THE NIGHT WE WON THE CUPWith more than a little luck supplemented by some superb displays of 5-a-side football, on Thursday November 8th 2001, Streatham North End enjoyed previously unthinkable levels of success on the field of play on the Bar Pitch at Crystal Palace Sports Stadium. The occasion: the Autumn 2001 Elms 5-a-side One Night Cup Competition - Crystal Palace League. This report will attempt to capture the precious moments which led to the first ever silverware being won by a team under the Effra Academicals umbrella.
Previous attempts to win cup competitions have, by and large, reflected our league form - and in most cases have been far worse than the 'bread and butter' of our 5-a-side footy. In Summer 2000, Effra Academicals lost all four of their group games and crashed out of the cup. In Summer 2001, Streatham North End did the same, while Dinamo Bar Pitch managed at least to win one and draw one of their group matches, while unfortunately wasn't enough to see them through to the semi-finals. In May 2001, the Accies tried their luck as wild card entrants to the Elms organisation's National 5-a-side Cup competition. And lost every game (although this is somewhat more understandable given the fact that our oppositions were all league champions). Most recently, in the London Summer 2001 5-a-side Competition, also run by Elms, there was mixed success - Dinamo Bar Pitch crashed out after losing all five group games, while Streatham North End (bolstered by the addition to the squad of Dinamo's Lee Hodgkin and Exoterix FCęs Dean Docherty and Warren Crawford) did make it past the first group stage, thanks to gaining two wins and a draw from their five games. In the second group stage, Streatham came within two minutes of reaching the quarter finals, but ultimately failed to do so.
So it's fair to say that our cup pedigree, going into this season's tournament, was unimpressive, although Stuart Dade and John McDonnell, the only players from Streathamęs September cup run to also figure in the line-ups for this latest tournament, had at least tasted some success and seen, as Ade Akinbiyi will also tell you, that miracles can happen.
In the days leading up to the competition, rumours had been rife that the favourites to win Streatham's group, Eaton Beavers, might not attend, choosing to rest their squad for the resumption of the league, which they stand a good chance of winning. Were Eaton to be absent, Streatham would have a good chance of finishing in the top two of a group which also featured 1860 Lambeth, Player Haters and FC Soma. Each of Streatham's games against those three teams thus far had ended in a draw, indicating the tightness of the group without Eaton.
Eaton Beavers were indeed absent on the night, and Streatham North End knew that if they played to the best of their abilities, a place in the semi-finals was eminently achievable. So, after this extended introduction to the story of an unforgettable evening, settle back and enjoy the reports of the games themselves...
Streatham's first game was peculiarly easy. They happen every now and again, there are 5 opposition players on the pitch but, somehow, they're not really there. So we waltzed round them, passed the ball over and over until a man was through on goal and - twice - the ball is put in the net. First Jonathan Patterson, then Ian Holmes, and Player Haters were despatched. At this point, the yellows were feeling very positive - with Eaton absent, Player Haters were viewed as the biggest threat.
Next up, FC Soma, bottom of the league, winless but - hello - one-nil up against the yellows. Don't worry, there's half a game left yet. With a minute to go, the first moment of true magic in an evening that was to be full of them. Oscar, through and firing. The ball cannons off the left post. And towards the right post. Will it go past the post and safely away? Will it hit the post and roll along the line but not over it? Any other night, maybe, but not this one. It goes over the line and we're back on top of the group. And seemingly living a charmed life.
On to 1860 Lambeth, and a draw will put us through to the semi-final as group winners. Which is handy, because every game against 1860 Lambeth finishes 0-0. I think it's one of the rules. Thus, this game goes to form, albeit via some typically fine goalkeeping from Lambeth's awesome No 1, plus some dogged defending by North End. Final whistle, not a great game for the spectators but Job Done.
