never gave the ball away. Craig Kaye was versatile on the left, switching back to left back at one stage, Bairstow did really well in centre midfield when he came on. Holder battled well in the final third. However it would have to be a toss-up between Graham Kay and Jamie Southern. Kay was his usual workhorse in midfield but Southern wins the MOM award as he made some vital challenges and headers in the first half which kept Convo from going 2 or 3-1 down and kept them fighting in the game the whole way through.
[TJ]: “Made my comeback... from calf injury which was fine and then broke a couple of ribs in a 50/50. 2020 can fuck right off!”
On the last game before the lockdown period, Convo Vets were looking to gain their first long awaited victory of the season.
Their opponents were St Marys. A team Convo had the pleasure of a few tasty battles with in the past with results being shared either way. So this one had an unpredictable look about it – but it all depended on which Convo team decided to turn up today.
The results of the past few months were disappointing for the men in Orange and a change in fortune was due.
Colin Knox was forced (well, he volunteered) to go in between the sticks as Jack was on COVID isolation duty. The game also saw the welcome return of Jamie Southern after another one if his knee/ ankle/ groin long layoffs.
Rossy, Ben Prince and Paul Fairclough made up the rest of the defence with Ian Poole, Dave Bairstow in the middle and John Kearney and Craig Kaye on the flanks. Geoff Poole and Si Holder up front. Billy Lamb and Andy Mac on the bench.
Convo started off the match on the front foot. Strangely for Wyncote, the pitch was cut up badly (as they no doubt don’t have enough staff in the current climate to be paid to be looking after the pitches as well), so the rain and owing to the fact a game had been played on their earlier that morning, the ball was running at a slow pace on the surface which favoured the Convo style of play.
There was a good few positive moves early on and one of them brought an early goal to Convo. A neat switch out to Kaye on the right and he breezed past the defender and cut it back for Geoff Poole who finished on the volley but the referee harshly ruled it out for offiside. I guess the St Marys defenders shout very loudly and they get what they shouted for on this occasion. Still 0-0.
Unusually at the other end, a rare mistake from Southern him and Knox involved in St Marys first goal. Pass by Southern put Prince under pressure, St Marys intercepted and Knox perhaps needlessly racing off his line, the forward neatly chipped. 0-1.
This was harsh on Convo and luckily unlike recent weeks, they did not go into their shell and came fighting back. Geoff Poole was ruled off side a few times, much to his displeasure and this saw a change of tactic with Billy Lamb coming on up front to try to spice things up. The change worked.
A re-energised Kearney (must be all that 9 a side in midweek) showed some good battling and ball into the box. Ian Poole and Bairstow scrapping for bits, Kaye involved too and it saw the ball into the box and Lamb showed up in the right place to find the net. Game on 1-1.
The opponents started to show some true colours from previous encounters and when one of their players thought the Convo player had ran a ball out for a throw-in, McClaren holding the flag did not call it out was then only to be met with some whingeing and abuse. McClaren was in no mood for this and a tirade of words were shouted back. The game had livened up and this then saw some tackles flying in from both sides.
For Convo though, they showed more character again and before the break went in 2-1 up. Another hard working midfield combination saw Holder involved upfront too and Lamb again in the right place (Calvert-Lewin esque ) and notched home a tidy finish.
Convo up 2-1 at the break.
The 2nd half saw Southern limp off (groin) and McClaren slot in. Geoff Poole also came on back up front.
Convo again battled and battled well. The 2nd half was definitely a midfield battle. Ian Poole and Holder were now the central midfielders and they gave it everything. Bairstow slotted in centre half. The defence stood its ground.
Convo attacked well. Kaye played a ball out to Geoff Poole on the right wing. He paced down the right and heard Lamb screaming in the box for a pass. A precision pass was made and Lamb again took a touch and slotted neatly. A brilliant Hat-rick!! 62 years old and a Hat-rick! That’s something to tell the Grandkids!
Convo played out the game with a few attacks and a few chances missed but defended the best they had all season in this half and did not concede in 45 minutes which must be some sort of record.
And there it was, a 3-1 win. The first of the season. Convo have played lesser teams and lost so it shows how much improved the performance was today and they never stopped going.
