Buoyed by a valiant performance in a 4-3 friendly defeat to Boca Seniors, Hardly Athletic went into their first league game of the season against Jesmond Tutu filled with anticipation and excitement.
Previously non-existent confidence had developed into bona fide arrogance as bold statements of ‘if we can give a division one side a game like that, we’ll have no problem in this league’ and ‘if we get promoted we’ve all got to stay to do a masters’ had been thrown around with very little self-awareness.
The salubrious setting of Pitch Three at 18th century manor house and golf club, Close House played host to this Division Three clash. Unfortunately, the quality of the surroundings was not reflected in the standard of football, from one side at least. Lacking the encouragement and intimidation of their ultras, who were strangely not so keen on an away day, Athletic slumped to a disastrous 8-1 defeat. A truly embarrassing outcome.
With only one player unavailable (due to a speed awareness course, not injury), the matchday squad seemingly possessed strength in depth. Or at least it would have if the car containing their goalkeeper, left back, left winger, number ten and centre forward had not managed to get completely lost on the ten-mile journey to Close House. It’s reassuring to know that the squad’s incompetence is not exclusively football related.
Fortunately, thirteen players had managed to arrive on time. Unfortunately, they had only brought ten shirts with them and were a pair of shin pads and boots short. As player-manager, I gallantly started on the bench and surrendered my shirt and boots to the starters. This resulted in possibly the first instance of shirtless management in the history of Association Football and the ruin of my once cherished Adidas Stan Smiths.
While the latecomers’ leisurely tour of Northumberland had just taken its fourth crossing of the River Tyne, the referee was keen to start the game. We were not. A makeshift starting XI was assembled reluctantly, which involved reverting to the primary school tactic of throwing the biggest lad in goal (without gloves) and hoping for the best. The game kicked off and Jesmond went 2-0 ahead after half an hour – not a great start. Five minutes later, the final car arrived, bringing reinforcements and a shred of hope. This hope disappeared instantly, as after forty minutes Athletic were 4-0 down.
With the last act of the half, the trailing side finally managed to string more than two passes together. Winger George Yates picked up the ball on the halfway line before picking out Liam Mulligan, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the box. 4-1, were things about to turn around?
No. Four more goals were conceded in the second half as Jesmond ran riot and Athletic crumbled. The game finished 8-1 – a truly uninspired performance dominated by errors. There were a couple of positives, though. Callum Jackson and deadline day signing Henry Clark played well in the centre of defence, an odd statement considering the result, but the former Raiders FC pairing stopped the score from becoming any more embarrassing. Tough-tackling midfielder Ben Lowes, determined to slide tackle at any opportunity, also put in a decent shift.
All in all, a day to forget for all involved with Hardly Athletic. I just hope that the board give me more time than Frank De Boer received at Crystal Palace. Stay humble.