It was a blisteringly hot day in May when the Approved Index VI made their official debut (barring a warm -up friendly against eMedia last week) in the RBI Charity 5-a-side tournament at Goals Soccer Centre in North Cheam. A tournament in which our brave lads acquitted themselves admirably and with great tenacity, finally exiting the competition on sudden death penalties.
The sun beat down relentlessly on the players as they arrived and continued its ferocity until after the last kick – by which point our intrepid heroes had played five games in little over two hours.Granted the games were only ten minutes long, but in temperatures exceeding 27C it was generally agreed that they were at least 5 minutes too long.
In a tournament modelled on the upcoming Olympics football tournament the Approved Index side took on the role North Korea, which clashed somewhat with the Argentina-esque kit that player-manager James Averell found in his garage. A kit from his playing days of yore and sponsored by one of East Grinstead’s classier establishments.
North Korea’s start was somewhat rocky – two back-to-back games against ‘Switzerland’ and ‘Gabon’ took their toll on both our boys’ energy levels and morale – two defeats later the only consolation was a great deal of improvement in the defensive set-up and one magical goal from our own answer to Jong Tae-se (15 goals in 33 appearances for the ‘real’ North Korea), Jamie ‘Golden Boy’ Browne.
Onto the next match and, in a group of five, a must-win if our lads were to keep alive their hopes of progressing into the knockout stages of the tournament.
Alas, after a strong start all hope was lost three quarters of the way through the match. A bruising encounter robbed North Korea of their dreams and left Luke ‘Duke’ Roberts nursing a nasty case of whiplash.
Honour then had become the mot-de-jour and that was a prize which we clutched lustily from the jaws of defeat. Two stunning performances in the last group game (which they lost) and the playoff (which they also lost) saw more stunning goals from Browne and a strike from Averell which can only be descibed, completely devoid of hyperbole, as sublime.
In the end they were cruelly deprived of victory by a torture device undreamt of by the spanish inquisition: penalties. Nerves jangled, hands trembled and bums squeaked through the first six attempts at goal. The score stood at two each: sudden death. What happened next is too painful to be recorded in this weblog but will remain seared in the memories of those present for many a month: a thorn in the side, a stab at the heart and a reminder to return next year fitter, stronger and with better trainers.
So while our glorious band of six returned from their expedition with bodies battered, bruised and burned by the first appearance of the summer sun, their heads were held high. The sporting ideal defined by the Olympians of old had been preserved in the demeanour of this team – a stoic and hardworking bunch to the end who embodied the very words of Kipling’s great poem If.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’