MOM. Well, special mentions go out to most of the team; Knox in goal had a very steady and calm performance, Bairstow and McClaren at the back worked hard 2nd half. Ian Poole had his best performance of the season in midfield and Holder too worked extremely hard and was much more involved in that central midfield 2nd half position. Ross put in his usual shift and Kearney had a neat game with a much improved work rate.
The award has to go to Billy Lamb though. Player of the season already for these 3 goals today plus the fact he brought a case of lager which he gave out to all the team from the boot of his car after the match. This went down well! The last get together before November lock down.
Convo 4-4-2 : Knox, Fairclough, Prince, Southern, Ross, Kearney, I Poole, Bairstow, Kaye, G Poole, Holder. Subs: Lamb, McClaren.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Lamb B, Bastow, 'Marcel'; Greene, Houston, Poole I, Fairclough; Poole G, Holder; Subs: McLaren, Jago (unused)
Bobby Mimms reports
In this time of plague it seems that beggars can’t be choosers, but do Convocation and Ramblers really want to be playing each other every other week? Or is this their footballing bubble? From the visitors’ point of view Saturday’s game at Moor Lane was a vast improvement on the 6-0 thumping they received from the same opponents a fortnight ago, but is lazy scheduling the best way to go about achieving amelioration? The joke doing the rounds last year was that the regularity of the fixtures between the two clubs was like the baseball World Series, but now it feels more akin to playground football that resumes exactly where it left off at the end of the previous break, and which continues all term. With umpteen matches against Northop Hall also on the horizon the season’s in danger of becoming a little stale and predictable, and it’s not even a month old.
In fairness, Convo should have been away to Rhewl Vets on Saturday but football in the Principality is still verboten, and as Andy McLaren just loves a Corinthian match-up against Ramblers it was back off to Crosby. It had been bright and sunny all morning, a lovely early-autumn gift, but as kick-off time approached and everyone’s greeting elbows ached it had already begun to cloud over, and it would be rather overcast by the end. There were plenty of people in attendance though, Boris’ warnings to stay at home falling on deaf ears (again), meaning that it was possible the game had a bigger crowd than most, if not all, current Premier League affairs.
Convo would eventually have fourteen players at their disposal once Simon Holder turned up at the start of the second half, the veteran having originally gone to Wyncote to play, but taking the fight to the opposition before then was Jack Morgan in goal, behind a back four of Jon Kearney and Paul Fairclough (left and right-back respectively), with Dave Bastow and Ben Prince in between, the latter fresh from his first ever own goal for the club last week (After sixteen years? Bloody lightweight.). The four-man midfield comprised of Ian Poole and Graham Kay, flanked by Mike Drakidis and Geoff Poole, while up front Darren Bennett partnered young starlet Billy Lamb.
Decked out in orange shirts with (in general) black shorts and socks Convo got the game underway attacking the clubhouse end, and there won’t be many people present who would disagree that the first ten minutes were about as exciting as a hospital dinner, although on the plus side there was plenty of… industry, let’s call it that. Kearney was lively down the flank, overlapping Drakidis on numerous occasions, while on the other side of the pitch Fairclough was frequently not on the other side of the pitch as he had taken it upon himself to man mark habitual pest (Squeaky) Jordan, who scored four times when the two teams played a couple of weeks ago. (Is man marking allowed under current government guidelines?)
Ramblers had the game’s first shot in anger, after advancing down their left and Prince only half-clearing the subsequent cross into the box, thus allowing a second quartered-shirt to drive an out-swinger just wide of the foot of the Convo post. Within ninety seconds though, they had taken the lead. The visitors launched a long punt forward that Lamb chased and, twenty-five yards out, back-heeled into the path of Kay, and he whipcracked a superb rising effort that the opposition ‘keeper parried away to his left. A defender hoovered up the loose ball and cleared into midfield – domain of former Everton and Republic of Ireland player Gareth Farrelly – where quite quickly one of the home side’s forwards was played in, just outside the penalty area, and he ran on and fired low into the net past the advancing Morgan.Convocation had a chance to equalise just after the quarter-hour mark when a corner was cleared to the edge of the Ramblers eighteen-yard box and the lurking Bastow came steaming in onto the ball, but unfortunately for the visitors his rising rocket of a shot only just remained in the Earth’s atmosphere. A couple of minutes later, up the other end of the pitch, the home side showed the defender how to keep an effort on target when one of their men had a go from just outside the ‘D’, yet still he was equally as unfruitful, Morgan smothering the low drive just before it reached his goal line.
