13 August 2013
Pete reviews Village's fourth-placed finish and general carnage at the 2013 Outgames in Antwerp.
by Pete Ransom
Alas it was a tournament without a medal - the first time that's happened since 2010. However, Antwerp will live long in the memory for events off the pitch as much as the ones on it.
I've been on tour with Village four times now. The first - in Cologne - was a real eye-opener as to the scale of LGBT sporting events. Thousands of participants, a well-organised tournament and, above all, a tremendous time had by all. Rotterdam and Budapest were particularly pleasing as the gold medals in the 2nd division showed the growth and strength in depth of the club. Then, most recently, Village finally got the one it wanted by winning the European Cup in Dublin.
So, to Antwerp. Much like last year, it was a team mostly comprised of 2nd team players with a handful of the 1st team thrown in. We were delighted to have the regular tourists of Karl, John and James join us on the trip. In addition, Mark and James became the latest BAPs on tour as they accompanied P-Daddy and Johnathan. Andy and Joycey made up the numbers.
We've had some pretty good first nights in Europe over the years. The lesbian club in Cologne, the in-breeding in Rotterdam and the dark room in Budapest all spring to mind. However, new standards were well and truly set in Belgium. Slut drops on stage in the opening ceremony were just the starting point for the carnage that ensued. It wasn't until the next morning that I flicked on Facebook and was greeted with the image of Karl on a stretcher with a neckbrace on and his head covered in bandages. Apparently Mr. Storey still thought he belonged on a podium at the delicate age of 39, only to have that misconception literally brought crashing down to earth. Please, please, can the club put an over-40s ban on club podiums in the future? (This obviously doesn't apply to Jez, who still has the agility of a 15 year old gymnast).
After a day spent discovering the city, posting photos of Tolendo falling asleep on the toilet and Johnathan consuming the first of his four Italian meals in five days, we kicked off the action on Monday morning. It's fair to say we knew next to nothing about Mexico Aztecs. However, they were very skilful and quick in midfield, which created a very competitive opening contest. Setting the tone for the group stage, Steve Holmes scored just before half time which, in the end, was enough to give Manchester a 1-0 win.
Day two started badly with the news that John Cassidy had fractured a rib in a tussle with a transsexual in the opening game and would have to head home for treatment. Given his dominant display in that game, put together with Mr. Storey's concussion, it left Village already short of two players. Fortunately, the Leftfooters game was dealt with efficiently. After Pete Edwards scored a slightly fortunate goal - his shot hitting the bar and then bouncing back in off him - Jeremy converted from a corner before Goldsie outrageously stole a goal by poking my header over the line. Ant's mis-hit cross added a fourth before Steve grabbed his second of the tournament to make it 5-0 just before full time.
San Francisco was the game where it all came together. The passing was crisp, the movement was excellent and the defence solid. That said, Village were shocked to find themselves behind after 20 minutes. With pretty much their only shot of the first half, San Fran worked the ball very well from the inside left position and hit a low shot to go 1-0 up. It's fair to say I didn't think it was going to be my day as I'd already hit the bar, had a header cleared off the line and had a penalty shout turned down. However, the equaliser wasn't far off as some quick thinking by Jez allowed me to hit a streaky cross that clipped off the post and fell perfectly for Steve to make it 1-1 just before half time.
The words were very positive at half time with a message of more of the same. That was duly delivered as the tempo was maintained and Holmesey scored his fourth tournament goal with a fabulous header from Jeremy's long throw. Village had the chance to wrap things up when Alex was fouled in the area but Jeremy, for once, failed to convert from the penalty spot as he shot over. The game finished with memories of Ant Lockley's sending off against the Spikes in 2010. This time it was Andy Bates who was sent to the stands (or made to move one yard behind a fence) as his protests to the linesman about a throw-in were not warmly received. "uh-uh, whole of the ball, girlfriend!".
