By FRASER HOPE
The Old Boys’ plight went from bad to worse, if you can possibly imagine, following the dire happenings of the last few weeks.
The World Health Organization ordered an alert of a coronavirus mutation designated MOGD (MissingOnGameDay) that appeared to strike down many if not most of the Old Boys squad. Tweddle, Howe, Brown, Eadie, Cooper, Steel, McCormick and this reporter were confined to an area of the Queen of Cumberland to ensure no BC Ferries passenger could approach within a two-metre radius, ensuring a sort of “safe” zone. This marked isolation was not the best preparation for a return to Finlayson Park for a game against the “Beasts,” formally known as Centaurs 48s, but Old Boys being Old Boys shrugged off the humiliation.
Discussion turned to ways of expanding the Old Boys’ social media footprint and much was made of the decision to make accessibility for all on the new YouTube channel with subtitled and descriptive audio a priority.
As reporter Hope was being escorted to the elevator, a complete stranger asked about our special group status. “With all your UK accents, Londoners, Evertonians, “Brough” Boys and Leith Keelies, are you the top security detail heading for H&M’s place?” I replied that although we are big and burly we are more in need of a security detail than the VIP visitors, and descended to the car deck for unloading, suitably non-plussed.
Centaurs welcomed us as worthy opponents at the field more especially as we had only our resident Victoria Old Boy Nic Mai to add to the “shackled seven.” Gallant as ever, Centaurs supplied us with three subs to make both sides even at 11 at kickoff. Old Boys wore several extra layers not because of the fear of the virus but because it was rather “parky” and cold enough to freeze the “brass sphericles off a Hominoidea!” as the wind swept off the steppes of Finlayson.
Both sides started at a tremendous pace, determined to stamp their authority on the game and possibly on their opponents, as is the Centaurs’ want. There was end-to-end action for the first 10 to 15 minutes with both goalkeepers coping with what shots came their way. Surprisingly, the Old Boys, wearing white strip, were able to string passes that avoided their opponents in red, something beyond the usual failings.
Donny Brown was called into defensive action, overhauling a breakaway striker, managing enough contact to deflect a shot that would have given goalkeeper Richard Steel some anxious moments. Further pressure followed a free kick, taking three desperate clearances to move the ball out of the danger area. As always, when Old Boys need a breather, Ben Cooper is given the task of running to the other end of the field and allowing a brief respite for the defence.
A moment of concern was felt by the Old Boys as a long, looping shot appeared to take Steel off his line by surprise. Ye of Little Faith! Steel nonchalantly turned and waited for the ball to strike the cross and bounce to the ground and into his eating arms. VAR (Video Assistant Referee) replays rewarded Steel’s aplomb by indicating the ball never crossed the goal line (like in July 1966 WC’s no goal), so play on!
Centaurs pressure forced the Old Boys to take five goal kicks in succession and eventually move up field with Donny Brown sending a long cross goalward from the right wing. It eluded all except the rising Mai, who nodded in a glorious header to open the scoring in favour of the Old Boys.
A valiant corner attempt by Scott Howe had unintended consequences as the attackers returned the clearance back into the box for a striker to hit a first-time mis-shot that unfortunately tied the game at 1-1 literally seconds before the whistle.
Half-time tactics? Just keep ploughing ahead with the wind at our backs! Dennis Shaw arrived as a late addition for his engine-room duties on the Q of C and went straight into action as assistant referee, running the flag.
With fatigue increasing in all legs the game almost came to a crawl, but occasional bursts of energy gave hope for both teams. Some opine that the players slow down, but in reality, the pitch “speeds up!”
With time winding down, Dave Eadie, who caught the earlier attention of the referee, clashed with an attacker while both were challenging for the ball. The ref pointed to the stop for a rather soft penalty award. After a retake was ordered, the Centaur striker gave Steel no chance and acquired a rather controversial lead for his team. Steel kept the score from mounting with a fine save by his chin, and Shaw gave Mike McCormick the chance of a breakaway, but a powerful shot found the netting — unfortunately the side netting — and the Old Boys’ last chance to tame The Beasts brought the game to a close.
Post-game analysis centred on the decision by the referee to ignore the VAR replays of the penalty incident, which clearly showed minimal contact between the players. With the TV commentators agreeing no foul, the Old Boys felt quite contented to put an asterisk* in the record books against the Centaurs’ result. Mai was congratulated on his goal and thanked once again for his half-time sugar rush of chock biscuits and Coke (the soft drink, not any A-class stimulants).
Ferry conversations centred on the need for more players and the suggestion to once again place a recruitment poster below the portrait of Her Majesty in the forward saloon on the ship. More important than an Islands Trust proposed Bylaw 512 seasonal cottages rezoning discussion was a desire to watch Old Boys media coverage of the game courtesy of the newly acquired drone. YouTube Old Boys Masters was up and running for a few minutes on Sunday evening but the subtitles and descriptive audio caused the censors to pull the channel for fear of unwanted visitors, who might have used these accessibility features for more nefarious means. Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. president’s tweet fiasco, the Old Boys have not been able to resurrect the channel as yet.
Old Boys host Vantreights 48s on Sunday, Feb. 9 at GISS at 10:30 a.m., field conditions and MOGD virus willing.