Sunday 20th May: Victory for the Hiroshima Blues
Our new goal-scoring hero is third from right.
(Photo: Jaime, 20/5/07)
There was a time when The Poor Little Cypriot and most of the football team he played for, Inter-Milang, a team of English teachers, Peruvian labourers, and one or two brave or foolhardy Japanese guys, took it for granted that training for a Sunday match was something that took place at a selection of watering holes on the Saturday night before the game.
The keenest players would often extend their pre-match training session into the early daylight hours of the same Sunday morning. How fondly I remember raising the umpteenth glass of nappy ale to our distinguished captain, C. Sevenoaks (Chelsea), who, propping up the bar with his elbow, would remove the drooping cigarette from his slackening lip and raise a glass in hearty toast to the merits of barside training.
Our pallid and motley crew would arrive at the football pitch a bare ten minutes before kick off and look with misgiving at the immaculately track-suited Japanese opposition. We would marvel at their preened hairstyles and at the sheer number of balls they had to practise with as compared to our one (or occasional less than one) rather grubby and under-inflated specimen. Yes, we were up against the likes of Hitler or Goebbels when it came to ball possession.
The less gung-ho, or less experienced, players would opine with oracular certainty,
"We're going to get stuffed..."
It must be confessed that sometimes they were right. Who would want to remember the 8-1 stuffing that was administered to us on a wet and miserably hung-over day when we had to resort to calling upon the mighty frame of the gentle Canadian rugby-playing giant David Berger to stand in for our missing goalkeeper?
But, more often than not, Inter-Milang would march, or totter, or huff and puff its hungover way to glory via a fag-break at half time for Captain C. Sevenoaks, and the remarkably agile winger Guy Perrin and the even more remarkably gifted ball artist Trevor (Surname?) who had a very peculiar - yet peculiarly effective - style on the ball.
In the very early days there was also the physical toughness of a fellow Leeds United supporter, Simon, whose words of encouragement usually went along the lines of, "Knock one or two of them down in the first five minutes and we'll be alright." Harsh, but effective. In the world of Japanese Sunday football, anybody who looks like he's not going to pull out of a challenge often finds himself in possession of the ball which, in my case at least, can be a bit of a problem because I don't mind the challenge but am always perplexed when I find the ball at my feet...
In those far distant bachelor days of yore the biggest match of the season was the one between the two rival English Language School teams, Inter-Milang and David English House. In the first such match Yours Truly volunteered to go in goal and pulled off enough fine saves to bring us, the firm underdogs, through to a 2-1 victory (as I recall). DEH was big enough in those days to field an "A" and a "B" team and most of the players were DEH teachers (unlike the situation nowadays). Inter-Milang was supposed to be playing the DEH "B" team, but the ranks of DEH "B" (can anybody remember what they called their team?) were liberally reinforced with players drafted in from the "A" team which made that early victory all the sweeter.
Roll forward fourteen years(!) and DEH fields just one team, Lang Education Centre none at all. All three foreign players who regularly play for DEH used to play for Inter-Milang and the pre-match barside training, although it does sometimes occur, is less common than in former times. Thus it came to pass that last Saturday two of the foreign players were in a bar watching the F. A. Cup final but NOT drinking. The third foreign player cannot abide to be in a bar without drinking and so elected to play it safe and stay at home since age and unfitness have rendered the ancient body less resilient to the rigours of an all night drinking session with Tim Buthod followed by a football match in the early summer heat against a team of fit 19-21 year-olds.
Thus it was that the three of us met at Hiroshima Airport clear headed and keen and eager for the game which was at what we now consider our "home" pitch, an all grass affair between the airport, Forest Hills golf course and a woodland park.
When I say we were eager for the game, I ought also to confess that we were all very pleased to see that our Japanese team mates had turned up in sufficient numbers for there to be one substitute. I should also mention that I leapt for joy when I was asked to be the sub!
The first half was a pretty evenly matched affair, but as the team had played well I told the captain that he should keep things as they were and bring me on later. Anyway, I was working hard enough shouting from the sideline.
We had a new player, little but effective, and since it was his first game he was expected to come off at half time to let the older player on according to the Japanese rules of seniority. However, it was obvious to me that the worst thing we could do would be to substitute me for him. About ten minutes into the second half, after he had scored our opening goal, he came over to me and put on an almost convincing show of "tiredness" but I prevailed upon him to get back on the pitch and within five minutes he had scored a second!!
With about a quarter of an hour to go Jaime flagged and so I went on for him. Jaime had had a good game and been involved in setting up one of the goals and had a few chances himself in both halves. I had expected to come on for Dan, but he remained solid in defence throughout the game.
Being brought on in place of Jaime meant that I was to play in attack...! My first touch of the ball was to nod on a goal kick, which perhaps fooled the other team into thinking they had a major force to be reckoned with in attack. Unfortunately, hesitation on the ball in one incident, and an inept kick that sent the ball towards our defenders may have shattered that illusion... Nevertheless, the fact is that we scored two more goals in that last fifteen minutes, but if I was involved it was more in the capacity of drawing off defenders. If only I'd run to the post for a corner... Later, a juicy header went - over my head... Then, a split second vision of an open goal was swiftly slammed shut...
Still, we finished 4-0 ahead, scoring more goals and winning more points than in the whole of our "B" Division campaign last season!
Jaime has written a full report on his blog here.
After the match the three foreigners celebrated victory over a rather good okonomiyaki and beer at Hiroshima Airport, where the arrival of the Pokemon aeroplane caused a stir on the viewing platform...