Cuth's E team win football division 4
(15 May 2017)
Following a slow start to the season, Cuth's E team went undefeated after Christmas to clinch the Division 4 title. "Reaching the dizzying heights of division 4 title - the story of the people's team":
When communicating with his players Brendan Rodgers uses the Latin phrase “Per aspera ad astra” which translates to “Through adversity to the stars”. This phrase is very apt when describing the roller-coaster ride that Cuth’s Lions (St. Cuthbert’s E Team) have taken over the last four years. Following its inception as St. Cuthbert’s F team the team has grown to become the college team of the people. Following the departure of much of the Old Guard last year, the Lions have had to rebuild and develop a new style of play. During pre-season, the scouts worked hard to unearth some diamonds in the rough, securing future talent, with the likes of Josh Coyle and Ed Fenwick being drafted into the ranks. Their youth and energy would breathe life into the club and provide competition for the remaining second years. Following overseas placements, Jack Muchlinski, Ed Marsh, Jack Nettleton-Burrows and Jack Fenwick returned to provide much needed experience as well as an injection of South American and European flair and skill into the squad. As an ex-captain of the club Ed Marsh played a key leadership role throughout the season. This vital experience and leadership also came in the form of Freddie Barclay, Luke Andrew, Robert Bird and James Hodge.
The Lions’ first opponents of the season came in the form of Hilde Bede F Team. Captain Jonny Botha, yet to identify his strongest eleven, fielded an experimental side featuring many of the new fresh and newly recruited second years such as Richard Burn and Rohan Mukerji. Despite eventually losing, the Lions showed their free-scoring counter-attacking style as the game finished 5-4. James Hodge showed his prowess in front of goal to open the season with a brace. Tom Hawkins also found himself on the scoresheet following a strong pre-season and a new eye-catching haircut, matching his equally outrageous shorts.
The following week the Lions faced their first taste of the cup with a mid-week fixture against Chad’s B. The Lions cruised to a 5-0 victory once again showing their strength in the final third. Hodge scored another brace, alongside Botha and Coyle securing their first goals of the campaign. The first-round fixture also saw the return of Charles Griffin and Angus McCaul to the line-up following a quiet 2015/2016. Both, looking to make up for lost time, played vital roles in the victory with Griffin getting his first goal of the season and McCaul laying on two assists from centre-back. This productivity from the Lions’ centre-halves would become an important factor in the Lions’ success throughout the 16/17 season.
The Lions followed up this success in the cup with a league victory over Hilde Bede G, Botha grabbing a brace, and Vice-Captain Sam Watson scoring his first goal of the season in the process. However, this elation was short lived as the Lions faced Van Mildert D in the next round of the cup. After playing all their previous matches on the grass the switch to the artificial crumb surface proved a challenge. This failure to adapt to play, on a surface that allowed the ball to bounce and roll consistently, was punished by the Division 3 side. After facing a large deficit at half time the Lions went all-out-attack in the second half. This plan of action was brutally quashed by the better side on the day, the result a crushing 10-1 loss. The only positive to come out of the game was Watson’s goal of the season contender as he chipped the keeper from 25 yards out following a pin-point kick by keeper Euan Cormack. This loss clearly had a profound effect on morale within the Lions as player commitment dropped and the Lions faced matches with less than 11 men on several occasions on the run-in towards Christmas. This lack of commitment could clearly be seen following the 3-3 draw in the next league game against Grey D. Without a keeper for the second half, ex-keeper Botha put on the gloves but was unable to stop the Lions slipping to a disappointing draw in the last few minutes. This disappointing draw was followed by another defeat at the hands of Collingwood J. Despite a first goal of the season from Ed Fenwick the Lions lost 4-3.
