Goals : Adjekwei, Mcvey
The year is 1962. John F Kennedy is president of the United States, with the Cuban Missile Crisis bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. Lawrence of Arabia is first released to critical acclaim. A teenage Martin Egan confidently struts the North London streets in his best gilet. And the Alexandra Park FC first eleven are relegated to the Second Division of the Southern Amateur League, surely to return in the not too distant future.
We now move to the present day and despite the seismic changes worldwide, remarkably, AP are yet to return to the promised land (and Egan is yet to be separated from his gilet). However, the 7th September 2013 was to be the day that righted both of these wrongs. Following back to back to promotions, the first team welcomed Old Owens and began their first campaign in the top division in over 50 years. In addition to this, the fixture saw the launch of the partnership between AP and 14Fourteen, with a new kit, training tops and polo shirts, thus banishing the gilet from our matchdays forever.
The Racecourse was looking absolutely resplendent upon arrival. The enormity of the occasion was underlined with metal barriers down one side of the pitch, which at our level, is equivalent to playing in front of the Kop. We wanted to press high and do the basics well. Having shared an epic with Owens in the AFA Cup last year which we lost on penalties, we knew to some extent what to expect.
On occasion, I have been told to ‘play the game, not the occasion’, often in front of eight men and a dog. This was the first and potentially last time in which it could actually be considered appropriate. That said, it all seemed a touch surreal. Usually John’s team talks are bookended with me clapping and shouting a generic phrase; ‘heads on now boys’ is a particular favourite. On Saturday it was followed up by the entrance of Christian Karambeau and Robert Pires to the dressing room. Just a tad out of the ordinary (but I still think I concluded their handshakes with some sort of cliche)
We lined up 4-4-2, with a continental diamond in the middle. The big North London deadline day deal saw John Morris bring in Phil Gallagher from north of the border, and he started on the left. Jim White most certainly missed a trick focusing on the activity at the Emirates.
The game started off slightly nervy, Stu Pennycook’s astro punts the source of much amazement from the watching school kids. AP were working hard across the park, Owens looked assured in midfield. Owens had the first real opening, the ball rolling under the skippers foot in 1930’s comedy style before Stu came out to smother.
The opposition’s third man runs (technical) were causing a few problems and yielded the first goal. A burst and finish from number 32, showed not only the amount that oppo had shelled out on their kit, but also the clinical nature of teams at this level.
Moments later, the lead was doubled. Same player, angled run and a tidy finish. It had all gone a bit flat. It might have been worth throwing Pires on in his jeans but I wouldn’t want a guest of the club to be hit with a subscription fee. Little do Pires and Karambeau know that Richard Gibbs will actually now be chasing them around the continent for £10 for the hundred club.
Alas, we have not won back to back promotions without a bit of grit, probably enough to cover a medium sized driveway. AP battled back and minutes later it was 2-1. After all sorts of carnage from a right sided corner, it sat up for Marc McVey, who lashed home from close range. For the record, Marc would like to clarify that YES he did play against Wayne Rooney but he REALLY does not like speaking about it.
5 minutes later and it all went a bit wacky races to draw AP level. A hopeful hook over the top turned like a Shane Warne leg break (one for the cricketers there) and span over the keeper. Ronnie rumbled onto it and prodded home one that falls into the ‘more difficult than it looked’ category.
2-2 at the break and AP in the ascendancy. We went out second half trying to turn them that little bit more, a tactic of ours that is too regular to even call our ‘bread and butter’.
The second stanza was a little more tense, with few chances being created from either side. Skips picked up a booking and a distinction for ‘services to handbags’ from a corner, apart from that the game drifted somewhat.
Owens regained the lead with 25 left to play, a scramble around the edge of the box was eventually opened up to the left hand side, where their tricky winger tucked in tidily. We huffed and puffed but couldn’t find a leveller. That final ball wasn’t quite there.
It finished 3-2 and whilst we would not have been hugely flattered by a draw, the scoreline reflected that extra bit of quality of the oppo on the ball. We will go into next week not only having learnt a few lessons but also knowing we have more than enough to compete at this level. If we apply ourselves and organise that little bit better, there is plenty to build upon.
I will not delve too much into the off field element of the day, as to be honest, I would be here a long time. To have sat in the AP clubhouse having a pint with a man who has won the World Cup and Champions League, talking about what we need to do beat Salesians next week is absolutely surreal…..pretty sure he mentioned dropping Laurence as well.
All I can do is extend my thanks on behalf of the first team to the guys from 14Fourteen for their generosity, the AP committee for their hard work, and everyone who turned out, especially those who were physically struck by my distribution. Days like that just don’t really happen in amateur football and it’s one we will all remember for a very long time.
Team : Pennycook, Carlin, Patterson, Egan, R.Hubbard (Fernee), S.Morris (Monero), Brown, Gallagher (Nicholau), Mcvey, Kelly, Adjekwei