And so to the next gigantic piece of good fortune. Belying their lowly status in the league, Camberwell Carrots are busy winning every single group game in the other group 1-0. Which means that the second-placed team, which Streatham will have to play, could well turn out to be bookies' favourites Conway FC. Oh dear. Dinamo Bar Pitch do their bit to consign Conway's cup run to the dustbin of history, brilliantly holding them to a 0-0 draw. And so, the last game of the group is Athletico Lard against Conway FC. It's tight, and Conway aren't doing what they normally do best - scoring goals. It's still 0-0, and still, and still - until Lard hit a mighty strike into the back of the whites' net.
Incredibly, having avoided Eaton Beavers thanks to non-attendance, the yellows have now avoided playing Conway FC as well. There's a commonly held theory which states that, aside from those two teams, any of the 5-a-side teams who ply their trade at Crystal Palace on Thursday nights is capable of beating any other team. So the odds on a Streatham cup win would now seem to have narrowed.
Without a shadow of doubt, the semi-final against Athletico Lard was the most exciting of North End's cup run. Leaving the on-fire Ian Holmes on the bench might have seemed an odd decision, but it was the right and proper one given that he hadn't missed a game thus far all night. The game was tight, which made it all the more worrying when an Athletico player beat Stuart Dade in the North End goal. The four minute halfway mark passed moments later and action was called for. John McDonnell reluctantly made way for Ian and the comeback would need to start soon if it was going to happen at all.
If there was a script, Ian Holmes had clearly learned his lines. His second touch of the ball found him on the edge of the Lard area, ready perhaps to score his second goal of the night. He shaped up, as did the keeper in front of him. He picked his spot and the keeper flinched first, suddenly off balance. Ian dinked the ball into the net with his left foot. It was 1-1. People were cheering. Now, at the very least, surely we would take the game to penalties.
Over the past two years, we've not often come from behind to win a game. This has more to do with the short length of the games than with our own shortcomings - at least, that's what we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night. So when it happens, it feels vry pleasant indeed. Just ask the lads who did it against Surrey Envelopes once; or the Dinamo team that did so against Streatham just the other week. Or Dave Rudd, who was now ready and able to win this semi-final for Streatham.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the quality of Dave's winning goal. Following a foul inside Streatham's half, the yellows were awarded a free-kick. From your reporter's position in between the sticks, I could see exactly what Dave could see - not a whole lot of options. All his team mates were well-marked. Then the referee declared "direct" and suddenly I knew exactly what Dave was going to try. He shaped up and the ball exploded from his foot and towards the net. It hit a spot which the Lard keeper - or any keeper, frankly -ľwould not be able to reach. It went in. This was a goal which set the standard by which all other 5-a-side goals will henceforth be judged. And as well as the quality of the goal, there was the timing. Which was, from Streatham's point of view, exceptional. The game ended very, very shortly afterwards and Streatham North End had reached the final. Two heroic goals, the latter of which defies belief even for those players and spectators who saw it happen. Comparisons could rightly be drawn with a goal by another bloke called David, who recently took a free-kick in the dying seconds of a game. In the words of John McDonnell, in an email the following day: –I've seen good goals, bad goals, indifferent goals, jammy goals and downright unlikely goals, but I was standing almost next to Dave on the sidelines when he took that free-kick and it truely was a divinely inspired goal to put us in the final.” And so say all of us.
Camberwell Carrotsę semi-final against 1860 Lambeth had finished 0-0 (see the aforementioned rule) and the oranges had won on penalties. Opinion was divided as to who would be the preferred opposition in the final your reporteręs opinion was that Carrots would be more beatable, if only for the quality of 1860ęs keeper.
The starting line-up for the biggest match in living memory was the same that had begun the semi-final, with Ian Holmes again on the bench but sure to play some part in proceedings. As is often the way, the Final was by no means Streathamęs best performance of the evening. But the first minute or so was deeply, deeply enjoyable, thanks to John McDonnell, who produced his first goal of the night with impeccable timing. On the right hand side, he shrugged off his marker and fired low to the keeperęs right. The ball flew inside the post and the yellows were 1-0 up in the Final. An impressive achievement considering the fact that this was the first time the Camberwell keeper had been beaten all evening.
