The sun lit the pitch, there was barely a breath of wind. It was the perfect day for a soccer match. Whichever team won on this day would be league champions. The away team, Hove City, were in pursuit of what would be a record breaking third league title, while the home team, St.Aidans FC, where surprise challengers, sitting second in the league, two points adrift of Hove.
They ran out onto the pitch, Hove’s travelling support cheering their expected champions with vigour, St.Aidan’s home fans roaring for their team. The whole village had turned out for this match. The team had never achieved much, they hadn’t won a league title in the clubs 68 year history, and apart from a few recent inspiring cup runs, they had had little to celebrate.
Hove City were a team peppered with stars and local talent. Five of their starting team were playing for the county team, their goalkeeper had had trials with a foreign club. As for St.Aidan’s, their goalkeeper was diabetic and over weight, the average team height was nearly a foot less than their opposition and soccer was not the primary game for most of them, the majority played individual sports, tennis, handball and in the case of their goal keeper, Tom ‘Thunder Thighs’ O Hanlon, computer games. He protested that playing the Wii improved his reflexes, and based on his recent performances, it certainly did. He had produced a fine save of a penalty in their last match to keep them in contention for the title.
St.Aidan’s star player, the one which every one agreed would make it in the Hove team, was Jesper Fenlon. Jesper was lightning quick, full of flicks and tricks, and was the leagues top goalscorer, despite playing on the wing.
The captains of each team stood at the centre circle, shook hands with each other, and the referee.
“Heads or tails?” the ref said to the St.Aidans skipper, a wide shouldered stocky lad by the name of Jack Moore who had been shaving since he was thirteen.
“Heads” he said, his teeth clenched. When he had shook hands with the Hove captain, one Jerome Beaver, a beast of a fellow who had been shaving the thick hair that bridged the gap between his eyebrows since he was thirteen, Jerome had tried to crush Jack’s hand.
The ref tossed the coin in the air, oblivious to the hatred flowing between the two captains.
“Tails, your choice Hove City.”
“We will play into the stands” said Jerome, grinning widely.
This meant that for the first half Hove City would shoot into the goal which St.Aidan’s fans sat behind.
Both teams lined out accordingly, the ref blew his whistle and St.Aidans, having lost the toss, kicked off.
The first ten minutes went well for St.Aidan’s, they kept the ball, and while they didn’t engineer a real chance on goal, they controlled the game.
Hove City, certainly a better organised team, moved into defensive postitions, locked down any pathways to goal and eventually gained some steady possesion of the ball. They began to move up the pitch, passing in wide triangles, forcing the St.Aidans players to chase down the ball. Hove shifted the ball wide to their winger, he crossed it in and a cheer burst from the crowd. Hove’s striker had leapt clear of St.Aidan’s defenders and met the crossed ball with his head. ‘Thunder Thighs’ had no chance to save it.
The Hove players ran away in celebration, Jerome Beaver pumping his arm in the air, and roaring at the St.Aidan’s stunned supporters.
St.Aidan’s restarted the match, but quickly lost the ball. Hove seemed happy to play with it in their own half, waiting for St.Aidan’s players to chase after them, hoping for a break in formation, which they would then use to try to force their way forward.
With just five minutes of the first half left to play, Jesper intercepted a rare poor Hove pass and burst forward on his own towards the Hove goal. He tricked past two players, nutmeging one, and wrong footing the other, leaving him on his backside, forgotten as Jesper bore down on goal, chased by Hove defenders. As he set him self to unleash a shot, he was tackled from behind, and fell to the floor, clutching his ankle. The crowd shouted in disapproval, and the referee showed the Hove player a yellow card, and told him that he was very disappointed in such a dangerous tackle. The Hove player walked away, spitting on the floor. In his mind he had done all he could to stop a great player getting a clear chance on goal. Jesper hobbled off the pitch, wincing whenever he put weight on his damaged ankle. He watched from the sideline as his team narrowly missed the free kick, and Hove regained possession. His manager jogged up to him and asked him if he taught he would be able to play on, and Jesper nodded, not taking his eyes off the game.
The referee blew the whistle for half time, the scoreline still at 1-0 to Hove.
In the dressing room, the Hove players listened to their managers instructions, he told them that they played well, that they needed to keep the ball, and that from now on they were to double up on Jesper. He told them they were forty five minutes away from making history, to keep playing their game and they would win. The Hove players cheered, applauded themselves and ran out onto the pitch early to wait for the second half.
In the St.Aidan’s dressing room the mood was quite different. The players were sweaty and tired after chasing the Hove players for the majority of the first half. Some were rubbing their legs and ribs in places that the Hove players had kicked or elbowed them, their heads hung, looking at the floor. Jesper watched all this from the corner of the dressing room as the coach entered.