This series of disappointing results left the Lions on 4 points after 4 games, far from title-winning form. However, the next game against Mary’s C relieved some of the pressure on Captain Botha. Two goals and an assist from the captain lead the way for a 5-0 victory. The game was blighted by the opposition suffering a large number of injuries, resulting in them finishing the game with 10 men. Nevertheless, the win was much needed for the Lions and breathed life into the squad. This rejuvenated team spirit was essential if they were to overcome their next opponents: Staff B…
The early (11.15) kick-off had clearly affected the squad as the Lions started the game with 7 players with Botha once again putting on the gloves following further keeper issues. Despite this early depletion in numbers, the Lions took a surprise 2-0 lead though an Ed Fenwick brace and confidence was high. The arrival of reinforcements for the Lions appeared to motivate the Staff team and their man-mountain of a centre-back lead the charge, creating chance after chance at corners, eventually leading to the Staff team pulling it back to 2-2 by half time. The second half was very quiet until Charles ‘Lionel’ Griffin produced a goal (similar to that of Diego Maradona’s wonder goal vs England in the 1986 World Cup), beating 5 players before slotting it in the bottom corner. Despite such flair, the Staff team showed their age and experience by remaining calm and once again relying on their gargantuan centre-half. This unstoppable force overwhelmed the Lions and a last-minute goal sealed a 4-3 victory for the Staff. Although clearly disheartened by the defeat, Griffin’s goal lifted the team and allowed them to walk away with their heads held high ready to go again, hopefully with a full XI.
The final game of the term was against Josephine Butler D. The Lions, looking to make up for the defeat in the previous outing, went out with all guns blazing. Despite this eager attitude, things did not go to plan as an early penalty was conceded. However, Luke Mulley making his first appearance of the season between the sticks produced some Jerzy Dudek-esque distraction methods to cause the opposition to fire the penalty against the crossbar and away to safety. Things went from bad to worse for Butler as Botha slotted the ball home to put the Lions ahead, minutes later. Despite being a comfortable 10 yards offside the referee let play continue and following zero protests from the opposition the goal stood. Ed Fenwick then added another to his tally to put the Lions two up. However, the Lions’ defensive frailties shone through again as Butler pulled it back to 2-2. An again controversial decision to award a penalty after foul on Watson allowed Marsh to put the Lions back ahead. But once again the Lions were pegged back and the team looked deflated. Brief moments of skill from Hawkins, Watson and Fenwick culminated in a ninety-second minute corner which, following a Hawkins cross that Pirlo would have been proud of, Botha channelled his inner Andy Carroll to rise above the opposition defenders to snatch a 4-3 victory. Although the victory was a great way to finish the season it did not hide the fact that the Lions had only accumulated 10 points in 7 games and were languishing in the bottom half of the table. Nonetheless, there was still a lot of football to be played, and with a squad always keen to improve, an air of positivity still surrounded the club.
Devastating news emerged over the Christmas break which shook the club. Captain Botha had suffered a season ending injury, breaking his collar bone whilst carrying out a scouting mission in the French Alps, searching for the next Mbappe. This forced him to pass the Captain’s armband to Sam Watson and put on his suit and tie as he took over as Manager. Despite finishing the season as top-scorer the pressure had been growing and the injury allowed him to put personal achievements aside and focus on the developing the Lions into a title challenging side. His first challenge was to identify a new strike partnership which could deliver the goals for the second half of the season. The first game after the break against Van Mildert F saw Watson and Hawkins leading the line in a much-changed side. The gamble paid off as Hawkins got two goals and an assist and Watson grabbed a hat trick of assists in a 5-2 win. Josh Coyle once again showed his goal-scoring prowess by grabbing another.
After tasting success in their first game back after the break, the Lions now faced St. John’s B. It would be the first match back on the artificial crumb following their humiliating 10-1 defeat to Mildert D. However, the pre-match build-up was dominated by the Mourinho-Wenger like rivalry between the two captains, Jonathan Botha and Joe Pearman. Once again the Lions fielded a much changed side featuring many debuts. In his second appearance after a long break Jonny Muir picked up an assist to gift Sam Watson a goal. Debutant Sam Jones then scored an absolute stunner from 30 yards out to double the advantage. However, John’s pulled it back to 2-2 courtesy of a double from Pearman and the Lions looked under pressure. Ed Marsh then scored his first goal of the season to restore the lead. However, in the last minute Pearman slotted home to get his hat trick and a point for John’s. Although disappointed with the result it was a good point against a strong opposition, who would later go on to achieve promotion.
