Men’s 5’s vs Indian Gymkhana
Saturday 9th April
Goals: David Richardson x2, Alastair Whatley, Ivan Stark
It is not everyday the Mighty Men’s 5’s attract a crowd. From time to time we do attract the odd parent or partner but more often than not their interest does not perhaps sustain the whole game. Yet we’ve always maintained that the crowds are missing out on watching magnificent, mighty, (flawed) and unpredictable games of hockey in the back waters of the London League.
Yet on Saturday thanks to some fine work from Kathy Hammond and the W4’s and a prime slot of the water pitch word had got round that the 5’s had that rarest of chances of promotion and even becoming league champions. Thus by 12 pm push back, in broad spring sunshine, there was an almost crowd like throng of supporters assembled for a crunch, must-win, title deciding game of hockey against a strong and equally unpredictable Indian Gymkhana team.
The maths wasn’t simple yet most people understood that if the 5’s won the game they secured promotion over West Hampstead 5’s lying in 3rd and if they won by 2 or 3 more goals than West Hampstead 6’s beat Chiswick 4’s by- then the league title would be ours…
So in short we needed to win and win well to win the league.
The team mustered early doors and welcomed our goalie big Jon Dann safely back from his trip to Ukraine and raring to get his pads back on. The team had solidified through a rocky start to the season and although missing the non-showering Trathen’s (booked a ski trip) it was still a core group of mighty men who assembled in red ready to show their mettle. As we had seen on the buzzing group WhatsApp the night before the mantra for the day was that ‘Pressure is for tyres’, with that in mind the 5’s were ready to go for glory or at least a win through any means necessary.
Umpires DLW and Brian Cade blew their whistles bang on the nose of 12:00 and Indian Gym pushed back. Yet it was soon apparent that despite the rich song of support from the crowd ‘Gate were in for a tough 80 minutes as immediately Indian Gym dominated possession, showing off their silky stick-skills and badgering the Southgate 23 with hard balls from the middle and a clinical counter attack. Yet thankfully we had a core group of chiselled Trojans at our backs led my Mat Mitchell, Nigel Knight, Ivan Stark and (the hungover) 5’s legend Rory Willmott who saw off repeated incursions all aided by some fine dexterity and strong clearances from Jon Dann back in the Southgate goal-mouth.
Slowly the 5’s heeded the tyre pressure warning and the cheers grew louder as Southgate began penetrating deeper into Indian Gym territories. Andy ‘Robbo’ Robertson having fired up the team with his customary Agincourt speech pre-game now came into his own harrying, pressuring and out-letting the ball to Arun and Alastair on the flanks running the lines. Scott Ramsay as left back was in combative spirits from the opening salvo and began pushing the ball up as well as transferring it around with steely eyed pomp.
Yet such Southgate dominance came to an abrupt end when an Indian Gym crash ball out from a Gate offensive manoeuvre left Mat Mitchel 1-1 with the IG centre forward who alas parried like a gazelle around the normally effective Mitchel stick block as he was left with a wide open goal with only the form of Jon Dann in it’s way. Yet Jon was in no mood for such things as an early goal and so like a colossus rushed the player and parried the shot hard and wide saving the first really good chance of the game.
Moments later at the Southgate end of the pitch Andy Robbo fired in a ball onto James Stick for a deflection which was parried well by their keeper- it fell for captain ST took who took the ball back to the top right of the D and gave it a goodly whack sending the ball hurtling through the massed ranks of Indian Gym players and finding a crucial deflection of one of then men in yellow and green which in turn left the ball connecting with soundly joy on the IG backboard. This cued jubilant scenes and a fist pump of determination from ST as the Mighty Men’s 5’s ran back to the restart 1-0 up and on their way.
Yet before the crowd could gather themselves James Marriot broke down their transfer ball from the restart and then ST was back in the D again and scrabbling around with Arun Solanki somehow the ball worked its way free from a ruck and lo and behold, a white ball crossed the white line and DLW blew his whistle and Southgate cheered and the balcony bellowed and Indian Gym complained (loudly) but the goal stood and come half time the 5’s were 2-0 up and looking to go for hunting for more. The league was in our sights.
The second half saw Indian Gymkhana increasingly frustrated as they still bemoaned their poor fortune on the second goal and their ‘coach’ moved himself from defence to a more central role. Yet the more IG’s demonstrated their individual skills, Southgate closed ranks and kept their cool as things got ever more heated and agitation abounded. In the midst of the on field ‘discussions’ (and all credit to both umpires for keeping their cool under considerable pressure), the 5’s started showing their hands. Will Hargrove a new 5’s signing played a blinder of a second half in the middle, always ahead of the game and distributing simply and fast and Ivan Stark and Samir Ahmed were beginning to really make their presence felt in midfield as chances began coming. A cracking hard ball from Ivan from the 23 soared in to well positioned goal scorer-in-chief (and regular winner of the coveted DOD award) Alastair Whatley who sort-of-missed-it-entirely on the right post. The crowd tried to be more supportive than his fellow players… yet never one downcast for long it was just minutes before Whatley found himself on the end of a diving deflection in a beautifully worked team goal orchestrated by Mat Mitchel at the back who on a transfer found Scott Ramsay on the right who placed a superb ball in across the front of goal for a fine grandstanding finish (plus celebration) from Whatley.
3-0 up but Southgate M5’s were not done and the pressure was maintained with a string of Penalty Corners awarded one of which was neatly taken by the eponymous Ivan Stark who ruffled of hair and deft of touch slung the ball into the back netting with a fisted pump to the galleries as Gate went 4-0 as IG’s began getting seriously irate at the injustices of the scoreline.
Arun Solanki continued to run hard down the right channel drilling balls into the box for ST, James and Whatley to further embellish their shots on target ratio and David James playing at right back and making his 5’s debut. David excelled by pushing high and keeping his trademark composure never squandering his possession and constantly showing up the IG flair with some fine and simple rendering of the game of hockey, control ball, look up, pass ball quickly, repeat. He did a fantastic job.
But then as the final whistle went on the 5’s season and the balcony roared its approval of the game so too did the entire team. The Men’s 5’s does not sit at the top of the Southgate pyramid with players of all ages, shapes and experience swelling our ranks, yet as the players were cheered off the pitch by the assembled masses (at least 15 by this stage) perhaps sometimes regardless of which league, which team and which opposition beaten what was being celebrated was the pleasure and joy of playing hockey at Southgate Hockey Club- a team who came together properly as late as mid October and who in turn became friends off the pitch as well as on it, who dug deep throughout the season (often not in the prettiest of styles) but who found a way to win together.
It turned out that West Hampstead 6’s beat Chiswick 4’s by the same margin as Southgate 5’s and so the league title alas did not come our way this year after all. Nevertheless the team take their promotion to Div 4NW with open arms and as the beers flowed and the team headed out onto the balcony to cheer on the Women’s 3’s the Men’s 5’s can reflect that whilst not maybe at the top of the Southgate tree they very much remain at the heart of it.
Job well done boys.
Thanks to all who played throughout the season, to Neil P for his selection, to ST for being our captain, to Robbo for his inspiring team talks and special thanks to all who came to cheer us on on Saturday. It was a fitting end to a fine season.