“Right, I have had a chat with the ref and told him that ye are getting kicked and poked at every turn, so hopefully he will be watching for that in the second half.”
Paul Jones, a small midfielder, raised his hand, and the coach pointed at him.
“Coach, we can’t even touch these guys. I mean, we cant get near ’em, never mind get the ball of em!” he said.
“Jesper could, and so can ye.” said the coach.
“Now, I know that ye can do better than what ye did in the first half, and I think ye know aswell. What I need from you is to go out there second half and show what ye are capable of!” He looked around at his players as he spoke.
“Fenlon, you scored in near every match this year, your gonna get a chance in this match, just make sure you take it. Tom, your the best goal keeper out their, the other fella would have had a chance with half the shots you have saved in this match. Dave, your a great defender, and you don’t have to resort to rough tackles to get the ball, but for Christ’s sake, if their ever was a time for it, start now!”
“Right, get out there you lot and do your best, that’s all ye can do, and its all I will ask.”
The St.Aidan’s players ran out onto the pitch, and saw that the Hove players were waiting for them. They took up their positions, the ref blew his whistle, and the second half started.
Hove kept the ball well for a time, but St.Aidans didn’t chase as much as they had in the first half. Eventually, Hove grew bored of passing the ball around in their own half and began to get adventurous. Their players began to creep into St.Aidan’s half, and make runs looking for a pass that might crack their defence. Eventually, they tried to play the ball through, a chipped ball towards their striker. He jumped to head it down to the feet of one of his team mates, but instead of meeting the ball with his head, he collided with the St.Aidan’s defender Dave in mid air. Dave won the header and passed it to Paul Jones. Jones turned away from his own goal, Jerome Beaver and played a series of one twos with his midfield partner, Jack Moore, and moved up the pitch. This signaled the beginning of some strong St.Aidan’s play. From this attack they won a corner, the first of several that followed in the next fifteen minutes, they won about nine or ten free kicks, for which Hove where punished with four yellow cards, the home crowd delighting that the referee had woken up to Hove’s unsportsmanlike play.
With ten minutes left to play, the won a free kick on the edge of Hove’s penalty area. Jesper stepped up to take it, whispering in Jack’s ear and pushing him away from the ball. The Hove player’s, formed into a wall to block his shot, watched as Jesper stepped back, seven, eight nine yards, breathed out sharply and ran towards the ball. While the players in the wall closed their eyes in fear of the coming strike, Jesper, instead of clattering the ball towards the goal, side footed it straight across the edge of the penalty area to the waiting foot of Jack Moore, who met it clean and full on with the laces of his boot. The ball flew between the legs of both Hove and St.Aidan’s players and stung the back of the net befor the Hove keeper knew that it had been hit.
The crowd erupted into cheers and applause as the St. Aidan’s players hugged Jack and Jesper, patting them both on the back. The St.Aidan’s coach applauded from the sideline, but kept his eye on his watch. A draw would be a great result, but would still leave them a point behind Hove in the league, and mean that Hove would be crowned champions today.
Both teams took up their positions for the restart, the ref blew his whistle and Hove clearly shaken by St.Aidan’s goal and recent revival, didn’t bother to try to attack them, they merely kept the ball in their own half, not risking anything. St.Aidans, all to aware that time was against them, flooded the Hove half, and chased down every ball, their tired legs slowing them, but they did not get up.
Hove had the ball near their own corner flag and were struggling keep it, with St.Aidan’s players covering every outlet. The ball was played to the Hove center back, and he kicked it own the field, not aiming for anything, just trying to relieve the pressure on his team. Dave collected it for St.Aidan’s, played it back to to Tom who was standing well out of the penalty box. The entire St. Aidan’s team flooded the Hove box, waiting for Tom to send the ball in. As it flew towards them, the players tussled with each other, hoping to receive the ball and be the one to help his team to glory. The ball was dropping towards Dave, and the Hove center back who had taken Jesper down in the first half wrestled with him for the best position to head it. The Hove center back, shoved Dave away at the last moment and headed the ball wide. A corner was signaled for St.Aidan’s and their fans, who were behind the Hove goal cheered them on. he referee was seen looking at his watch. There was just enough time to take the corner kick. Jesper ran over to take it. He looked up, spotted Thunder Thighs running full belt into towards the penalty box and kicked to ball hard towards where he would arrive in a moment. The ball was well struck, and Tom jumped as he entered the box, meeting the ball in full flight with his head, sending the ball into the back of the net. After heading the ball, Tom cared not for his own landing, but was caught by a collection of his team mates before he could hit the floor. The stadium erupted with cheers, which continued until the referee blew the final whistle, and as Tom ‘Thunder Thighs’ was carried on his team mates shoulders, the cheering changed to singing as the crowd and players chorused “He came in like a wreck ball…”