Saturday 21st May 2011
Tom Cooper (Div 2) Trophy
By Colin Brazier, with help from Jez Allen!
Fourths claim Tom Cooper Trophy!
Well who would have believed that we would end up with a trophy when we lost 8-0 on the first day of the season? A fantastic achievement by all involved, and just reward for Des’s 14 years in charge of the FOBG 4th team.
OK, some background to this competition…you can call it The Road to Wembley Crofton if you like. It became obvious it’s not a road our bus driver had taken all that often but we’ll forgive him for that! Anyway, with only eight teams in our division this season, even with the bad winter weather we had played all but one of our league fixtures by April 2nd. The league and division two clubs agreed on an end of season competition, the Tom Cooper (Division Two) Trophy, whereby we would be split into two groups of four, each playing each other once, with the winners meeting in the final.
With pressure on to get our all our other teams’ home games in, we played all our group matches away from home. The first of these ended in a goalless draw at in-form Latter Day Saints. Given the number of chances we made, we came away frustrated, but with a valuable point nonetheless. The final seemed a distant dream when we lost our next game 1-0 at the league’s bottom club Croydon Crusaders. We huffed and puffed but never really got going in that one.
By the time we came to play our last group game at Flamingo Park against Lord Hood, amazingly enough we were still in the hunt, other group results having been kind to us. We knew that we would have to win by at least two goals, and then hope that LDS beat Croydon by a narrower margin. A long shot but it just might work! Losing yet another keeper, Jason, through injury after 20 minutes didn’t help the cause but Alex stepped in to play a hero’s role between the sticks and second half goals from Connor and Tom in a 2-0 win left us in with a chance. This game also saw Jez make his FOBG debut out on pitch at right back!
The decisive match was played a couple of weeks later and with the result on the league website of Croydon 2 LDS 1, it seemed the run was over, but a phone call from league secretary John Cooper to Vic changed all that – they had got the score the wrong way round! We were through to the final, being the only team with a positive goal difference after all four sides finished on 4 points! We didn’t care who we met in the final, but were not upset when division two champions and Kent Cup finalists AFC Bromley were beaten by Crofton in the other group.
Getting to a cup final in our first season as a team, we were determined to pay the competition full respect and make it an experience for all concerned. We booked a 16-seater minibus and turned out in white collared shirts and trousers, with Des adding the finishing touch by buying us all red and yellow striped ties. Any tension on the bus was broken by Tom “singing” his repertoire of self-written chants about most members of the team. I’m not sure our resident musician Nick Barclay will be signing him up in a hurry…
There were two finals played at Crofton on Saturday and I think all three other teams were surprised to see us looking so smart!
With no new injury problems; Des just made one tactical change, switching Luke and Steve junior’s positions on the right flank. We had a very strong subs’ bench and it was great to see Scott fully recovered from his broken leg. So the side for the final was:
Jez Allen – GK
Luke Allen – RM
Steve Blanchard snr – CB
Alex King – CB
Colin Brazier – LB
Steve Blanchard jnr – RB
Neil Barnes – CM (capt.)
Tom Smart – CM
Graeme Barnes – LM
James Foyle – CF
Connor Barclay – CF
Subs: Rhyse Elliott, Scott Barnes, Tommy Noad, Mark Edwards
We played on the main pitch in front of the larger of the two crowds (probably helped by the home side participating) and following a thorough warm-up led by Mark, kicked off up the slope on a calm warm spring day. We started the better of the two teams, winning early corners and free kicks but could not capitalise and Crofton warmed to their task. The home side went on to dominate much of the opening half and were dangerous from corners and their enormous throw-in (just how dangerous these throws were became apparent to yours truly later!).
The first real chance for either side came after about half an hour when the Albion winger escaped Colin’s attention following a corner but couldn’t connect with the loose ball properly and the danger was cleared from the line by a combination of Steve junior, Alex and Jez.
Our relief was short-lived however, when Crofton took the lead when the ball fell kindly into the path of their main striker who strode on and placed a first-time shot past Jez from 15 yards out. This was of course a setback; we were in sight of turning around at 0-0 with the benefit of regrouping at half time and resuming with the slope in our favour. We have developed a real resilience in our game throughout the season though and almost equalised immediately when the home keeper misjudged a bouncing ball on the edge of his area. Luckily for him his defenders were alert and cleared before Connor could take advantage.
