Thinkers get that waka waka feeling
PFFF 4 Arup 2
Exactly nine months since our opening game of the 2009/10 league campaign against Quinine at Regent's Park, this season has officially become the longest in PFFC's recent history, outstripping the previous record in 2005/06 when our final fixture, against BNP Paribas at Wormwood Scrubs, was on 7 June. Depending on the motivation of Sporting Tooting and the holiday plans of the Philosophers, this season may not yet be finished!
With the help of a late recruitment campaign waged by Andrea and Andy, PFFC had a healthy cohort for the match. We welcomed Kaleem, Joe, Peter, Rodrigo and Emmett into the ranks. With football fever spreading rapidly across this green and pleasant isle like some sort of FIFA-approved disease caused by the World Cup in South Africa, we were motivated to channel the spirits of the World Cup greats. Another form of motivation came when, during the gathering outside the changing rooms Clarkey, commented that if Owen committed a calamitous goalkeeping error akin to that of the English stopper the previous night, he would be most annoyed. Grafton League or World Cup, it made no difference to Clarkey. Despite being a relatively recent member of the Goalkeepers Union, Owen was keen to avoid what will henceforth be known as 'doing a Robert Green', and felt he had to conjure up the ghosts of. Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff, Gordon Banks, Oliver Kahn, Rob the Cat, Albert Camus, Pope John Paul II, Gianluigi Buffon and Alan Rough (OK, perhaps not that last one) and other the goalkeeping legends to avoid the wrath of Clarkey.
The game started without the referee, who was lost in Battersea Park, although the game didn't descend into footballing anarchy. In fact, PFFC played with amazing tempo and raced into a 2-0 lead within the first ten minutes. First, debutant Joe capitalised on a fumbled cross from Arup's keeper; soon afterwards, Clarkey weaved his way into the penalty area in his trademark fashion and blasted a shot past the hapless goalie. PFFC were now playing controlled passing football, aided by Will's vision and supported by the darting runs of Ally and Joe. The defence was solid, with Andrea marshalling the back four and Andy diligently tidying up. Andrea actually received a nasty kick to the face for his troubles and the referee, now present, penalised the offender for dangerous play. However, a brief lapse in concentration before half time allowed an Arup forward to burst into the box and shoot past the onrushing Owen, who rushed back in an attempt to clear it off the line, but failed. Half time: 2-1.
At this point the message from Andrea was to toughen up, make our tackles count and to score the next goal. Emmett switched from centre half to left back. He would prove to be equally adept in either position and overall had a fantastic debut. With plenty of hard work and visionary passing from Francesco and Will, PFFC started to press forward after a rather sluggish start to the second half. Clarkey again twisted and shot his way to a second magnificent goal and PFFC had their third. However, nothing this season in the PFFC camp has been simple or straightforward on the pitch and so it proved. An Arup free kick just outside our penalty area was whipped into the back post where a gaggle of players rose in an attempt to head the ball but with a member of the Arup contingent proving successful from a yard out. Arup clearly gained confidence from this, raining in a number of crosses and shots, which Owen dealt with capably. Soon, the work rate and intensity of Rodrigo and Dave in the centre of midfield wrested the initiative from our opponents and we sought a killer blow.
Shots now rained in on the Arup goal, but that killer blow was to prove elusive. A perfect in-swinging corner saw Will crane his neck to meet the ball square-on, only to see his header tipped onto the bar. Francesco had a number of superb rasping drives saved and Ally and Dave also put in shots. Joe sent a long-range chip crashing down off the crossbar and out to safety, in what was so nearly his own Wembley '66 moment. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, however: the irrepressible Clarkey would not be denied his hat-trick. Once again he glided past a couple of defenders, then shot firmly into the corner of the net, evoking the great World Cup hat-tricks of the past and creating his own Geoff Hurst or Paolo Rossi moment.
A celebratory visit by the hat-trick hero, Dave, Ally, Andy, Francesco, Will and Owen to the Mason's Arms on Battersea Park Road brought a buoyant atmosphere supplemented by schooner glasses of beer with roast beef or roast chicken dinners. Dave once again displaying his cosmopolitan instincts and showing us his canny ability to seek out something unusual, different and exciting: he suggested we take in the Serbia v. Ghana match at 3pm in a Serbian pub further along Battersea Park Road. With the promise of more classic games, goals, incidents and shocks at this World Cup PFFC can look forward to the summer with the knowledge of a satisfying end to the season. That is, if it is the end to the season.
PFFC (4-4-1-1): Owen; Francesco, Andrea, Kaleem, Andy; Ally, Rodrigo, Dave, Clarkey; Will; Joe.
Subs (frequently used and rotated): Peter, Emmett.
A taste of Serbia
When we reached the Paya and Horse on Battersea Park Road, I was surprised that it wasn't full to capacity. Whilst the décor, and the landlord, looked as though they hadn't had a makeover in at least 25 years, there was a wide age range of punters, some of whom were eating, some drinking and most getting ready to watch Serbia's opening match versus Ghana.
The pub's website states that it has been open for 3 years, and claims that it is London's first and only Serbian pub. I'm slightly surprised to read that. The pub is proud of its food and rightly so. The menu ranges from Balkan burgers to kobasice (garlic sausages), from bean soup with smoked pork ribs to stewed beef or pork with potatoes. Francesco ordered the sausages: about 8 links arrived on a plate and, allowed a taste, I can attest they were delicious.
Families were eating, drinking and watching the game, but the atmosphere was slightly flat - due to the lack of excitement in the match, I suppose - until half-time when the landlord pumped up the tunes, as it were: with what I guess was a selection of traditional Serbian folk music.
Speaking of the landlord, he truly had the crowd eating out the palm of his hand: dressed in a bowler hat, a white tee, black leather waistcoat and a splendidly large moustache. Throughout the match my attention was drawn to the unnerving presence of a shrivelled pigs head on a plate on the bar. I thought this might be some lucky charm until, halfway through the second half, I noticed it had been removed. Looking around, I noticed a happy gentleman in the front row tearing it to pieces for his Sunday lunch.
Late in the match, Ghana scored to win. Although this rather killed the atmosphere, I was pleased, as Ghana is of course Kofi's team. From Serbia's point of view, maybe the pig on the bar was lucky after all. If left uneaten.