The game entered another ten-minute barren spell after that, albeit one in which Ramblers frequently looked promising without ever being able to get a shot off. They’d cottoned on to the fact that the Convo right flank was frequently undermanned and exposed due to Fairclough wandering like Michael Palin (he was keeping Jordan quiet though), while they had also gained a modicum of control in midfield, despite Kay playing like the Duracell Bunny, as Poole (I) and Drakidis were quiet. This wasn’t enough for one of the hosts though, who harangued his colleagues for not being ruthless enough: “We’re marking spaces! They’ve got bright fucking orange shirts on!”
As the mid-point of the half came and went the heavens clouded over and a bit of a breeze got up, turning what had been a fairly pleasant afternoon a little chilly, but the home side’s #1 was clearly under the impression he was in Ibiza, and DJing at that – at one goal kick he called out to his team mates, “Hands up in the air – I wanna hear you screaming.” One Ramblers player almost literally was, shortly after that, when he received a hoofed clearance into the bollocks from next to no distance and proceeded to do the full Hans Moleman for about thirty seconds thereafter, but his discomfort was nothing compared to one of his more mature colleagues on the sideline who complained that Convo had “put the kids out” and then, begrudgingly, had to accept his mistake when told that he’d picked on the forty-two year old Prince to prove his point.
The spectre of match fixing raised its ugly head as the first half neared its final quarter-of-an-hour, when Ramblers advanced down their right and misfired across the face of the Convo goal, unintentionally delivering the ball straight to the feet of Poole (G), who instead of clearing the thing passed it gift-wrapped to an unmarked opponent just inside the eighteen-yard box – his shot was parried by Morgan and a second effort was then blasted inches wide of the furthest post by another quartered shirt. Local bookies immediately began checking for irregular betting patterns, but on the pitch the hosts nearly snuck in again when one of their younger players (he didn’t look forty-two) chased a long punt down the left and flew past last-man Bastow at about the speed of pyroclastic flow before attempting a cheeky dink past Morgan, but almost on the edge of his area the ‘keeper thwarted the ruse with his shins.
Part of the reason why Ramblers were marginally on top was that too many players in orange were being contained. Lamb was getting knocked all over the place by burly defenders – at one point McLaren complained from the sideline, “Ay, he’s an old-age pensioner”, to which the reply came, “Well shouldn’t he be self-isolating then?” – while the midfield was only functioning at fifty percent. That it was that high was mainly down to Kay, labouring more than the old woman in the shoe and regularly exchanging passes like Zorro swishes, particularly with Kearney in the first half. Drakidis got quite close to the ball on a number of occasions but was, in general, anonymous, while McLaren had to be reminded that the first forty-eight hours are the most important when looking for a missing person and that he needed to pull his finger out if there was any hope of finding Poole (I) alive.
Poole (G), however, was about to stamp his mark on proceedings, and at the right end of the pitch to boot. With a tad over ten minutes of the half remaining Kay won a free kick in the middle of his opponents’ half and took it himself, quickly pinging it towards Bennett who was loitering just outside the Ramblers half. Realising that the home side had been caught napping the forward then amplified their disarray by ‘allowing’ the ball to roll under his foot straight into the path of the winger’s run, and when he eventually got the thing onto his right peg – talk about telegraphing your move; it was like watching a supertanker manoeuvring – he fired across the ‘keeper and into the net.
For the remainder of the half Convocation had the (slight) upper hand, and Poole (G) twice went close to returning the favour for Bennett’s, ahem, ‘clever dummy’ in the build up to the equaliser. Firstly, the erstwhile club secretary drilled a low shot across the face of the Ramblers target that his team mate was inches away from getting on the end of and poking home, and then five minutes before the break the two combined to actually get the ball into an open goal, but the effort was ruled out for being offside despite the forward having been a good five or six yards behind play when the winger pulled it back for him past the wandering ‘keeper; after the match the referee acknowledged his mistake and apologised.
