It was Thermopylae all over again in the rather more prosaic surroundings of Streatham on Saturday, where an impossibly buff Rupert Allen and his ten men held off the marauding Wayfarers to earn an astonishing 1-1 draw. As the final whistle blew, grown men sank down to the ground, their energy spent, their lungs heaving, their muscles torn, but their hearts pumping with pride.
A scratch 4s team had survived a second half pounding from a 16-strong Wayfarers army. At least it felt like an army. We were the Spartans fighting the Persians, especially during the last twenty minutes, when we seemed to be defending against all 16 Wayfarers on the pitch at the same time. It could have been 16 on the pitch, or 150, or 1500. The number of opposition players was of no matter to Chiswick. We simply refused to buckle.
In the absence of Lego, (either recovering from the previous weekend’s drinking or roaming West London with his scythe looking for souls) utility-man extraordinaire Blobby took his place beside Stiller in central defence, in front of Sam Hext between the sticks. Tom at left back and Ben on the right gave the defence a familiar look, while Rupert and Woon in midfield were joined by Lithuanian dynamo Cornelius, a thrilling return for Corney after nearly a year’s absence. Up front our three attackers, Rory, Emile and Freddy (joining us from the Men’s 5s for his debut), had speed, skill and guile aplenty.
There were no Chiswick subs, and it quickly became clear that we were up against a fast, fit, attacking team (apart from their carthorse at centre forward, of which more later). Our first ten minutes were too frantic as the team got to grips with new teammates and unfamiliar positions. Passes went astray, we didn’t take enough time on the ball and there was too much route one up the middle of the park.
However, we settled down, and began to spread the ball wide. Rupert was an excellent pivot in the centre, and Cornelius seemed to be everywhere, turning the Wayfarers this way and that and showing us what we’ve missed this last year.
It was not such a surprise when Chiswick scored the first goal, though it was a surprise how it came about. The much maligned 4s press finally paid dividends when Rory cut out an opposition pass. He then slipped a lovely pass to Emile who calmly slotted the ball past the Wayfarers keeper. 1-0 up and Chiswick were looking comfortable.
‘Tomahawk’ Emile (playing inside left) and Corney (frankly - playing all over the place) proved to be good target men and Rory’s subtle lay offs meant we kept Wayfarers defence busy. Freddy went very close with a flick that somehow their keeper managed to keep out. It would have been a thrilling debut goal.
But then, calamity. A Wayfarers attack looked set to be snuffed out by Sam, charging out of his goal to kick the ball out of danger. Inexplicably, Ben nudged the ball off Sam’s kicker and right onto the stick of Wayfarers’ carthorse of a centre forward, who gratefully tapped the ball into an empty net.
A schoolboy error, but as the whistle blew for half time, 1-1 was a good position for us, and our Skipper’s stirring words of encouragement put the fire back in our bellies for the second half.
Indeed, before the second half push-back, our shout of ‘3-2-1 Blues,’ seemed to change to SPARTANS, SPARTANS. We bashed our spears against our shields… the sky turned blood red, crows flew from the trees with a cacophony of cawing, and whirring wings, horses whinnied, and the sound of thunder rolled across the Streatham battlefield……..
And what a battle it was. The advantages of calling on a 16-man squad became apparent. Wayfarers sprayed the ball around, seeking a second half winner. It felt like we were facing an army, a swarm, a relentless black tide.
Our defence and midfield manfully withstood the onslaught. Rupert ‘Leonidas’ Allen, bloodied of knee and stern of brow, was an indomitable midfield presence, tackling like a demented banshee, unafraid of crashing to the ground, which he did, a lot.
Blobby barked at Stiller, Stiller barked back. Blobby smashed the cover off the ball out of defence, where Nick Woon belied his sturdy physique to trap, control and move it on to Freddy and Emile, both lads breaking fast to keep Wayfarers on their toes. A close effort on goal from Emile, combining with Rory saw both sink to their knees exhausted, only to summon reserves of energy, get up and run back to help defend another Wayfarers attack.
The final whistle bought salvation and a feeling of immense pride. As we shook hands with the opposition we acknowledged that this was one of our best performances of the season. Each and every member of the Chiswick team put their heart and soul into this performance. The Persians (sorry, Wayfarers), slunk back to their ships to lick their wounds. Herodotus himself should have been there to pen the account of a great day for Mens 4s, coming out with a draw against all the odds.
Greek superhero (MoM): Freddy – a scintillating performance on debut
Traitorous Persian dog (DoD): It should have been Stiller, who crashed his car on the way to the game, but Blobby disgracefully changed his mind and tipped the balance for Ben, who accepted the award with his usual good grace…. natch