After essay deadlines, bad weather and general apathy caused a spate of cancellations before the Easter break, Hardly Athletic faced the final three games of our debut season in the first week of term. This was bad news for a team whose fitness levels were more akin to a darts team than eleven-a-side football.
The week’s first game was against fellow strugglers Classic XI, whose only ever victory came against Athletic in November’s reverse fixture. Fearing the worst after an Easter break which couldn’t be further from warm weather training in Dubai and possessing a streamlined squad, Athletic started the game in an uncharacteristically positive manner. Five minutes in, George Yates delivered a delicious cross which was finished calmly by Alex Birrell.
Leading in a competitive game for the first time in our history, Athletic didn’t let up. The lead was swiftly doubled by Jacob Layfield, who slotted through the goalkeeper’s legs to make it 2-0. Nobody could quite believe what they were seeing. Playing with the confidence and ability of Arsenal’s invincibles, Athletic made it 3 after Layfield dinked the goalkeeper with a sumptuous chip. The Thierry Henry of Intra Mural was on fire and had made a mockery of Classic XI’s goalkeeper.
[pullquote]A swift hatrick from Liam Mulligan completed a comeback that made Istanbul 2005 look like childs play[/pullquote]
The trailing side hit back just before half time. The cockiness had set in and nobody was worried. After a rousing team talk, Athletic made it 4-1 when Liam Mulligan got in on the act with a fine finish. Shortly after, Classic made it 4-2.
Worry did set in this time. It was, however, misguided as Layfield completed his spectacular hattrick with a header from Andrew Watson’s perfect cross. Ben Lowes completed the rout with a drilled shot from outside the area – Athletic were in heaven. 6-2 up and cruising, we even managed to give a cameo appearance to committed fan Rupert Truman, which was his first football appearance since a local church five-a-side tournament aged eight.
At long last, Athletic had their Rocky II moment. While Rocky was victorious against the World Heavyweight Champion and Athletic defeated the only other dreadful team in Intra Mural, the hard-earned victory was just as sweet. It also, owes a lot to Layfield’s performance. A proven goal scorer for Narberth AFC in Wales’ Pembrokeshire League, Layfield has been a real coup for the third division outfit. Where the hell has he been all season?
Buoyed by the maiden victory and slightly hungover due to the celebrations, Athletic faced mid-table outfit IngSoc the following day. We found ourselves 4-0 down at half time – the victory the day before felt like years ago. Early in the second half, Callum Smith leapt like a salmon to meet Jacob Layfield’s cross and headed home to give Athletic a way back into the game. A swift hattrick from Liam Mulligan completed a comeback that made Istanbul 2005 look like child’s play. Unfortunately, we proceeded to fall apart and IngSoc won 6-4. The less said about that the better.
[pullquote]Yours truly led a pitch invasion as the half-cut fans entered a state of bedlam[/pullquote]
The week’s final game, against high-flying Sevilla Depression, brought the season to a close in a suitably farcical fashion. Athletic went one up before a spell of Ashley Williams-esque defending handed an equaliser to Sevilla. Athletic conceded again just after half time but hit back after a spell of heavy pressure. After some liquid football, Liam Mulligan powered a shot into the roof of the net to square the game. The man most certainly has a foot like a traction engine. Sevilla inevitably went 3-2 up before the game ended in a true Hardly Athletic manner.
In injury time, Jonny Eccles won a penalty for the trailing side after his pass may have struck a defender’s hand - the eagle-eyed referee must be praised for spotting such a contentious decision. The ever-reliable Layfield stepped up and scuffed his penalty straight at the keeper. Fortunately, his poacher’s instinct came into play and he converted the rebound.
Carnage ensued. As it stood, the point would have taken Athletic off the foot of the table for the first time since it was in alphabetical order. Yours truly led a pitch invasion as the half-cut fans entered a state of bedlam. All that was missing was a flare and a couple of blue smoke bombs.
I hadn’t made it off the pitch before Sevilla had scored with the final touch of the game to make it 4-3. A Sam Allardyce-esque hoof forward wasn’t dealt with by Athletic and Sevilla pounced. We were crushed – only Hardly Athletic could fuck it up quite like this.