Wednesday 22 April 2015

The Other List: Part Two - Grays Athletic FC Vs Hendon FC, Ryman League Cup Final 2015, Church Road (15/04/15)

You can read, The Other List: Part One - HERE

The teams line up, and shake hands with the dignitaries and officials, as is customary on Cup Final Day. The teams then shake each other’s hands, HFC line up for a team photo, and GA leap, sprint and bound away.

The early signs are good for GA, Mark was correct and they do have the lion’s share of possession. Two early corners, and fast counter attacks, but GA are on the front foot from the get go. The GA fans are also doing well, and making plenty of noise "Can you hear the Hendon sing, we can’t hear a fucking thing!"

HFC manager is very loud, and is constantly barking instructions from pitch side to his team and this results in the GA fans shouting "Shhhhhhhhh!"

Two GA players warm up in front of us, one of them is an under 21 player, whose recent good goal scoring form since his return, earned him a call up to the final squad, the GA fans affectionately sing "He's 7 foot tall, he's 7 foot tall", he smiles and raises his hand. Not long after there is a huge shout for a HFC penalty turned down, the other GA player warming up in front of us, looks at us with an assured face which screams "that was definitely a penalty"

The turned down penalty sparks HFC into life, and they have GA pegged back. It also sparks the HFC fans into life, and from the main stand, draped in flags, they begin to sing.
It looks like going into the break all square, only for the game to come alive with 3 goals in about 5 minutes. Unfortunately GA’s dominance in possession, is let down by their inability to get a shot away when it matters, and HFC get the first goal. What seems like a reasonable simple shot, from my position behind the bench, is fumbled by the keeper, pops from his grasp, 1-0. The HFC fans break out into chants of "Dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper". From their position on the touch line Glen Little says, "still lots of time"
Almost bang on half time HFC take a further lead, two goals in quick succession. A case perhaps, of GA still dwelling on the first goal and not really having their heads back in the game. Mark claps his hands, rooted to the touch line and shouts "come on guys", and they respond well, because almost from kick off GA grab a goal back. A ball chipped into the box, is latched on to by the number 10, who has looked the best GA player of the game so far, and side foots it past the keeper. David is up from his seat in the dugout and lets the team know what he thinks "that’s how easy it is, you’re making them look good", he turns to the bench with a grin, and the bench all snigger. Glen Little continues to talk to the team and when the board goes up with 1 minute extra time, he points to it, and instructs the players to "play it out, let’s get in", Mark adds a similar sentiment "see it out, slow it down".
The mood in the changing room has changed vastly in the space of 45 minutes. Once again the players squeeze on to the benches, and Mark & Glen discuss the 1st half’s performance, and admit they have been surprised that HFC "have come to play", expecting them to sit back more than they have. The point that was made before the teams went out, that they are not taking their chances when they come is reiterated by Mark, "it’s our decision making that's letting us down", but he reassures them, "chances will come, you have to believe"
Glen as you might expect is to the point, "they have been the best, we haven’t!", and “don’t be scared to get shots off". He does his best to reinvigorate the team for the 2nd half, "it’s a heavy weight clash, but come on guys it’s a Cup Final!"
The players seem low, heads are down and its quiet tense. The players do their best to respond to the management, "come on guys", "big 45, no fucking regrets" but its muted and lacking any real gusto. David wants them to keep their heads up, "let’s keep positive" and as the bell goes in the dressing room, the players get to their feet, the clicking of their studs on the floor, and Mark has the final word, "enough fucking talking!"
GA has taken on board all the advice they were given at half time, and come out the second half flying, and its wave after wave of attack, and HFC have no reply. The full back on the left is constantly finding room, and delivering fantastic crosses, one after another in to the box. The players are shooting on sight, only for the HFC defenders, like an immovable object, to block everything that comes their way.
GA fans are still making the most noise, and have swapped ends at half time with HFC, and now occupy the large covered stand at one end of the pitch, "CAN YOU HEAR THE HENDON SING?", "you got more flags than fans, you forgot to bring your mates!" Tom is pitch side, taking pics and I'm on the other side of the fence being dive bombed by midges.