So all Streatham had to do was keep a clean sheet and the cup would be ours. The team proceeded to cling on for all they were worth, with keeper Stuart Dade called into action really for the first time all evening. Fortunately, just as the outfield players had had their moments of majesty when questions were asked of them (just to recap: Oscaręs equaliser against Soma, Andyęs expert marshalling of 1860ęs attackers; Ianęs goalscoring substitute appearance in the semi; Daveęs free-kick; Johnęs goal in the first minute of the Final), so Stuart came up with the goods now. Time and time again Carrots players tried their luck in front of goal, and those shots that were on target - and many werenęt - were safely gathered or parried by North Endęs No 1. Ian replaced Dave and had two decent chances to put the game beyond Camberwell. He didnęt score - obviously the script for this game involved only the biting of nails (which is difficult with goalie gloves on, but I digress), not the scoring of goals. As the seconds ticked painfully by, Dave came back on for Oscar and, after Carrots wasted one or two free-kicks in good positions, the referee indicated that there were 30 seconds left.
I donęt know what was going through the minds of other players and spectators at this point, but your reporter was certain of only one thing. Camberwell Carrots were going to score an equaliser past me with the last kick of the game, setting up a dreaded penalty shoot-out and potentially ruining our evening at the final hurdle. I have never been more sure of anything.
And Ięve never been more wrong, either. Carrots did have one last chance, I saved it, and soon after Tom blew the final whiste. Scenes of glorious celebration naturally followed (after the handshakes with the gallant losers, naturally). Dinamo players ran on to the pitch and water was thrown as an inadequate substitute for celebratory champers. Weęd won the cup!
In the 24 hours following the Unbelievable Scenes, the phrase "We Won The Cup" reverberated round emails, was repeated in phone calls and went through our minds a thousand times. For the simple reason that none of the players involved - nor probably the spectators - could believe it had actually happened.
More than two years ago, myself and a few friends first trotted out on to the Astroturf to kick a ball about. Reasonably unsuccessfully. Thursday nights, we soon realised, were made for this. We knew what it was to enjoy it even when we were losing again, and again, and again. We knew what it was to enjoy it when the first points were gained; then the first wins. Gradually, almost all of us have known what it is to enjoy scoring our first goal (and one of us even knows what it's like to score his 50th). We knew what it was to enjoy beating a team called Surrey Envelopes; to finish out of the bottom three; to play competitive games against one another even. Last summer, we also discovered what itęs like to win an 11-a-side match.
And now we know what it's like to win a competition. With a lot of luck, undoubtedly - but what cup run hasn't relied on the odd slice of good fortune? To play in a Final - and to win it.
It is a dream come true - those words, though cheesy and probably slightly embarrassing - are heartfelt. Two years of shouting, and kicking, and saving, and marking, and drinking, and laughing, and we'd still love it one thousand per cent even if both teams had been beaten 5-0 in every single game last Thursday. As it happened, the team I play in goal for didn't lose a game. And so we won the cup.
We won the cup. And by "we", I don't just mean the six blokes who played in the game. I mean all those players who've played in yellow and orange and - crucially - together in red'n'blue. My delirium if I'd been standing on the touchline watching five other blokes winning that Final would still have been absolute. Andy, Chris, Dave, Graham, Ian, Joe, John, Lee, Luke, Luis, Macca, Oscar, Simon, Stuart and Tom: some of those players were directly responsible for Streatham North End winning the cup. Some of them were indirectly responsible. All of them enjoyed it fully when it Finally Happened. The toast in the bar from Streatham Skipper Andrew Dade, whose privilege it will be to lift the trophy on Thursday December 13th,toasted the win with the words: "To the Accies. To Streatham. To Dinamo. To The Cup!"
See you next Thursday, then.