It is always tense when a decision is taken to examine a particular team ahead of an important game. Could I in all honesty write about the 1st XI as team of the week if they had lost their ISFA cup match against Harrow? Possibly not! The joyous news, however, is that they did win their match 3-2 and are now in the last 16, where they have been drawn away at Highgate.
I remember playing for Lancing under-14s at Highgate. It was an extremely tedious afternoon for me as I was in goal and we won 7-0. I barely touched the ball and the only excitement that came my way, if you can call it that, was when a wasp flew towards me, stung me on the neck and flew off. Obviously I rolled around on the ground in agony, hoping the ref or someone would notice and give me the recognition my torment demanded. No; the game continued to be played in the opposition’s half and no one noticed my plight. I had to man up and carry on watching everyone else have fun with no sympathy at all. This is probably partially why I am renowned for being so mentally tough today. I will obviously be telling our coaching team to pack some wasp repellent in case the current Highgate teachers are still training wasps to attack visiting goalkeepers.
The 1st XI have had a very good season so far. They have only lost one game and that was against Bradfield away, when they were beaten 4-2. Right back Jake Morris told me that he would not make any excuses for the defeat. “I will not make any excuses for the defeat,” he said. He continued, “However there were no linesmen, the referee was clearly the father of most of the Bradfield team and we were on the receiving end of two very harsh penalty decisions. A draw would have been a fair result.”
Harrow were unbeaten this season and had knocked Bury Grammar School out of the competition in the previous round 1-0 away. Bury had themselves knocked Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn out in the first round of the ESFA Cup, and so Harrow were clearly not to be underrated. The days of a team of rugby players trying to cope with the artistry of the beautiful game are clearly past, as Harrow has bowed to popular pressure and embraced the national pastime.
The match was put back by an hour as the Harrow bus struggled to find Shrewsbury. This might have been down to a number of reasons which I will put forward and you dear reader can select the one that you consider to be appropriate:
1) The driver was using Satnav.
2) They used an ancient map from their school library which was from the 1870s (the last time a Harrow team ventured to Shrewsbury).
3) Ex-professional footballer and Shrewsbury Town Legend, Shrewsbury 1st Team Coach Steve Biggins suggested they would enjoy the country route, adding hours on to their journey and ensuring they were a little slow to start the game. (Interestingly Shrewsbury scored in the first minute).
4) They were stuck on the motorway and driving through Bridgnorth seemed a good idea at the time.
5) The Harrow coach’s family come from Bridgnorth and he wanted to pick up a jar of homemade marmalade from his mum.
A large crowd had assembled to cheer on their favourites. It turned out that the crowd were to play an important role in the match. Not only did they notice that Rufus Litchfield in goal for Shrewsbury had an enormous kick but they also noticed the linesman waving his flag for an offside. They drew this to the attention of the referee who had just awarded a penalty to Harrow, which could have led to an equalising goal. Upon spotting the linesman’s raised flag, the referee changed his decision to a free kick for offside to Shrewsbury and the home crowd let out a collective sigh of relief.
There was still drama left in the match. ‘Hat-trick Hero Humes’ had headed (students of English, please notice the alliteration) in a brilliant third goal to put Shrewsbury 3-2 up, when Rufus ‘the cat’ Litchfield made a brilliant save, despite playing on in some pain having dislocated one of his shoulders. With no reserve keeper on the bench, he went through the pain barrier for the team and was typically modest after the event. “I went through the pain barrier for the team but it was not a very thick barrier if I am honest; in fact I didn’t see it at all,” Rufus said. After the game I caught up with a couple of the players. Max McClure (centre back and ISFA player), told me he was delighted for the team and that he felt right-winger Anton Nelson’s rap song “Welcome to my Island” had been significant in inspiring the team on to victory. Certainly Anton was ‘rapid’ - or is that ‘rappin’ - down the right wing. Anton was one of two Cayman Island youth internationals on the pitch. His friend was playing for Harrow. Anton told me, “My friend is a good player but he is not such a good rapper, and that was probably the difference on the day.”
First team coach and ex-Town Legend Steve Biggins felt the team could probably improve. “I feel the team could improve,” the Legend told me. Sadly at that point, the Legend was whisked off for a Sky interview, but I imagine if he had continued talking to me, he would have said something along the lines of “I am over the moon that the lads have done the business over the 90 minutes. I would have been sick as a parrot had we gone out after being two up, but we have shown some character after they equalised and battled back to win the game. You can’t say fairer than that”. (Actually I can, but I decide not to tell the Legend that.) I asked the Legend if he was looking forward to the next round and Highgate away. “We will just be taking it one game at a time. It is important not to look too far ahead – unless you are driving a large vehicle such as a jumbo jet or a cross-channel ferry. If we were in a league I would say that it is back to our bread and butter on Saturday as we entertain Millfield, however we are not in a league so I will not say that.” Assistant coach Will Hughes concurred with this interpretation. “How can I add anything to those Legendary words?” he said.
From this fan’s point of view, it was an excellent match and it was good to see football being played at such a high standard on a magnificent pitch. The team do appreciate the high standard of coaching and facilities they have here and last year’s under-16A captain Jake Morris confessed he enjoyed the high intensity training, the dedication required and the faster pace of the game at this level. Good luck at Highgate – and don’t get stung!
The 1st XI squad are:
1. William Hargreaves
2. Jamie Humes
3. George Lewis
4. Max McClure
5. Anton Nelson
6. Gene Ratanadaros
7. Jake Morris
8. Calvin Cheung
9. Lisle Gannon
10. Max Parsonage
11. Rufus Litchfield
12. Ben Jones
13. Harry Schofield
14. Ben Smith