So, to the quarter final stage. Village faced Birmingham in Cologne, Rotterdam and Budapest so there were no surprises when the Nottingham team, containing four of the Blaze squad, were our opponents. We welcomed back Karl to the fold for this game - nicely bandaged to cover up his Harry Potter scar. It's fair to say that the Ball Bois put up a hell of a fight, with neither team scoring from open play in 80 minutes (though Village will probably reflect that they should have had the game done and dusted well before the hour mark). Jeremy succeeded from the penalty spot in the first half after a handball before Nottingham were awarded a spot kick just three minutes before full time - James Williams surprisingly tracking back in time to handle the ball. Mark Shaw converted in his usual sportsmanlike fashion and the game would go to penalties.
The shoot-out got off to a great start when James Toland saved from Craig Simpson. However, after James W, Jeremy and Goldsie converted, Karl and Matt went wide of the post and over the bar, respectively, giving Shaw the chance to put one of his former clubs out. Fortunately Toland came to the rescue, saving a weak spot kick and sending the shoot-out into sudden death. Myself, Jez, Alex and Ant all converted before Nottingham missed their ninth penalty and we finally got through to the semi-final.
I'd made a prediction at the start of the day that we wouldn't make the final. That's not negative thinking, just a realistic view of our team against Samurai Japan and New York Ramblers, both of whom had faster, younger squads. The semi-final against New York would indeed be a game too far, with a particularly disappointing first half where Village went 2-0 down and playing poor football against a team that countered superbly. The second half was infinitely better and it would have been a very interesting contest if a couple of early chances had been converted. We were pretty much camped out in the Ramblers' half for the final 30 minutes but were unable to score against a well-organised team. Then, inevitably, the Americans capitalised just before the end and finished the game off at 3-0.
There was naturally disappointment at the final whistle but this football club is always at its best when recovering from defeat. Naturally we threw money at the bar to help with the sad faces (Look forward to the invoice, Rob!) before the Village Special Olympics kicked in - Matt's spectacular belly-flop long jump being a particular highlight.
The final day was a 3rd/4th playoff against Cologne. After five games the squad was stretched to its limit with Karl and Alex unable to take part and half the team barely able to walk. Things actually got off to a good start and, although it wasn't exactly my finest goal, I was really happy to score in my final game when a free kick caught a deflection and sneaked past the goalkeeper. Steve had a chance to make it 2-0 but then tiredness really caught up on us as Cologne raced past the offside trap either side of half time to go ahead and then scored a third with a few minutes to go.
And so, the tournament drew to an end. Samurai ended up as winners of the division, defeating New York on penalties. We weren't quite good enough to reach the final but it only shows how far we've come when a semi-final is considered a disappointment. We headed home tired but with many a great memory to take away with us.
As it's my last opportunity to do so, there are a number of thank yous I'd like to make so please excuse the self-indulgence.
Firstly, to Antony and Jason. They're the absolute rock of this club and we wouldn't be within a country mile of where we are today without the two of them having driven us forward for the past ten years. I remember seeing the pair of them sat down after the defeat in Manchester to Stonewall in 2011 and could see how devastated they were. I'm so pleased we finally won in Dublin to erase some of those memories and give this great team the trophy it has deserved for so long.
Johnathan - my left sided buddy in the 2nds over the past two years. What a pleasure it's been to play alongside you. Always in the right position, never complaining about anything and even telling me off against Cologne for moaning too much! You're one of the unsung heroes of this club with your attitude and I'll miss playing with you.
Andy Bates. Every football club needs an Andy. Deeply passionate, willing to help out wherever you can and an all-round lovely guy. Look after those knees and try not to get sent off so much!
Jeremy. Keep being you. Except for the crying. You probably need to tone that down slightly ;)
Alex. You're weird but I like you.
Finally, to Matthew. You are a greedy, fat pig who is completely disorganised and who chases after boys way too young for you. But you're my greedy, fat pig and one of my best friends. No one should ever underestimate the job you've done at Village over the past four years. We both started in the 2nds at the same time and were getting thumped by six goals every game. Within two years we were winning international divisions and competing in Sunday league football for the first time. Your management style is quite unique but somehow it seems to work and get the best out of everyone. It's been tremendous fun living with you for the past two years (BBQs aside) and I hope you get what you want out of life over the next few years.
To everyone else who I've played with, partied with, danced to Whitney with or slept with, I've had such an amazing four years with you all and wish you all the best with whatever you do over the coming years. No doubt we'll see each other in the not too distant future. Mine's a vodka and coke.