Old Boys end season on winning note

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 SUBMITTED BY A SALT SPRING OLD BOYS PLAYER who is not Fraser Hope

The pouring rain on Saturday complemented the Old Boys mood as only nine hardy souls arrived at Finlayson Park in Victoria for their opening game in the annual Bill Drew end-of-season tournament. 

Included in the nine was a return after a two-season absence of the doughty Jim Witherspoon in goal, and further panic recruitment by coach Tweddle, as the referee called the captains together, saw the Old Boys squad bolstered by two stragglers:  Fernando and Rick (who increasingly looks as though he was born into the actual Celtic speaking Picts from 9th century Scotland).

Confidence was further eroded as the Old Boys surveyed the opposition, players from a combined team of Vic West and Fernwood, two of the strongest teams on Vancouver Island. However, the Old Boys started well, and albeit playing conservatively held their own, when Mike McCormick pounced on an errant back pass to round the keeper for a 1-0 lead. McCormick’s calmness in front of goal and his prolific scoring record this season is leading to an emerging nickname of the Salt Spring Salah.

Despite the solid start by the Old Boys, a defensive mix-up between Don Brown and Graham Tweddle, led to a Vic West equalizer. Not to be outdone, however, another back pass was picked off by the Salt Spring Salah, who this time faked one way before calmly stroking the ball past the keeper for a 2-1 Old Boys lead at half time.

The second half resumed with the Old Boys playing well until 15 minutes before the end, when team shape seemed to evaporate into a vacuum which Vic West duly filled by scoring another equalizer. The emergence, after missing the 9:50 a.m. ferry, of Martin Thorn to the Old Boys ranks with five minutes remaining did little to fill the void and Vic West duly scored again to run out 3-2 victors. The Old Boys retired to the beer garden with three hours before their second match was due to kick-off – not a good omen.

Bolstered by the addition of Sean Goddard who returned from deepest, darkest Sooke the Old Boys took on arch foes Gorge in the second match. As expected, a fiercely contested match resulted in which Gorge took a lead from a nicely hit free kick that sailed over Witherspoon’s outstretched hand into the corner of the net. Despite the Old Boys being marginally the better team at this point, Gorge struck again, this time with a glorious volley from 25 yards out after Thorn’s defensive clearance. Tempers rose as several contemptible decisions were made by the referee and a potentially testy game began to overheat. The Old Boys’ fighting spirit emerged and was exemplified by Mike Davis who, having accidentally felled (literally by falling over) his opponent, responded to the opposition protestations in commanding fashion before the Gorge player skulked away. Not to be outdone, however, Dave Toynbee took matters to the next level after a Gorge player insulted the Old Boys goaltender Witherspoon. The ensuing altercation, in which Toynbee stood up for his goalkeeper’s honour, almost took the contest to boiling point as the referee threatened to abandon the game, that is, before the peace-making efforts of the ever-diplomatic Marc Aston, who calmed proceedings down.

The Old Boys continued to reach into the depths of their reserves and began slowly to dominate the game. A fine move from the right-hand side saw Brown slide a pass to Aston, who stepped inside and avoided a scything Gorge challenge and blindly fed a streaking Sean Goddard who outmuscled his Gorge defender to score. 

Continued exertions resulted from the Old Boys but were stemmed somewhat by the dismissal by the Dutch referee of Pete Smith (acquired on waivers from Calgary). The referee took exception when Smith, upon request, gave his name as Dennis Bergkamp while being shown a yellow card. Clearly in over his head at this point, the referee said, “Sod it,” (or words to that effect) and swiftly changed the colour to red. The Old Boys battled on and created several half chances but couldn’t convert again and left the field with a 2-1 loss.

Sunday morning the Old Boys rolled onto the ferry in an optimistic mood as freshly signed Dave McColl, answered the call (or plea) for reinforcements. Managerial wizardry from Tweddle may have saved his job for next year, in part due to the frugal nature of the Old Boys ownership not wanting to trigger the pay-out fee in Tweddle’s contract. Antonio Conte be warned.

A late ferry and poor travel planning led to the Old Boys arriving almost just in time for their third tournament game. Starting with just seven players, the Old Boys faced the Mojos from Portland, Ore. Within five minutes the numbers had swelled to nine as Old Boys came running from vehicles straight onto the pitch, devoid of any warm-up. Within eight minutes (and still the game tied 0-0) the Old Boys had 11 on the pitch and incredibly a substitute. The addition of McColl and the efforts of Matt Johnson fresh from his gig in Campbell River offset the loss of Thorn, who found the previous days’ exertions had inflamed his sacroiliac.

The Old Boys, despite being restored to a full 11, looked unsurprisingly out of sorts and out of touch. Whether due to the lack of any warm-up or the exertions of the day before, the Old Boys struggled. A mix-up between Witherspoon and Scott Howe resulted in the opening goal of the game for the Mojos. More stats to take note of in the own goals and assists for the opposition category.

Half time came just as the Old Boys were starting to find their feet and the second half continued with the Old Boys now dominating the game. Domination eventually led to a cross that released the Salt Spring Salah, who duly dispatched the equalizer to tie the game at 1-1. Unfortunately, continued domination couldn’t break down the Mojos’ defence a second time and the game ended in a tie as talk from Mojo players at the end revolved around how improved the opposition were in the second half. Perhaps warm-ups do help? 

The Old Boys prepared for the final game of the tournament by swerving the beer the garden and resting up before their clash with the Centaurs from Victoria, who were bolstered by several Gorge players perhaps looking to rekindle recent hostilities.  Although the losing skid had been stopped the Old Boys were still less than pleased at having only one point from three winnable games.

Two weary but battle-hardened teams took to the field in a slow but competitive contest on the large and fast Finlayson turf. Howe in particular had a barnstorming match, perhaps encouraged from the sidelines by his newly recruited Old Boys supporter. The midfield battle that emerged was broken when Pete Smith hit a 25-yard strike over the head of the Centaurs goalie to give the Old Boys the lead. This was followed by a fine move down the right that led to the ball being played to an on-rushing Aston, who instead of shooting, heard the call from the left and poked the ball to Toynbee, who bent an unstoppable shot into the far corner, 2-0 Old Boys. 

Another chance saw Toynbee feed Aston whose left-foot shot was saved by the diving Centaurs keeper. Half-time Old Boys up 2-0. Would curses from distant pasts result in the predictable Old Boys second-half collapse, Fraser Hope was quoted as saying! 

The Old Boys, however, continued to doggedly resist Centaur efforts but were thwarted when a shot cannoned off Howe’s side with his arm tucked in and unable to react.  Penalty, said Centaurs. Yes, said the referee, to the amazement and consternation of the Old Boys. Up stepped Vic West loanee Carlos, who visibly withered at Witherspoon’s steely gaze and hit an insipid shot that was saved. Vindication for a terrible decision, the Old Boys rejoiced and added a third goal for good measure to round off an impressive 3-0 romp over the Centaurs.

Ferry schedules being as accommodating as they are resulted in the Old Boys able to dissect the weekend’s events in the beer garden before departing. The weekend may have started with pouring rain and dour performances but just as the weather had held up so did the Old Boys’ spirit and determination, resulting in a winning finale to the season’s end. 

Now all that is left is the end of team awards banquet, where trophies such as the Golden Boot, Little Boot, Red Mist, Iron Man, Defensive Rock and Most Games Missed will be handed out. A full awards night report will be submitted to the Driftwood before the start of next season.

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