By FRASER HOPE
Concerns voiced at the pre-season awards night and amplified further at the last practice were still palpably worrying the Old Boys as they faced their opening game of the season.
Would those carrying various injuries break down under the pressure of competitive football unlike the fun stuff of summer? Would enough team members turn up at Fulford? Would anyone be left behind by BC Ferries overloads? Could coach Graham Tweddle find a winning formula with the highly strung prima donnas that make up the team?
In fact, last-minute text messages and cell phone calls utilizing the improved coverage at Fulford sent out the frantic call that ferry traffic was almost up to the junction. Hurry! Hurry! Needless to say, one Old Boy did not make the cut even before the first kick off.
Prematch nerves were calmed as the team settled down in the exclusive state room kindly supplied by the BC Ferry Corporation for team transit for off-island fixtures by discussing a wide range of subjects, such as: Would the new Sunday gas station operating hours leave people stranded? Did Old Boys hope to aspire beyond the annual winning of the league’s “most sporting team” award as voted by the other participating clubs?
It was a blessing when the ref blew the whistle to start the season on a pitch so full of clover that the players were surprised there was no “natural” fertilizer to be seen. The grass was so lush it makes one wonder if Oak Bay is in a different climate zone from Salt Spring. It was obvious that the Old Boys’ main tactic of close accurate passing would need a bit more oomph if the ball was intended to reach its target.
The new goal-kick rule came into immediate effect as goalkeeper Richard Steel and the back defensive core were forced back into their own penalty area in trying to overcome a high offensive line by Castaways. Things were looking ominous, but a quick breakout using a more traditional long ball saw Mark Aston with assists from Rainer Funk and Ronaldo Barreto gave Old Boys an early lead.
Virtually straight from the centre circle, Castaways responded with a goal that happened as the Old Boys were still congratulating themselves on their own first goal.
By the 15-minute mark, the Old Boys had sussed that Castaways may be big and speedy but not fit, so using their well-honed skills the Old Boys easily moved the ball into scoring position. From one such sweeping move, Mike McCormick set up Barreto outside the box where a lashed shot hit the underside of the bar to regain the lead. Who is Barreto, you ask? Is he the surprise signing hinted at in a pre-season press meeting?
Old Boys were in cruise control as David Toynbee, set free by Aston and McCormick, nutmegged the goalkeeper to take a commanding 3-1.
But with only one sub, Old Boys began to show early season lack of stamina and Dennis Shaw after off-season knee surgery commendably called regularly for substitution so as to not impair the efficiency of the defence. Suddenly they were bolstered by the appearance of the “Malahat Cavalry” in the person of Scott Howe, who had missed the Fulford ferry, ready to increase the pressure on the home side. Howe was obviously desperate to reply to Tweddle’s implied reprimand of “You only had one thing to do . . . .” with a sterling effort in the second half.
Whether it was overconfidence or lactic acid build-up in the legs (but more probably in the brain), a defensive mix-up allowed a Castaways big cannon to narrow the score to 3-2. A certain amount of anxiety, fear or inevitability could be sensed in the Old Boys as they fought to retain the dominance of the first half as a resurgent Castaways pressed for the equalizer.
Gradually, however, the Old Boys regained composure with a fourth goal from Aston to more or less seal the victory. The only note of interest was a throw-in infringement where Shaw, famous throughout the league for his long throw-ins, reminiscent of Rory Delap of Stoke City, was called for lifting his leg (maybe I should edit this statement) much to his consternation and the amusement of his teammates. “The heavy load of the waistline can cause an involuntary lifting of the non-supporting leg.” – Third Principle of Levers, Archimedes 3 BCE.
The final whistle gave Old Boys a well-deserved victory in the clover of Carnarvon Park, but caution was the main topic of post-game conversations around the cooler.
Winter is coming north of the wall and as the fields get muddier and the cold Siberian winds of Finlayson, Lochside and Tyndall parks all bring a sense of anxiety to the team dressing room. For the next few games our “ringer” Ronald Barreto and his representative would make no firm commitment to the team as California and Florida were beckoning.
But a win is a win and Old Boys are tied for the imaginary first place in the SVICSA league, the league with no standings.
Old Boys now face Cordova Bay 48s next Sunday, Sept. 22 at 10:30 a.m. on an island at a place yet to be decided.