It was a strange game, this. I remember it in a series of sepia-tinged still photos and brief and crackled Super 8 clips. The Chalk shuffle. The Anns leer. The lukewarm canned hotdogs. I have had better Saturdays.
We had travelled to Spalding in reasonable spirits and arrived, other than Shin’s car (as per usual), in reasonable time. It had been billed as a Big Game, but there was little sign of nerves as we negotiated our way through the locked upstairs changing bar and James Menzies’ loungewear warm-up, which he led with all the intensity of Barney Stuttard having a bath.
As the game began, our hosts quickly got on top. They were playing in a peculiar style though, alternating between pregnant periods of pedestrian pace and then attacking explosively. Very similar, in fact, to the performance of our vice captain’s stomach on the journey to the match.
Spalding took the lead after six or seven minutes. We had done well to repel an initial attack, but got turned over attempting to play out from the back and were ruthlessly punished. Mike Gillingham, nobly helping out after keeping for the 5ths earlier in the day, had no chance. We hit almost straight back though, with a classic Ash Artaman short-corner drag-flick.
Our midfield trio of Walsh, Menzies and Puddefoot was trying hard but, if anything, looked a little one-paced. I decided to bring myself on, to operate even slower and at least, I reasoned, add a bit of variety. Puddefoot, resplendent in his protective elbow support and looking a little like the Terminator crossed with a hobbit, was sacrificed.
We were playing some decent stuff, but a free hit from very close to the twenty-three metre line was quickly taken, hammered into the circle and skilfully deflected in. Again we responded and again it was from a short corner; this time Shin Kim throwing the goalbound effort and Tom Blair batting in the rebound. It was a curious game for Blair upon his return to the team, with his new fringe proving so heavy that it often caused him to spontaneously fall over, usually when through on goal, which is an unfortunate habit for a forward.
So it was honours even at the turnaround and we went into our huddle. We seemed to have worked out how to counter Spalding’s main threat (i.e. stand next to him) and had been slightly in the ascendancy as the first half ended. It was looking good for the second period and I was confident that our superior fitness would see us edge a result.
It was something of a blow, then, when Spalding scored twice in the next five minutes. Chris Walsh took this particularly badly and became engulfed in a solo meltdown about how unfair it all was that Jamie Redknapp was getting better looking with age. Meanwhile, Asbo Dom was making friends as usual, whilst Nik flitted around in the vapour trails left by Jack Chalk. Mariano was carrying the fight, bombing up the right flank, and once managed to out-sprint everyone else, if not the ball, to the baseline. Some chances ensued but, helped by some wily game-management from our opposition, we never really managed to build up a head of steam.
It was with some dejection that we trudged off the field, but thankfully next week gives us the chance to get straight back on the horse and avenge November’s defeat against local rivals Cambridge City.