Half-time: Crofton Albion 1, FOBG 0.
Rousing contributions from Des, Neil and Nick reinforced the belief that we could go on and win, having contained the opposition without showing how well we could play going forward. We also had that very strong line-up on the bench ready to replace any tiring legs.
Well, all I can say is that we went on to play the best 45 minutes (or 54, or 60 – the referee deciding to play an agonising amount of “injury” time!) of our season when it mattered most. Taking the game to Crofton, as we had to, brought out the best in us.
We made our first change when Steve junior made way for Tommy, who went to left midfield with Graeme moving into the middle and the ever-versatile Neil to right midfield.
The crucial goal came when Graeme’s stinging shot was parried into the path of the ever-alert Connor to prod home from eight yards out. You can bank on Barclay (there’s one for you Tom!). 1-1. At this stage Scott came on for his dad Neil in a straight swap.
Albion were visibly deflated, and even more so just 10 minutes later when Neil drew a reckless challenge on the edge of the penalty area on the right hand side. Tom, after going through the entire league season goalless from midfield, has discovered a penchant for free kicks, especially in our cup games, and is rapidly becoming very adept at them. On this occasion he fooled us all by shaping to cross but hitting a hard low shot under the wall which crept just inside the near post. A perfectly executed goal. 2-1 FOBG. Spark wild celebrations from everybody!
Crofton decided to add some extra pace to their attack and brought on a quick young attacker on their right, moving probably their most tricky player to swap flanks to our right (comment from Jez: to be fair, Colin did such a good job in giving him very few chances, I think he was asking to swap sides!). At this point Scott changed position with Luke as he had played really well against him when we won at Crofton in the league.
Crofton’s frustration was illustrated when they went down to 10 men following the sending off of one of their players for dissent. The cards did not stop there, as Steve Blanchard senior was given a yellow for tugging at an opponent’s shorts. Shortly afterwards we won a corner on the right, and James found space in a crowded penalty area to head in Graeme’s flag kick with the minimum of fuss. 3-1 FOBG. Our domination of the match was confirmed.
We made our final substitution when Rhyse came on for Tom in a straight swap, leaving the unlucky Mark Edwards on the line. Undeterred as ever by mere rules and regulations, the Silver Fox was preparing to make our 4th change when he was dissuaded by Neil and Mark!
Despite the game going away from them, Crofton never stopped competing, and we needed to be watchful at the back to deny them any hope of repeating the late comeback they made against us in a Junior Challenge Cup quarter-final in January. Under most pressure were our centre-backs but Steve and Alex were supreme, along with Jez, in repelling their aerial assault. So supreme that they had no need whatsoever for help from anyone else, so it’s my own fault that I got a black eye from Alex as he headed yet another throw-in away from danger and had to depart, leaving the last few minutes to be played 10-apiece. Scott took my left back position with Luke dropping back to right back; James went to right midfield (the boys sorted this out themselves which is a sign of growing maturity and confidence). We saw the game out easily enough and I recovered to join in the celebrations at the final whistle.
To the winners, the spoils; to the losers, the pain of defeat. Crofton were very sporting and gracious, and we wish them well and look forward to resuming hostilities next season. We have met them four times in all this campaign, both teams winning close games on their opponents’ grounds twice!
The game was played in the competitive and respectful spirit you would expect from a final, and the referee, Bobby Bernini and his assistants Steve Appleyard and Elliot Hooper controlled it well.
John Cooper presented us with the cup and our medals and we changed back into our glad-rags and headed back on the coach to Farrow Fields, where we were given a rousing welcome by Vic and the members. It was heartening to see so many turn out to watch us, including 1st XI manager Darren. I’m sure he was impressed by the young talent on the club’s books (Steve snr, I think our chance has gone mate!).
There was no man of the match vote; everyone played their part superbly and it was a tremendous squad effort, encapsulating all we have strived for this season. We have had the worst season for injuries I can remember, and the contributions made by Mantas and Todd in particular should be noted, as well as those of all the many other players (mostly keepers!) who have helped us out.
Finally, thanks to Ian Foyle and Nick Barclay for hardly missing a game and kicking every ball, as well as to Anita Allen (who is definitely not a jinx!) and Ros Barnes for cheering us on through the season.
Well done all!
Don’t forget the curry night on Thursday 2nd June – email the club or contact Jez for details.
Man of the match: The whole squad!