Southern Combination Walking Football League
Hastings Hornets vs Old Bexhillians
Hillcrest Academy, 10 June 2023
Hastings Hornets 0 Old Bexhillians 2
Shock and awe on the Ore Road
It certainly wasn’t the turning point, but it was perhaps the reference point for all of us. Ten minutes into the second half, there was a crack followed by a thud. Puffing Paul had gone down quicker than Joe Biden tripping on an airport staircase. The differences? Paulo is compos mentis and good at his job.
The preliminaries were intriguing. Ricky DLTN allowed the ball to melt into a giant pair of Sondico gloves that are on loan to him. Howard, at the bottom end, went through some stretching exercises suggesting preparations for tantric sex. Holy Paul (he is our staunchest supporter going to away and home matches – it is appreciated) was trotting to join Blakie and KtB on the far side when he inadvertently became involved with the Hornets’ warm-up and did some opening-the-gate exercises. Blakie who had chosen his vantage point much earlier wins best-dressed award for a Panama and wraparound glasses.
From the sidelines, Hastings goalkeeping squad members bellowed their support. The loudest was Churchill impersonator Tony the Cat Harris. Would the Hornets fight Bexhillians on the by-lines, on the flanks and at the corners? Would they never surrender? Would it be their finest hour? Gig Colin, sporting a wonderful pair of tie-dye shorts, bonded with his mates on the mound while Jeremy hunched over his notebook.
The Hornets, looking smart in the new Lalco Construction claret and cyan stripes, began by attacking the bottom end. Referee Phil got things underway whereupon Riddler, who had been sniffing the air like a bloodhound, surveyed the left flank and went on an exploratory foray towards Howard’s goal.
The Hornets started brightly, playing with plenty of width and good communication. Bexhill would have been frustrated not to get any meaningful chances for quite some minutes.
Touchline, in a piratical (perhaps Hells Angels-ish?) bandana, was immense from the off with shot-blocking (often from Sedlescombe Nick) and pinging lateral passes. He read several initial up-field balls from the visitors as though they were letters from home.
But an error came on four minutes when Paul Reardon got a heavy first touch to a pass from Chairs. Cookie pounced and powered a low ball past Ricky. Even the best keeper in the league (IMHO) – with that judgement including Eastbourne Tony who plays for S.E. England – could not get near it. 0 – 1.
Alan Osman also shot wide soon after but it certainly wasn’t one-way traffic. Richard Boakes (has he got a nickname?) had been a tad off the pace in his first league match with us. But he rallied and shot marginally high with enough power to keep Howard alert.
I bleat on about it, but it’s obvious that we try and improvise at free kicks. There is no pre-planning. Let’s devote a third of a training session to Russell giving us, say, three options and somebody will simply shout a number.
The Hornets remained in it for a long phase of play. It still seemed that a smash & grab raid might produce a goal and that we could then park the bus with Paulo and Touchline forming the barrier. As the mercury nudged toward the thirties there was a first for us; the man in black ordered a drinks break.
It was depressing how much heavy artillery Bexhill had, with a player as good as Steve Over coming on from the bench midway through the first half. Meanwhile, Rick was beginning good Hornets attacks with high-tariff distribution from his feet. And the Bulverhythe Drummer had to make a sharp low save from Over after he was fed by Osman.
The Hornets were galvanized when Doc came on as a sub. Some of the visitors’ shots were now resembling howitzers and Richard was showing courage as he put himself into harm’s way to block them. Osman surprisingly squandered an opportunity from the edge of the box that he would normally expect to bury. Chairs was coming into the game doing an excellent close marking job on Sedlescombe Nick.
Nick and Steve Over were creating little triangles and Over forced a good save from Rick. More depressing news. Bexhill were able to bring Mark Shades on to freshen up the middle of the park. They have quite a locker room.
Doc was doing a wonderful job marking Osman. It was an object lesson in not going in too early and alternatively sticking to your man like Araldite and then deliberately stepping back half a yard so as to not be predictable.
It was 0 – 1 at the break. That is something to be proud of in itself. Early in the second period, Bexhill made a fluid ten-pass move but they were still not exactly bossing things. The Hornets were cohesive and determined, showing plenty of skill and playing for each other. But Bexhill began pressing very high and the hosts struggled to get out of their own half. It had been an object lesson in marking and keeping your man guessing but Osman finally slipped around Doc to defeat Rick. 0 – 2.
Then came a challenge by Dougie on Puffing Paul. It certainly wasn’t malicious but might have been mistimed. Five people carried Paulo from the pitch. He has dislocated a toe and is pictured above, unaccountably still with a shin pad on the uninjured leg. After more drinks and the restart, Rick made his best save (of many) with a paw away after Osman had found space. Hornets had a credible goal threat in the final seconds with a Paul Reardon shot that was high but well struck.
If you want testimony to how far the Hornets have come ponder this. We gave our own Front Team an uneasy five minutes in the second half last month and only a year or so ago we could not have withstood the barrage that was the Dougie, Osman and Sedlescombe Nick assault today. Rick’s goal was of course busy but even last autumn it would have been like a coconut shy.
There had been much nonsense from our opponents including the mischievous suggestion that alleged needle between us would see a WFA representative as well as a referee’s assessor in attendance. Neither turned up; every single person was known to me. It was disappointing to hear Mick Davies (a referee himself if in a different code of football) telling Phil that an infringement was a D.O.G.S.O. even if good judges I have spoken to subsequently say that it was.
Duncan had said that he would not appear due to commitments with 1066 Specials. More mind games. He was of course present on the far touchline or was it perhaps that Action Man doll I had in the Seventies? I would pull the cord and it would pump out a single sentence. Is there a new model now? Pull the string and you hear: “They’ve got nothing! That’s all they’ve got!”
Referee Phil had a great game; he kept tempers, egos and body temperatures in order. But I was sad to see him with his own half-time Tupperware container of orange segments. This is something we must address. Phil consistently played advantage, paused to see what might accrue and would then pull play back if he saw fit.
MoM: Ricky for the Hornets is obvious as is Alan Osman for Old Bexhillians. Chris Osborne was an unostentatious playmaker for the visitors.