Back to the bad old days?
PFFC 3 South Indies 5
Let me take your minds back to the middle of October, when Philosophy were at crisis point, struggling in the Camden League. After another heavy defeat, Filippo sent out the following warning:
“Another game started with 10 men, with Ian and Raj carrying injuries, and ended with 9 when Raj finally had to leave the field. Another hammering, despite a great, great effort. There were two late pull-outs, just like the last two weeks.
Morale was very very low. The matter is not playing in a more or less competitive league, but much simpler: the people who are registered have to commit to the team and be ready to play every Sunday. It’s not anymore the case when you play once every three or four games, and there are other priorities (aplenty) and then, at the very bottom, ‘yes, I’d love to show up for a game’.
We need to show respect for people like Ally, who called me Sunday morning at 7.45 trying to find corner flags and managing to solve the problem. He’s young, committed and gifted. Today he was disconsolate, and rightly so. He doesn’t deserve it, like all the others. When others understand this, we’ll have a team and we’ll get results.”
Soon after this, the team enjoyed another of the renaissances which have kept us strong in recent years, when we moved to a midweek league and welcomed a new, younger, more committed squad. Our performances were instantly mature, and even though many players were new to each other, opponents commented on how well we played as a unit.
In the past couple of weeks, things have changed slightly, with an element of frustration and dissent creeping in. As Geoff pointed out in his Notes from the Dugout last week: “Philosophy Football is into dissent we dispute the domination of football by corporate finance and reject some of the unpleasant aspects of mainstream cultures of football. However our dissent should be off the pitch not on it.”
Last night we took to the field against a team we used to beat regularly, but old problems had returned: where the squad was 18 strong on Monday, only 11 ‘leoni’ turned out for this match. South Indies have struggled in this league while we have been riding high, and yet last night our squad was exposed due to this lack of subs.
We kicked off into a headwind so strong that even the lager cans in the directors’ box kept blowing over. South Indies pressured from the whistle, using the conditions to their advantage, and were rewarded within 3 minutes with the softest of goals. Rob, left badly exposed by the defence, made a rare mistake, fumbling the ball, which trickled into the net. Not the start we expected. But the Philosophy spirit was still there, and the team shouted to encourage each other.
From then on we put on a lot more pressure than them, although in the conditions it was hard to get an advantage. The game was never going to be pretty, with players constantly slipping on the sodden Astroturf, using arms to balance themselves, and losing control of the ball. Our pressure began to show, and we got some shape and put some nifty attacking moves together. But then an attack broke down, and they used the wind well to get a long ball to their super-fast striker, Ebenezer. Again Vipul was left badly exposed at the back. Fast though he is, he couldn’t keep up, and after a bit of shirt-tugging the striker came down. The ref blew up, and Rob and Ronan stopped play, allowing the ball to roll into the net. We were all outraged when the ref then allowed the goal; however, as he explained to us, it was a choice between that and sending Vipul off, and he didn’t feel the match deserved a sending off. Canny refereeing, after all. Two-nil down after 18 minutes, we needed to pull something back before half-time. We continued to pressure and Indies started to look rattled. We were rewarded just a couple of minutes later when, after another excellent build-up through the field, Ally passed left to Dennis from the edge of the box. Dennis took it wide, and slotted a wonderful low shot past the keeper.
Now we were back in the game. Or so we thought. We kept up the pressure for most of the rest of the half, and kept most of the possession, starting to build some good moves through midfield, but the ball forward almost invariably skidded out of reach of Dennis and Eric. When Dennis got the ball he managed to hold it well rather than running on to it, but attackers were always outnumbered by defence and it proved difficult to get the ball to anyone in a position to strike. Then, on 36 minutes, they got another corner. Again we were a little slow, and left Ebenezer unmarked. He got some space in the middle of the box, and put a lovely glancing header into the far corner.
There was still a lot of encouragement shouted within the team, and this got its reward six minutes later when someone was brought down just outside the area. Ian stepped up to take the free kick, and from 20 yards out slotted home a kick that managed to be both a rocket and a delicately placed chip into the top left-hand corner.
At half-time heads were up, going in only one down with the wind in our favour in the second half, and the talk was all about keeping it simple and the match would be ours. We expected a flurry of goals. So it was galling that only two minutes into the half, South Indies put away a sucker-punch goal. This wasn’t in the plan; they were supposed to fold now.
If anything, they seemed to gain confidence during the first few minutes of the half, perhaps seeing that far from dominating, we played in a panic, kicking long balls away rather than controlling, passing and building. From now on Indies became the stronger, more composed team. The play continued to be fairly end-to-end, marked more by mistakes forced from both sides by the conditions than by any sort of structured play. But we failed to pressure the goal, and as the minutes passed Indies grew more relaxed and confident. On 70 minutes another Indies break left Rob again badly exposed against a striker who had the presence of mind to send a gentle lob over him and into the back of the net; with the score at 5-3 the game really started to feel out of reach.
Six minutes later, another of Ally’s corners led to a goalmouth scuffle. The ball eventually fell to Eric, who walked the ball into the net for a consolation goal. There was still time to get another goal or two, but not for this team. Without any subs available, and in such horrendous conditions, everyone was looking pretty tired. And for the first time since the Hackney Marsh days, there was a look of resignation in the players’ faces; the knowledge that on the night we didn’t have the resources to save the game.
It was a relief when the ref finally blew for time; I have to say he was the best ref I’ve seen at our level. There can be no criticism for lack of effort from the 11 who played, but coming straight after our first defeat in the LondonersFC League, we must ask what needs to happen to get PFFC back on a winning track. After letting in only 8 goals in seven games, we have now let in 10 in the last two. There will always be one or two who can’t make a given date, but given that we had a squad of 18 on Monday, we can afford to have one or two unavailable and still get a strong squad out. We’re in a well organised league with teams equal in ability to us who we know we can beat. It’s up to us now to make sure we as a team are well enough organised to win this league. We must think as a team, not as individuals, as in “If I don’t go there’ll certainly be someone to cover”. As Filippo wisely said, “When others understand this, we’ll have a team and we’ll get results.” We’ve had the results this thinking brings: seven straight wins. We now need to make sure we get our thinking straightened out again before the next match.
Squad: Rob; Bruce, Vipul, Ian, Ronan; Gibbo, Ally, Tamber, Richard; Dennis, Eric