HFC get their first real chance of the game after 25 minutes, and GA are slowly falling back into bad habits, getting in great positions, but not shooting, and they are once again punished for not taking them, when HFC go further ahead with a screamer from outside the box, across the keeper from the left. The few HFC fans are quick to goad the noisy GA fans at the other end of the pitch, "you’re not singing anymore"
GA almost perform the same trick from the first half, and grab a goal back almost instantly, but the chip over the keeper hits the bar. The fall back on the left, number 2 is having a fantastic half, his delivery is pin point, and he has a curling shot from outside the box, but a fingertip save forces it over. They are throwing everything at HFC, the keeper is having a great night and in combination with the bus sized centre backs, they are unpassable, like Gandalf himself says "YOU SHALL NOT PASS".
The one time Gandalf’s defence is broken, is because of great work on the left, the player gets right along the by-line, cuts it back and tees up his player, but manages to miss, I'm still not sure how he missed, and neither was he, as he lies face down on the pitch exasperated.
Marks last throw of the dice is to bring Glen Little on to perhaps marshal a remarkable come back, and the young Under 21 player to hopefully bring some of his form and threat up front.
Five minutes in red goes up, to show the extra time, and GA are going to make them a frantic five, after grabbing back a late goal, a header from one of their excellent corners.
The last five minutes, are sadly for GA just like the 45 before them, and the ball just won’t go in, and when the whistle goes, it’s not their day, and HFC will lift the cup, 3-2.
League officials are quick to bring a small table on to the pitch, along with the cup to present to the winners. HFC celebrate and GA slowly makes their way towards where they will shortly have to pick up their runners up medals. The players and staff are clearly gutted, based on the possession and the chances they had in the 2nd half, a loss is very cruel. Some players sit on the floor, and I'm sure the last thing they want is to pick up the medals, probably all they want to do is get changed and go home, all this waiting leaves too much time to think over the last 90 minutes, and I'm sure they’re starting to pick apart what they could of done differently and start the self-critique.
Mark talks to the team, "we got to lift ourselves, lift your heads and we go again"! Although tonight will feel like a huge blow, there is still something to play for in the league, and they can’t let this result ruin that.
They line up, and receive their medals, the GA fans now line the edge of the pitch, and applaud their team in the same great fashion they have the whole match, a real credit to their club.
I'm alone in the changing room Tom is outside taking pictures of the victors. The mood is at an all-time low, and I feel like it’s inappropriate for me to be there, I feel like I'm gawping at someone’s tragedy or downfall. Mark speaks in this calm tone, but with a bit more anger or aggression than he has shown before "don’t let our season fizzle out", and in reference to the game against HFC in 3 day’s time, "they are fucking beatable". As if to rub it in, a huge cheer comes through the wall from the HFC changing room. One player breaks the silence, "sorry guys that was a bad miss!"
Once again I leave the team to get changed, and sit in the now empty stand. The flood lights are turned off and plunge the ground into darkness, it’s still a lovely warm evening, and I go in search of Tom. The HLC manager is posing with their fans, taking pictures with the cup, HFC players are doing interviews to camera, and once I find Tom, it’s time for us to leave, so we make our way to thank everyone and make our way back home.
David has changed back into his shirt and tie, and with his kit bag in hand we bump into him leaving the changing room. We thank him for the fantastic opportunity, and say how sorry we are they did not get the result, his response is quite pragmatic, "well that’s football", I ask how the team are, "they are particularly down, because they know how well they played. One shot in the half, and they score a peach".
Tom mentioned he saw Andy in his much hated suit, making his way to the board room, Glen is now doing a piece to camera in the car park, HFC players are tucking in to the complementary after match meal.
We walk down a long, dark road, lined with coaches, discussing the day’s events, and really having to pinch ourselves, that what just happened, actually happened.

Thank you so much to David Raven, Mark Bentley, Andy Swallow & everyone at Grays Athletic FC

For all of our photographs from match, click HERE

You can read, The Other List: Part One - HERE

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