Heroes of Waterloo 3 FC Griffin Park 4! The sun continues to shine on FCGP
Updated: Sep 16
Since the FC Griffin Park story began little more than a month ago I have been reflecting on my own journey, from playing computer games at the start of lock down to running a Sunday league football club at the end of it. Or looked at another way, I've got from virtual reality to cosplay in 6 months. Is playing real life 'Football Manager' whilst dressed as a full-kit Thomas Frank wanker instead of, say, finding a real job entirely healthy? Who knows. What I do know is that when we arrived at Regents Park last Sunday on a gloriously sunny Indian summer morning and started to prepare for the latest episode in the FCGP costume drama, there was nowhere else in the world I'd have rather been.
As top boy Bill Shakespeare once wrote it, "All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts". That was never more true than on Sunday: whether starter, sub, kit man, driver, supporter, captain or teammate, everyone played their parts to perfection and to those watching we put on a decent show.
This was a much anticipated pre-season friendly, pitting our new team again Farrell - Fulham fan, former team mate and manager of FC Brentford before the team was disbanded. From this old team has arisen, like a...Griffin, our new club, and here was our opportunity to put one over our old friend and Ron Jeremy lookalike. We spent the summer training with many of the Heroes and had an idea of the challenge in front of us. We knew it wouldn't be easy, but that if we played confidently and intelligently we could achieve the result we wanted.
So it was to prove, as Farrell and his Heroes met their own Waterloo (Prince Blucher, Duke of Wellington, your boys took one hell of a beating), which raises the question: Are we Napoleon's French imperial forces? Have we rewritten history? Are we the bad guys? Are we now all speaking French? Enough of this nonsense: Here is the match report.
The first 20 minutes was a cagey affair, with neither team creating any serious opportunities. Then, out of nowhere, a defensive mix-up presented Heroes with the opening goal. As we tried to play out from the back their player intercepted the ball and whipped it in the box, where a team mate was waiting to sweep the ball into the corner of the net. It was an undeserved lead for the hosts.
Worse followed. Chasing a ball in to the box, Alex pulled a hamstring. It looked painful to those of us watching from the sidelines, and Alex was understandably disappointed: he could smell the goals that were about to come our way. This prompted some personnel and positional changes, from which point we began to open up the opposition. 'Man of the Match Jack' moved from left to right back, and immediately set about trying to end my playing career once and for all. Jack sprayed his glorious balls into the opposition box at will, causing understandable havoc in the Heroes back line. From 40 yards, Jack picked out Ed - now playing as our striker - in the box, who calmly controlled and lifted the ball delicately over the onrushing goalkeeper. It was a delicious finish and a deserved equaliser.
It turns out my first hand accounts of what happens in these games may not be entirely reliable and requires fact checking. We took the lead from a corner when Andy arrived at the back post and headed it towards goal where Dyann was waiting to smash it over the line from 2 yards. Except this isn't what happened. It was only after the game, following quizzical looks from Dyann for praising him for his goal a game average, that it was confirmed that he hadn't scored at all, but Peanut had, in fact, got two goals. I'm not going to try and explain my way out of this mix up, for fear of coming across all John Motson. Oh yeah, and Andy's header was in fact a controlled right footed volley, which Peanut finished like the clinical goal poacher he is. It was no less than we deserved for our first half efforts. It was also the first time we had come from behind in a game to take the lead.
We started the second half in complete control and looked dangerous every time we went forward. Our attackers defended from the front, won the ball high and continually ran past their markers. The link up play from Ed, Dyann, Peanut and Natan was beautiful to watch. With two Brazilians in the side adding a bit of attacking flair, there was a flavour of Middlesbrough 1998 about our side. The 3rd goal was similar to the 2nd. From an FCGP corner the Heroes defence unwisely tried to play out from deep in their box. We won the ball back immediately and Peanut was in the right place at the right time to score a chance he couldn't miss.
From here there didn't look to be any way back for Heroes, but we never do things the easy way at FCGP, and once again we let a two goal lead slip. Their centre-back broke our high press and dribbled through our midfield. Just as Dan look set to clear, he pulled a groin muscle and the ball fell to their striker in the box who calmly placed it in the corner. A firmly hit freekick on the edge of the box took everyone by surprise to make it 3-3.
At this point it felt like perhaps the momentum would shift away from us and it wouldn't be our day after all. The team was having none of it. Instead of heads dropping, we redoubled our efforts and went on the offensive. The final 15 minutes were played almost exclusively in the Heroes half. Entering the last minute of the match we won a free kick outside the right corner of the box. With the box fully loaded, Natan, our new inside forward, placed a fantastic arcing shot into the "corridor of uncertainty", rooting the keeper to his spot as players threw themselves at the ball. It evaded everybody and kissed the far post on its way into the net. It was an moment of quality to cap off a fine performance on his debut for FCGP, which earned Natan the Man of the Match award (we can't give it to Jack every week).
That wasn't quite the end of the story. With their final attack Cameron pulled off an incredible sprawling save at the feet of a Heroes striker who looked certain to score from close range. Other highlights to mention include the performance of Jak, Dave, Jatin and James, playing in the two crucial defensive midfielder positions at different times throughout the game and did a great job breaking up the play, providing defensive cover and directing traffic. Tommy H did an excellent job on his debut in an unfamiliar position and Simon put in a solid performance in goal for the opposition, without him there we would have scored more. Finally, a special shout out to Joe, our kitman and my right hand man, whose excellent organisation meant everyone could turn up and just concentrate on playing football.
As the profile of the club grows, so do the demands and expectations of our supporters; one fan on Facebook responded to the scoreline by saying "Still conceding a lot as well. Just need to tighten up." Thanks Mr Supporter, I can assure you that the management has noticed, but in my view there are no quick fixes. The only way to improve is to play, and if mistakes happen trying to play the right way, so be it. I thought we were unlucky to concede 3 goals on Sunday. We did achieve one new milestone - we didn't concede a penalty!
Speaking with Farrell after the game, he thought we edged it because of our deep bench and fresher legs. Sure, that was part of it, but I think the reason we won goes deeper than that. It's a result of the tremendous character and team spirit that we have as a squad. Almost everyone arrived at 9.30am and was itching to go from the start. The warm up was done well and taken seriously. Jak arrived late and voluntarily benched himself. Jatin and Tommy took themselves off in the 2nd half when tired to allow fresher legs to come on. Kenny turned up to watch despite being injured. Everyone on the sidelines supported and encouraged the team throughout. It was heartwarming stuff. In every game now we've recovered from set backs, fought back into games and found a way to win it late. That's not a fluke.
Individual and team performances are improving week on week. Everyone is fitter and sharper. Teamwork, linkup play, tactical awareness and discipline are getting better. These are, however, the easy days, and there will be tougher tests from here. The sun won't always shine. We will lose games. We are yet to discover if we have what it takes on a cold, wet December morning away at Cranford. We will learn more about the character of the squad in those moments, but if we can continue the good habits we have established, and show the same team spirit and camaraderie - if all the players continue to perform their roles on the stage with vigour - then the future of this team is very bright indeed.
Up the Griffs!