At the start of the season, I was a starting midfielder for Cotswool Reserves. By the middle of September, I was featuring for the first team regularly (admittedly, due largely to the heavy drop-out rate of the regular first team players). As I write this, I can barely remember the feeling of trudging through the mud on a Saturday thanks to a 4 month lay-off. It’s been a tough season up on the Clifton Downs…
The 1st goal for Cotswool
It was mid-September, and I had been called up to the first team for the game against high-flying Easton Cowboys. I remember this because:
a) They play in a bright yellow kit
b) They have a ginger Rastafarian-wannabe in the team, who happens to be quite good (click that link, it’s worth it)
The game started well and we were 2-0 up inside 20 minutes. ‘This is good’ I thought, ‘it’s nice playing in the first team’. Then it got better.
The Cowboys ‘keeper took a goal kick quickly to the left back, who dummied a pass inside and went to dribble down the line. Just inside their half, I read his move and nicked the ball from his feet. Suddenly the pitch opened up in front of me.
I ran forward and after a few surprisingly controlled knock-ons I was on the edge of the box. I could feel the full back and covering centre back breathing down my neck (quite literally) as I took one final touch into the box. Short of breath, I glanced at the keeper before slamming the ball home at the near post. It sounds a lot more composed than it was, and I’m pretty sure that I was actually aiming for the far post. Never mind, a goal’s a goal.
I felt like a white Jermain Defoe.
The 3-0 lead promptly went to our heads. We quickly conceded 2 goals before half time, and went on to lose 6-3. Business as usual.
The Reserve Team Collapse
By October the reserve team had forfeited several games due to lack of players and I was a regular fixture in the first team squad. After a futile attempt to attract new players (who quickly lost interest when they saw the disorganised, shambolic performances) the decision was made to disband the reserve team and focus our limited resources on the first team’s fight to stave off relegation.
One good thing came of this turn of events. As a member of the first team playing in Division One, I get to wear a Nike kit that actually fits my underwhelming physique. The reserves, on the other hand, had to wear a ProStar kit that looked as if it has just been peeled off Rik Waller’s bloated ‘body’.
You’d think that by switching from two teams to one we’d suddenly have massive competition for places? Think again. Those who rarely turned up now avoided Saturdays all together, and the regular players slowly became less and less until we had a solid core of around 14 players vying for a spot in the first team.
The games came thick and fast and in November we faced top of the league Torpedo. This is a team that – after inflicting a 7-0 defeat earlier in the season – prompted our Spanish centre forward to conclude “they are like Barcelona”; a worrying prospect.
We planned a 4-5-1 formation for the game. I’d love to say it was a tactical decision to swamp the midfield, stifle their attacking movement and stick to set pieces to ensure we were defensively solid. I think the reality was that we only had one fit forward for the game.
Under constant pressure, the team of six-foot speed merchants made us work hard for our 0-0 scoreline going into the latter stages of the first half.
Then, assigned to a post due to my lack of height, an in-swinging corner evaded everyone and I stabbed a foot at the ball. I successfully cleared it…about 3 yards to their striker who slammed home the loose ball. Twat.
At half time we were 2-0 down but had managed to cause Torpedo a few problems with our long throws. This wasn’t over.
We started the second half well and pushed forward, but left ourselves exposed. It was only a matter of time until they broke us down and by 75 minutes we were 4-0 down. Then it happened.
Stretching for a 50:50 in midfield, I rooted my right foot in the turf and my leg jolted – I heard a pop. Immediately something felt very wrong. I went to stand up but it wasn’t happening, and I hobbled off the pitch.
I went to the hospital later to find there was no bone damage, and that it was ‘most likely a muscle tear or ligament damage’. Nice and specific diagnosis there, thank you nurse. ‘Just use these [hands me crutches] and take some Ibuprofen’ [opens the door with a look of ‘stop wasting my time’]. Brilliant.
3 weeks on crutches, and I could just about walk unaided again. By this point – now December – walking was a novelty and playing football again was a distant prospect.
Now early March, I’ve managed a few tentative runs on the gym treadmill and am nearly ready for a return to action. Unfortunately, this weekend is a double header in which we play two games back-to-back (yes, one after the other) to catch up on fixture congestion after many weather-induced postponements.
I’ll be lucky to make it through a 15 minute cameo.