The Lions then faced their biggest challenge of the season - an 8.45am kick off on the artificial crumb against Hatfield D, the league-leaders at the time. Having gone the first five games of the season undefeated, Hatfield had suffered a dip in form and were looking vulnerable. Despite the early kick off the Lions managed to turn up on time, the game kicked off as scheduled and to manager Botha’s delight, a Lion’s side fielding eleven men. Hatfield’s defence remained impenetrable for most of the first half until a lovely through ball from Ed Fenwick split open the defence and Krish Hook slotted it in the bottom corner to make it 1-0. With a narrow lead at halftime the Lions made a few changes with Craig Ellis coming onto the pitch to make his debut. However, barely 5 minutes into his debut he chopped his man down from behind to pick up a yellow card and give Hatfield a free kick in a threatening position. The Lions’ defence, showing an improvement at the back, prevented any further danger. Alex Blackwood then came on for his debut and made an instant impact picking up an assist for Tom Davidson’s goal. Blackwood then continued to cause havoc for the once impenetrable Hatfield defence with two goals, following a Muchlinski penalty. This incredible performance left the Lions 5-0 winners and looking in good form heading into the final few games of the season. Following this result and a few others going their way the Lions realised that if they won their remaining 3 games they would be crowned champions of Division 4. Given their points tally at Christmas this came as a huge surprise and created a buzz around the club which had not been seen earlier in the season, amongst players and fans alike. The three opponents who stood in their way were Grey D, Trevs C and Collingwood I.
The game against Grey D was a scrappy game, with the weather conditions taking their toll on the quality of football. Basham’s wonder strike put the Lions one up before Ed Fenwick grabbed another goal for the season. However, a late Grey goal put the Lions’ defence under immense pressure. The stalwarts of the backline kept their nerve keeping the Grey advances away from goal, holding out for the 2-1 victory. One game down, two to go.
Trevs C were up next for the Lions. With a goalless first half, the Lions needed to up the quality of attack in order to keep their title chances in their own hands. Two men who had stepped up time and time again for the Lions during the second half of the season, Sam Watson and Ed Fenwick, led the Lions to a 3-1 win with Watson grabbing two goals and Fenwick a goal and an assist. The dream of playing Divison 3 football was one game away from becoming a reality.
The incredible run of results left the Lions facing one very important final game. Win and they would be crowned champions, lose and they would face another season in Division 4. The importance of the game was further increased by Collingwood also needing a win to attain promotion. The team, which included the bulk of the players who led the Lions on their run to success during the season, lined up to face Collingwood. The two notable omissions were that of Ed Fenwick, who had been forced to seek treatment for an injury abroad in Barbados, and Griffin who had failed a late fitness test that morning. Nevertheless, the Lions, who were being cheered on by a massive crowd which had assembled following their early morning Wednesday lectures, made a good start to the game. Following a recent sunny spell, the pitch had improved from the previous games and allowed the Lions to engage in their traditional passing-based style of play. The breakthrough came following a Hawkins cross which was turned into his own net by the Collingwood centre-back. Hawkins then scored himself to put the Lions 2-0 up and in the driving seat. The second half, although not seeing many goals, was eventful to say the least. In a brilliant act of sportsmanship Hodge told the ref to overturn the decision to award a penalty following a challenge on him, claiming he had tripped over his own leg. Watson then appeared to put the ball in the back of the net only for the referee to declare it had gone through the side of the net despite there being no apparent issue with the net itself. The ref also decided to award a corner much to the confusion of the fans as the keeper appeared to be positioned in the middle of the goal. Despite this frustration, the Lions continued to bear down on the Collingwood defence and finally got their much desired third goal, after Hodge bundled a ball into the back of the net off a Watson cross. The final whistle went soon after triggering the emotional fans to storm the pitch to celebrate with their team. Needless to say, ‘el vino did flow’.
Following a poor start to the campaign the Lions were undefeated in the last 7 games of the season picking up 6 wins in order to defy the odds and be crowned champions, clinching the title by two points. The roller-coaster season was perhaps mirrored by an air of pathetic fallacy. The dip in form during the dark winter months and resurgence during the temperate springtime fixtures all contributed to the fluctuating drama, constant hunger and ever-present passion shown by the squad throughout the campaign.