Kay almost scored a fluke-and-a-half with the last kick of the opening forty-five when he attempted to put a cross into the box but got it much closer to the goal than he intended and the Ramblers glover had to paw the ball away from under his bar. Seconds later the whistle went for the interval with the two teams level pegging.
Blowing across the pitch, the wind had really started to get up by the time the second period got underway, with Convo attacking the old tennis courts that now look to be more forested than Narnia. The visitors had made one personnel change during the interval, Kearney making way for Colin Knox the Silver Fox, and with the revelation during the previous forty-five minutes that the incomer had once played and scored in the FA Cup (admittedly, in a second qualifying round tie for Skelmersdale against Douglas of the Isle of Man, in 1993) he’d made a rod for his own back – he had to find the back of the net here.
It was the hosts who restarted the better though, and in the opening thirty seconds one of their ilk was sent flying through on goal, but before he could say ‘where have all the defenders gone?’ Morgan came sliding out of his area and cleared the ball with his legs before it could be knocked past him. Several minutes after that everyone present was left scratching their heads as to how Ramblers didn’t score when a shot from down the right-hand side of the Convo penalty area crashed against the underside of the crossbar, then struck the far post and rebounded out, where another quartered shirt mis-controlled the rebound, but moments after that they did find the back of the net only for their own sideline to inform the referee that a throw-in should have been awarded to the visitors in the build-up; their rather pacey winger took umbrage with the situation and made a couple of saucy comments (it was unclear towards whom), but quickly calmed down before his behaviour crossed the luger-and-brandy threshold.
Having finally arrived at Moor Lane, enthusing about how easy it’d been to get a parking space at Wyncote, Holder came on for Poole (G) ten minutes into the half, but the most pressing issue in the immediate moments after the substitution was the discovery of a scattering of shit on the flank in front of the Convo bench, and what animal had deposited it. Was it a goose? Was it a fox? Was it a bear? Unable to consult the Big Book of Wildlife Crap everyone eventually agreed to disagree, and only then did one of the Ramblers subs think it might be a good idea to get a shovel and move the stuff.
Moving on from scatological matters the mulletted Knox gave Convocation the lead just before the hour mark, the intricacies of which we shan’t go into (somehow, nobody in the press box saw the thing), although he should really have scored moments earlier but blasted wide from the edge of the penalty area. On that occasion he’d gained possession after Kay had launched into a good old-fashioned man-and-ball challenge on the edge of the centre circle, a perfectly legal bone-rattling smash that sent his opponent somersaulting head-over-heels through the air like an extra from The Fall Guy, to a collective intake of breath from everyone else on the pitch. Lovely stuff.
Convo’s lead only lasted a couple of minutes though. Straight after the goal Kearney was sent back on for Bastow, who was suffering some sort of leg discomfort (Lamb shuffled inside, into central defence, to form the old ‘Bill and Ben’ partnership with the baby-faced Prince), and moments later the home side won a corner. Determined to regain possession as quickly as possible Convocation leant on the old maxim that the best way to do so at a corner is to concede a goal, and, taking social distancing to the extreme as the ball was floated into the six-yard box, they allowed a quartered shirt to ghost in completely unmarked and put a slow-motion header between the sticks; it wasn’t so much a bullet as a bubble bobbing in the wind.
Bennett went close to reclaiming the lead for the visitors with a good bit of play when he received the ball with his back to goal, about twenty-five yards out, and swivelled on the spot to smash a first-time effort just past the angle of the target, while at the other end of the pitch Morgan made a fine save from Farrelly after the Ramblers man had dribbled past three or four orange shirts without any form of molestation. That was only a temporary let-off though, as with the midpoint of the second period upon them the home side took time out from pinging passes around the peripheries of the Convocation penalty area to try their luck from just inside it, and their luck was in, because Lamb attempted to head the shot clear but only succeeded in flicking the ball past his ‘keeper with his luscious bouffant.
