Brush up your Shakespeare

Inter Aztec 4 PFFC 6

Joe, 24 February 2002


Some years ago, faced with an important life decision, I turned to my parents for advice. I got more than I bargained for when my father burst into iambic pentameter: Put another way, what he said was “grab your opportunities when they come”. Against Inter Aztec, in probably their most important domestic fixture ever, PFFC did just that. Under the shadow of Hampton Court, we had to endure moments of tragedy, then comedy, before emerging with a result that would have historical implications. Here is the story of the game, in eight acts.

I. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Last summer, as we munched our way through the intestines of Parisot’s livestock after picking up PFFC’s first piece of silverware, we dreamed of launching an assault on the Grafton League. In Shakespeare’s magical, subversive comedy, the boundaries between dream and reality become blurred. The same could be said for our season, and we entered Sunday’s game knowing that a result could bring our dreams of glory a step closer to reality. Which really would be magic.

II. Much Ado about Nothing

For once, the simple act of getting to the ground in time was traumatic. We arrived in dribs and drabs, Raj, Owen and Goldenboots appearing with just minutes to spare, Ian five minutes after kick-off. We didn’t have our usual warm-up: Filippo was edgy in the dressing-room and fretted about our lack of focus. He was also nervous about the Gaffer’s decision to experiment and play with three at the back.

III. The Tempest

Generally, the Grafton League is demure, everyone rather polite with each other. Aztec are, refreshingly in my opinion, rather more robust. Early on, the tackles were hefty. But in marked contrast to previous years, we showed ourselves happy to mix things. Brian in particular stood up to be counted, going into the book for a tackle so late it was practically Chaucerian­ good stuff, and his performance thereafter was monumental.

The language too was pretty medieval, but we were fortunate to have the best ref we’ve met this season: imposing, a good talker, equally biased and giving decisions as he saw them. But it was a tempestuous start, and we suffered the first serious blow after five minutes when Clarky pulled a hamstring and was forced off. A moment later things got worse as the home side broke down the right and a superb cross was met at the far post with a header that flew into the roof of the net. Filippo said it was a mistake on our part. He was right. I say it was a great goal. I’m also right.

IV. A Comedy of Errors

Even Gaffers as astute as ours are allowed to make mistakes. Such as experimenting with three at the back against such free-scoring opponents. A goal down, Ian emerged to replace Clarky and pandemonium set in: the Gaffer and Filippo giving contrary instructions, and the rest of the defence desperately asking each other where they should be, while two more goals whizzed past them in to the net.

V. The Taming of the Shrew

We are made of stern stuff nowadays. No way were we three goals worse then them. Stefan hit the post; Raj was twice denied: once by a reaction save from a point blank header. Nobody pointed any fingers, nobody stopped working their socks off, nobody stopped enjoying themselves. Nobody liked the fact that Aztec considered us ‘easy’. The tide turned.

VI. As You Like It

The revival was started by Brian who headed home a superb corner. Then a brilliant, fluent move down the right ended with Owen steaming in at the far end to prod home. Aztec were wobbling. The comeback was completed soon before half-time by Neil. I was so relieved that my earlier mistake had be cancelled that I’ve forgotten how the goal went in. Let’s say a 40 yard screamer.

At half-time, we knew we could win it as long as we kept things tight at the back. We knew we had their back four worried and would score again. We were right. After a quiet start to the second half we began to reassert control and Neil scored his second following up after their keeper fumbled the ball.

VII. Measure for Measure

But the course of Philosophy Football FC never did run smooth. Aztec pushed a third man up front and began to see more of the ball. For a while it was tense, though our defence had tightened up and Rob had little to do. Then the ref made his one poor decision, harshly penalizing Paul for a push in the back and giving Aztec a penalty from which they levelled.

VIII. All’s Well that Ends Well

Again, a year ago the harsh equaliser would have seen us fold, our morale crushed. But no more. We were fired with self-belief and once again began to dominate. Stefan, who ran the channels superbly as ever, finally got his reward and twisted and turned before giving us a lead we celebrated in ecstatic fashion.

Rob was called into action late on before a perfect epilogue. Marco, playing with an injured shoulder, chased a through ball and was clattered by the keeper. The ball rebounded and there, following up, was Aztec’s puffing centre-half, Butch Shakespeare. His brain and feet had a moment’s lack of communication. His side-footed shot was a beauty. The ball nested in the net. We celebrated a famous win.