PFFC 2 AIQL 1
Filippo’s own personal philosophical motto is “Noi vogliamo undici leoni” (“We want 11 lions”) and recent games have confirmed the exceptional strength and fighting spirit of the team. In this top of the table clash there were 11, then 10, but overall 13 lions, as we fought to defend our 100% record, despite the absence of key players and a very poor referee.
Mauro and Lele returned to the starting line up after being rested on Monday. These two Italians, freed from Filippo’s pastoral and watchful eye, were to have a decisive impact on the evening’s events. Vipul and Bruce lined up together at centre-back, Danny was in an unfamiliar role and Dan resumed his partnership up-front with Eric.
The match kicked off late again but allowed the opposing manager, also the organiser of the league, to give an extensive team talk in the opposing dressing room. Luckily our skipper has a degree in Albanian dialects and was able to relay the information that Dan was going to be man-marked.
We started strongly, though they looked sharp up front. With what seemed his first kick of the ball, Mauro despatched an unstoppable drive low into the far corner and gave us an unusual first-half lead, with Ronan nearly adding to it just before half-time when he hit the post from 25 yards. Their first-half attacks were thwarted by no-nonsense defending from Bruce and Vipul in particular, and Adrian was playing his finest game for us.
Kicking to our favoured kop end for the second half gave us increased confidence and we looked strong. The main problem seemed to be the referee, who was giving them the bulk of the decisions, including many dangerous free kicks just outside our area. One of these, given for handball against Lele when it struck his knees, led to a yellow card for dissent. Soon after, Lele foolishly handled the ball, got his second yellow and we were down to ten men. At precisely the same time David Beckham was sent off for Real Madrid and they gave identical post-match interviews, in which they said they didn’t know why the first yellow card was given. Beckham/Lele: “It couldn’t be for dissent because he couldn’t have understood me.”
After some hesitation in deciding how to reshape the team, Mauro was sacrificed for Gibbo; the latter, all fired up, gave a blinding display in the unfamiliar right-back position. His passion and commitment was now mirrored by the rest of the team in a strong rearguard action, though Ally and Kieran were still counter-attacking strongly. Dan had dropped back but still managed to communicate closely with Eric: “Get your ******* arse over here!” Press rumours of his vegan lifestyle had done nothing to quell his aggression. An almighty goal-mouth scramble, a brilliant save from Adrian and last-ditch defending from Bruce and Vipul, hurling themselves at the ball, kept the opponents at bay.
Then Gibbo, giving it everything, has an altercation with an opponent. Mauro unwisely gets involved from the bench in pushing and shoving, which leads to a brawl as their entire team plus sub converge on the unfortunate Italian, who gets a bloody nose. The Gaffer, trying to intervene in his defence, is upended and left in an undignified heap on the track. After much discussion, not all of it philosophical, the game resumes. Still dangerous on the counter-attack, Eric breaks away and fires his first league goal to great celebration. We still need to defend. They finally break through and score but it is too late.
Two extraordinary games in two days have taken us from sixth to the top of the table. We need to work hard and defend it. As for the brawl: this was no Battle of Mile End, and great efforts by their manager for reconciliation left a good result. The real reason, as I shall put in my official match report, was the absence of a dugout, which would have kept Mauro out of it and given the Gaffer and chairman some respite.