Short of anticipating the deflection there was nothing Morgan could have done to prevent the concession, and a couple of minutes later he at least had the satisfaction of making a smart save to keep Squeaky Jordan out, while shortly after that Prince got away with what looked a stonewall hand ball in his own area; short of tucking the thing under his arm and legging off up the pitch it couldn’t have been more glaring. Whether or not the referee was making up for having disallowed Convo’s earlier legitimate goal will never be known, but he might as well have just awarded Ramblers the penalty because within ninety seconds they’d scored anyway, when a cross drilled through their guests’ box was retrieved by one of their players (having been originally drilled behind him) and he arrowed a shot into the top far corner of the net.
By then McLaren had entered the fray in a straight swap with Fairclough, whose peripatetic afternoon had achieved its purpose by keeping Jordan reasonably quiet, while Poole (G) had also returned in place of Drakidis, whose highlights reel wouldn’t have lasted long; it would have made much more compelling viewing than one featuring Poole (I) though, who, it turned out, had been playing after all. Morgan was as involved as his midfield colleagues hadn’t been, and prevented another goal when he cleared off his line after a penalty-area melee, although in using his feet when he’d had time to bend down and pick up he once again gave notice of his ability to flit from the sublime to the ridiculous; for every good save he made on Saturday he’d looked shaky whenever the ball was in the air, and there’d been plenty of crosses into the box where he was flapping like the shutters on a haunted house.
Bastow returned for Lamb for the final five-or-so minutes, but most of the play in that time was up the other end of the pitch where the two Convo forwards went looking for penalties. Bennett was the first to make a half-hearted claim when he fell rather too easily under minimal contact, but then Knox upped the ante and went down in an in-instalments dive having got a whiff of an opponent’s aftershave; probably realising his efforts had lacked a little credibility he immediately kneeled up and waved jazz hands at the official, a look of beatific innocence on his mush. Timing is everything in comedy though, so when he next crossed the Ramblers eighteen-yard line he immediately went tumbling to the grass like a foal at the first scent of spring, in an even more absurd attempt to con a spot kick. One of his teammates suggested that his inability to remain on his feet were reminiscent of someone wearing roller boots for the first time.
The home side had one last opportunity to add to the score sheet when they won a corner in the final minute, but when it was floated in their attempt on target was headed clear off the line by Kearney who was guarding the post, and the referee blew for full time moments later. And pooh-poohing the latest craze, he didn’t then restart the game and award a penalty.
It was a fair result: Ramblers just about deserved to win, and with too many Convo players not at the races it would have been crass had they denied their hosts. Perhaps familiarity breeds apathy, not contempt. There was certainly none of that once everyone retired to the clubhouse though, as despite the bar being shut and the tables arranged as though expecting prison visits, there was plenty of complimentary booze and as many bacon-and-sausage barms as could be eaten. Even in times of plague some standards of hospitality must be upheld.
Convocation will have another chance to jumpstart this season’s Ramblers account in a couple of weeks’ time, when the clubs meet again – natch – and even after losing the first two ties they could still have a healthy lead in the Series by Christmas… the way the fixtures are being arranged. That’s assuming everyone isn’t long sick of the sight of each other by then. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and there are plenty of worse teams Convo could be stuck in the seventh circle of hell with.
Man Of The Match: Kay, the conductor of the Convo symphony (school band?). Everything they did well on Saturday went through him, and his performance was even more impressive when you consider that he was carrying Poole (I) all game.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Kearney, Prince, Bastow, Fairclough; Drakidis, Poole I, Kay, Poole G; Bennett, Lamb B; Subs: Knox, Holder, McLaren
‘Positional witchcraft’ cried Convo purists. “Worth a go!!” argued Captain McLaren.
Convocation (3-5-2): Morgan; Lamb B, Bastow, Prince; Ross, Drakidis, Poole I, Galy, Kearney; Kaye, Poole G; Subs: Holder, McNally, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Drakidis, Prince, Lamb B; Kearney, Poole I, Fairclough, Jago; Kaye, Poole G; Subs: Holder, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Prince, Southern, Lamb B; Kearney, Kay, Poole I, Fairclough; Round, Kaye; Subs: Bastow, Schofield R, McLaren, Drakidis