These are dark times for T&F Friday Football. With its very existence under threat from a Tiny Toes broadside, those hackneyed words of inspiration have finally been realised in South Oxfordshire: every game really should be treated as our last. And it was with words to this effect that both teams started the league’s latest game following some serious limbering up and a couple of earnest-looking team huddles led by Kitty Jansz and Niall Slater, both going solo for the first time in the absence of their co-captains.
Most games these days seem to start in one of two ways – very slowly, or blisteringly – and it was in the latter manner that our first contest began. Closet Welshman Hugh Evans was unsurprisingly at its forefront. Having scored a hat-trick across MickleSlate’s opening games against The Bankers, Evans was clearly keen to add to his tally and his neat footwork and close-control, combined with a rasping drive that came back off the crossbar, was the highlight of the first few minutes. The yellow-clad Mickleslate’s, with a starting line-up of Evans, Alison Campbell, Kirstin Heilmann, Gregg Warren and Slater in nets, continued to enjoy much of the possession, and only an off-target effort from KittEms’ experienced utility man Tom Church punctuated the Canaries’ pressure.
This punctuation proved to be just that, though, as Warren pinballed a rebound through ringer ‘keeper Andy Roe’s pins after he could only divert an Evans shot to the lurking Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. Roe nearly made amends soon after when he chucked a quick throughball to KittEms dangerman Church, but it had just a little too much on it. With moments to spare until half-time, Jansz threw on veterans Mike McNulty and Vikki Rose, bedecked in a Man City jersey (glory?), for Church and herself, and it nearly backfired when Evans went clear on goal after strolling through a non-existent defence. With Roe down on the mats Evans should have rested a small pillow between the teams but he cracked against the post to leave the score at 1-0.
Ben Piggott, who we all got to know so well in a recent parklife, for Warren was the only change for the Mince while KittEms made another couple of changes, which involved Jansz, Bev Cousins, Evan Stevenson and Tom Jeatt. In what order I’m not entirely sure due to poor shorthand, but what my memory does tell me is that Cousins in particular was, or was about to, have a cracking game. ‘You can tell she plays hockey’, someone said, as we all nodded sagely, recollecting another bit of calmness on the ball, or precision passing. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for her teammate McNulty. If Jamie Redknapp was a T&Fer, he’d have labelled McNulty a ‘top, top player’ long ago, but the Southpaw was showing a few too many touches in his continued comeback from injury and it looked like he needed a Dan Hartley to bark him into shape. He didn’t, and it was left to fellow KittEm Alec Dubber to achieve parity for the Blues with his first T&F Friday Football goal after a free transfer from Palgrave: a cool finish across Slater’s goal.
The balance had shifted, and just seconds later Church almost grabbed a goal after he broke through a high Mickleslate’s backline, but Slater was equal, pushing his drive over his bar. The ‘keeper didn’t have to wait long until he was called into action again, but this time he had no reply. Picking up the ball and facing goal Cousins played a glorious one-two with Church before placing a measured finish past Slater to put the KittEms into the lead for the first time. The sight of Church’s ecstasy was pure joy to behold, and it seemed as if hearts and minds had been won in the crowd: a huge roar met the goal and the KittEms looked set for an historic win after previously looking so vulnerable. How cruel it seemed, then, when Roe was ignominiously nutmegged for the second time just seconds later, this time by old pro Ben Woolhead, to stop the revitalised KittEms in their tracks. Further chances followed, not least another Woolhead effort after a carbon copy Cousins/Church one-two with Campbell and a last gasp McNulty thwack, but the game ended 2-2.
Heartened by a point gained, Jansz elected to ignore precedent by continuing to field a lady, starting with herself straight off. With just two girls on duty for Mickleslate’s, Slater did no such thing, resting Campbell and Heilmann after a straight 20-minute run out for both in the first game. Just moments had passed before the balcony realised that this was going to be telling, Evans and Robbie Cooke each scoring their first of the day and moving one goal closer to nine-goal Dean Lockyear, crucially absent for the KittEms. The underrated rugger boy Cooke then slotted two more past a visibly frustrated Roe to make the hat-trick prior to Woolhead’s third of the season, which made it 5-0 to Mickleslate’s. Dizzying stuff. If it was a fight, they’d have stopped it.
Slater reacted by making changes to slow down the game, but a goal-hungry Evans incorrigibly added a few more to the tally. “Someone throw down their towel”, resident pundit Olly Cooper was heard crying. Not to be outdone, Captain Slater slammed an eighth in after some nice approach play by his thespian twin Piggott, but there was still time for a KittEms consolation: McNulty showing some class and finishing nicely to put an ever so slight dent in the scoreline. That was where the action ended, though, and for the second successive game of the season an empathic crowd trudged away awkwardly, patting the backs of the victims of another 8-goal flagellation. The KittEms were left kicked in, but it's all looking rather gay for the Mince.
Game One: The Kicking KittEms 2 - 2 MickleSlate’s Moray Mince
Game Two: The Kicking KittEms 1 - 8 MickleSlate’s Moray Mince
Cooke 3; Evans 3; Woolhead 2; Warren; Dubber; Cousins; Slater; McNulty.
Kicking KittEms: Kitty Jansz; Alec Dubber; Bev Cousins; Ewan Stevenson; Tom Church; Mike McNulty; Tom Jeatt; Vikki Rose (ringer); Andy Roe (ringer).
MickleSlate’s Moray Mince: Niall Slater; Ben Woolhead; Gregg Warren; Hugh Evans; Alison Campbell; Ben Piggott; Kirstin Heilmann; Robbie Cooke.