Unlike matches, tournaments do not usually have a Lemon. However, there are some occasions that demand that an exception be made. The M3s’ trip to Norwich City’s Pre-Season 7-a-side Tournament was such an occasion.
The award was sealed (very) early doors by, of course, Will Jones. Having gamely and slightly surprisingly signed up for a tournament that started at 10am in Norwich, Will either hadn’t realised where Norwich was or hadn’t realised when 10am was. The end result was the same: when captain Matt knocked on Will’s door at a brisk 7.45 on a Sunday morning, he was answered not by Will clad in his hockey kit but by Will’s mum clad in her nightie. She explained that Will had had a bit of a ‘big night’ and had ‘lost his phone’. Yeesssss… One man down and it wasn’t even 8am.
Matt’s next call was me. I have to confess that I, too, was not feeling at my most sprightly. Graham’s selfish decision to move to Thailand, holding his leaving drinks the night before the tournament, compounded by Shin inconsiderately buying everyone champagne, had not proved the ideal preparation. Waking at 2am, I was worried by how drunk I still felt but figured I had another five hours or so to sleep it off. At 4.30am, I was definitely less drunk but I can’t say the prospect of a drive to Norwich and a whole day’s hockey in another few hours was filling me with joy. By 7am though, I was probably almost sober, and stoically hauled myself out of bed to make a bowl of krispies and a thermos of tea before my lift arrived.
The journey up was interrupted by a stop at Maccy D’s near Thetford, where the one-way system totally baffled Matt as we ignored two no-entry and one no-right-turn signs. Inside, the rest of the M3s and the L1s were already tucking into their pancakes and Egg McMuffins. Spirits were good in both teams, despite the early start, and I was also feeling better after a large coffee. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Arriving in Norwich (actually Taverham) for 10am, we discovered that our first opponents, UEA 2, had pulled out and consequently we had no game until 11.30 - a whole hour in bed lost! South base camp was already being established by the L1s, who were impressively organised - waterproof ground rugs, camping chairs, homemade sausage rolls, etc. The M3s had turned up with a packet of Tangfastics. There was apparently a water-based astro and a sand astro but, having inspected both pitches, we were hard put to tell which was which. There certainly weren’t going to be any spectacular sliding dives, not for anyone who fancied keeping their skin anyway. While we waited for our first game, we watched the ladies’ opening fixtures. Their first three matches were frustrating, a series of late goals turning promising results into a draw and two defeats but it was upward for them from there.
The M3s were playing in the competition for teams from Divisions 3 and 4. Having just gone up to Div 4, we were expecting a testing time, and so it proved. Our tournament got off to a positive start as we held Saffron Walden 3s to a goalless draw. Dropout Will had been replaced by Oli Lamming, originally along to support Hannah in the L1s but now finding himself drafted into the M3s' squad. Fortunately, OIi never travels anywhere without his stick bag and full playing kit. Matt had decided on a 2-3-1 formation, with the nine outfielders divided into groups of three players for two positions, each group rotating every four or five minutes. Now ten minutes of hockey per game doesn’t sound a lot, but 7-a-side is brutal in its intensity and we were all very glad of a full squad. George in goal, despite being the only player getting a full game, was shamelessly renting himself out to any team who would have him, dashing from one match to another. Such a hockey ho.
Next up were Ipswich & East Suffolk 2s and another tight match. Having gone a goal behind, we equalised through Alex P before, imitating our L1 counterparts, conceding an agonising late winner. That set the pattern for the day - two further one goal defeats in close games, including a winner from Seahawks that saw a speculative aerial thrown forward, bounce and be lobbed over George. Seahawks were left hanging on, delaying at every opportunity (resulting in some words from the umpire), but we were unable to recover the goal in time.
We were consistently competitive, only being properly put away by Norwich City 5s in a 4-0 defeat, but lacking a bit of cutting edge, as shown by our absence of further goals, and game management, meaning any concession invariably proved decisive. The match against Norwich Dragons included some spectacular saves, with George taking one full in the grill and yours truly blocking goal-bound shots out of the air (one of which frustratingly deflected straight to another Dragons striker who coudn’t miss) including one high clearance of another lobbed ball that was dropping behind George and under the crossbar, which saw me voted Man of the Tournament (thanks, guys!) but wasn’t enough to save a 2-0 defeat.
On the positive side, we regularly made good use of space and new man, Dom, looks like he'll be a valuable addition to the team, with sensible clearances and even the occasional aerial. In other incidents of note, Joe showed off his 3D skills (badly) with Haribo, Flix was almost taken out by a baseball, Dom got angry in a very non-Southerner manner but reminiscent of other-Dom N (is it something about being called Dom?), Chris felt ill after eating a burger and Kim asked Joe’s permission to feel his chest. And we also had the L1s to cheer on, who rallied to finish with a 3-3-3 record and a mid-table position in the Ladies’ Premier competition, having won the Ladies’ Higher tournament last year.
By 4pm we were well and truly spent and glad to depart ahead of the threatening rain, leaving the L1s to play their last fixture. A testing but worthwhile experience, and a good day out.