I have created this blog to share my footballing tales and adventures with you, through short stories and anecdotes, I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Saddle Sore

On 11th February 1984, probably the most dramatic and traumatic football match never reported took place at Pleck Park in Walsall. The match was never advertised by the nation’s press and was attended by, well, nobody. So how do I know it happened? Simple; because I played in it!

Several Southend supporting companions and I had founded our own team, Blues FC. Now I’ve played in some bad football teams. Sides that have lost every single match in a season. I’ve even lost a junior game 31-0! But Blues FC were something else.

Blues FC were a six-a-side team. They had already played and indeed been thrashed spectacularly by supporters teams from Chelmsford City, Orient and Brentford. But we were confident of breaking our duck in the West Midlands. Everything was stacked in our favour. Walsall Supporters were playing their first, and as it turned out, only ever match. The Blues were to include two new signings, both considerably better footballers than any of us. Besides which we had clearly turned the corner in the Brentford game, it was the first time we hadn’t conceded double figures!

However, nothing is certain in football. Almost twenty-five years on, the shockwave of what happened on that fateful day in the Black Country still leaves me a bitter and twisted man. It was to be the day of reckoning, a day when our team of collective limited abilities would finally taste victory.

We wanted to win the Walsall match so badly that we took the liberty of fixing up a match the night before against the supporters of Grays Athletic. Not only would this fixture give the new players a chance to bed in, it would give us the extra match practice before the trip to the Black Country. It was a plan that was to backfire spectacularly in a number of ways.

First, Grays took the match far too seriously. Instead of fielding supporters they sent out players from their Isthmian league squad. Our lack of ability proved to be no match for our semi-professional ranked opponents as they rattled in goal after goal. The match ended in what could have been and probably was a world record ridiculous score: Grays 37 Blues FC 8!

On top of this we still had an early start the following morning for Walsall – we would be finishing one game and starting the next within twelve hours of each other, and this included a 175-mile trip to boot!

Despite the big defeat we travelled to the Black Country in high spirits. This was to be our day, none of the Walsall lads played regular football, let alone together. Most of the team made their way to the Midlands by car, the two new players were travelling by train and would be meeting us at the ground. One of our number, ‘Max’, had planned everything with military precision.

As we raced up the M6 a motorway sign stated ‘Walsall 22’. Although confidence was high, I’d bet every one of our players had the same thought ‘…Blues FC 0!’

The drama started to unfold as we arrived at Pleck Park. Our two new signings had not shown, leaving us with one emergency substitute who happened to be our goalkeeper’s girlfriend. One or two players questioned whether a woman should be allowed into the squad, but with two players absent without leave we were desperate, besides which, the truth was she was better than they were!

Still it mattered not, as the match got underway it became clear the Walsall lads were no match for us. In fact they were much worse than us; after taking an early lead we pulled away from our hosts and by half time, Blues led by six goals to one.

Now you’ve all heard the story about the tortoise and the hare. Well, this was to be a classic example of the fable in action.

Miles in front, we took the liberty of fielding our substitute for the second half. Not content with stuffing our hosts out of sight we were now rubbing their noses in it by playing a woman against them.

The Walsall lads were clearly upset with our overconfident gesture. They started to mount wave after wave of attack. Before long they had pulled back a couple of goals. Still at 6-3 the match was ours –  just weather the storm then hit them with a sucker punch, perfect!

But things were far from perfect. We had lost our way big time, the Blues players had started to bicker with each other and Walsall by now pulled the score back to 6-5.

There were only a couple of minutes remaining, all we had to do was keep the ball and victory was ours. The ball was passed back to our goalkeeper to kill a few vital seconds. Sadly, horribly and quite painfully he completely missed it. 6-6!

We were still in a state of shock when straight from the kick-off the Walsall lads raced up the field and almost in slow motion produced the unthinkable, a winning goal!

The referee’s whistle sounded almost immediately, The Blues players sank to the floor like a team who had just lost a World Cup final, although in many ways this was much, much worse!

When we returned to the changing room there was silence. No inquest, no slagging, just silence. Nobody dared look at each other. In some sort of deprived way what we had achieved had been quite spectacular. We’d managed to lose a match after holding the biggest lead in football history! We truly were the most awful team on earth.

To make matters worse the real Walsall and Southend were to meet at Fellows Park in a Third Division match that afternoon. Walsall were quite a useful side whereas Southend were not so much sliding as hurtling towards relegation. The game went to form with Walsall winning 4-0.
News also filtered through about our missing new recruits. Their train journey had been interrupted at Coventry by members of the West Midlands constabulary who had taken exception to them travelling without rail tickets! 

We returned home somewhat mentally scared by our own awfulness. ‘Max’ bravely brought up the subject of a return fixture but his Dunkirk spirit fell on deaf ears. Perhaps shamed by our collective rubbishness the players of Blues FC went their own separate ways. The fledgling club never played another match.

Fortunately for us the match was never recorded by anyone in Southend, only a few lines in the Walsall programme dated 21st February 1984 gave any lasting testament that the epic match was ever played.

To this day, whenever I drive up the M6 through Walsall I glance across towards Pleck Park. The place still makes me shudder!

But when the country’s football scribes write their collective journals about famous games, not one of them will pen their thoughts about the agonies and ecstasy of that day at Pleck Park. I tell you what, lets keep it our little secret…  

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