I’ve spent the past six months playing in an 8-a-side league with work. It’s been an interesting experience. For one thing, no matter how seriously you play football, it’s always a different matter when you’re keeping score and even more so when it’s in a league.
The standard was pretty high, high enough that if we slacked off we’d get punished. One team in particular was full of really good players, we got hammered by skill, youth and teamplay and it was a wake-up call of how hard we had to work to win. We struggled to get a regular team out – some people were put off by how tough it was and others were working away. So with a make-shift line-up each match we didn’t do too well. When we realised we needed to win our last 4 games to stay up we pulled it together and won 3 out of 3, but just fell short in the last game and got relegated. (Well, the last game of the season to decide who went down was forfeit so we went down – a brown envelope full of £20 notes probably fixed that one). It was disappointing but all the clichés they say about football are true. It’s a team game and the league table never lies. We may have thought we deserved to stay up but if that was the case we would have.
And so it came to the end of season tournament. A chance to redress the balance and salvage some dignity. We had to merge with another team to get enough players together and even then we only had 8. Given that we would have to play up to 6 games to win the tournament some subs would have been nice. As it happened one of our players sprained his ankle in the first match so we had to draft in a friend from one of the other teams to join us.
There were a total of 14 teams and you had to get through a mini-league of 3 matches, then on to the quarters, semis and final. We won our first match, then lost the second (we played two in a row and weren’t concentrating). We won the third and that put us through to the next round. We thought we were lucky to get through and the injuries started to pile up. I had an injured hip before I even started (I could hardly walk last Wednesday), one guy as I mentioned sprained his ankle, another had two dodgy knees and our keeper strained his groin right early on.
So into the next round we went and managed to win it against – ironically – the team of the guy who joined us when we went a man down. I almost hoped we’d lose so we could have a rest. Almost. Then came the semi-final. It was close (I came within an inch of scoring which is better than I’ve done all season!) and went to penalties. Incredibly, we won (with me scoring a very calmly taken penalty) and we were through to the final!
All but one of us was now hurting and the lad who sprained his ankle came on again much to my surprise (tough lad). That was lucky as another of our players did his knee in and his day was over. We were up against a good team we’d lost to in the league and they had 4 subs so would surely be fresher. It was agreed we’d play 10 minutes then if it was level go to penalties (we were running short on time and the England match was starting). After some good battling performances (when our last injury-free man got injured) it was 0-0 and the shootout began.
It was quite a demonstration of penalty taking as it got to 4-4 and nobody had missed (including me). Our stand-in player scored, their effort was saved and we won! We couldn’t believe it!
I felt a little bad for the team who lost as undoubtedly they were a quality team but it’s all about results at the end of the day. And while it wasn’t exactly like winning the FA cup, there were 13 other teams there that day who really wanted to win and took it very seriously, and yet it was us who came away with the trophy (right). It’s the first time I’ve ever won a medal for anything and while it may be a trinket you can buy for a few quid it’s a symbol of the 8 of us being the best out of perhaps 140 people. Not bad and I’ll always treasure the memories.
In the end, I think having no subs helped us as we had to pull together as a team more and to say we gave battling performances each match would be an understatement! Anyway, we’ll be in the second division next season so we’ll be looking to bounce straight back up. But at least we’ll have a trophy sitting in the office for the next year to remind us of our achievement!