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How to submerge bad news

Maccabi Lions White [n – where n is a positive integer > 1] – [0] HMH Wildcats

Rowley Lane

Challenge Cup 3rd Round

26 January 2014

Before getting into the usual reportage I’d like to briefly consider a few important matters of mathematics, strategy, history and climate change. And even before scaling those scholarly peaks I should apologise for the lack of photographs in this report. This is no reflection on the functionality of the multi-megapixel facility built into my phone, rather that said portable electronic device is not guaranteed to be waterproof, and even if it were, would you really want to see pictures of rain? To make up for this unfortunate deficit, you may notice an abundance of watery metaphors, references and allusions in their place.

But first let’s get the maths out of the way. A football match comprises 22 players, one inflated spheroid and 80 minutes (at least at U16 level) of earth time. Making allowance for seconds lost to throw ins, waiting for free kicks and goal kicks to be taken, retrieval of balls from nearby ponds and so on, a simple calculation reveals that on average, a player will spend no more than 3 minutes on the ball during a typical game. Astoundingly, and to needlessly drive the point home, a total of 28 hours of player time is spent ‘not having the ball’ in an 80 minute game! Given that almost the entire match is therefore spent without the ball, it is worth giving some thought to the most effective way of using all that time.

How to deploy ones self effectively during the hours of ‘dispossession’ is possibly the greatest strategic challenge of any manager or coach. At times, the Wildcats have addressed this challenge head on and played with the most masterful command of strategic considerations, but not always when one might expect it. From the vantage point of the touchline it is pleasing on the eye to see the team defending in well-drilled formation, their two lines of four creating all manner of vexatious conundrums for frustrated opponents who struggle to create chances. Paradoxically they have produced some of their best strategic play when up against the strongest teams, or obliged (as they were in their last league match) to field a team short of a man or two.

The first half of today’s game was another perfect illustration of the strategic art, as the Wildcats skillfully plugged the gaps and the Lions huffed and puffed but struggled to get anything on target. Only once did the waves of Lions’ attacks breach the Wildcats defenses in the first half, so all was finely balanced during the half time drenching.

Students who trawl the Wildcats chronicles will know that Rowley Lane has not been a happy hunting ground in recent years, save for a memorable cup final win (against a team that was not the Maccabi Lions) two seasons ago. A combination of visually challenged linesmen, faulty timepieces and ill luck has contrived to deny the Wildcats the results their play has frequently deserved. But today’s encounter was always going to be different, because Maccabi Lions White are currently top of the top Division, unbeaten in the league, and clearly a formidable outfit. This might almost have been billed as a David and Goliath clash, typical of cup competitions, in which a team of plucky underdogs does their best to upset the odds. Think of Watford’s trip this weekend to Manchester City, or Tottenham’s Coventry’s visit to Arsenal. We knew to expect a tsunami of attacks, and that if the strategy went awry there was the unthinkable prospect that the floodgates might open.

Which brings me nicely on to climate change, and the repeated deluges that have afflicted the country over last couple of months. There are some countries that opt for a winter break in the football season, but here in the UK the break is rigorously enforced by the monsoon rains, so it was all of six weeks since our buoys last played. As we arrived today, the clouds were gathering and the rain arrived right on cue with the pre-match warm up. It isn’t often that the supporters of both sides are pleading for the merciful release of the final whistle even before kick-off, but with the water rising around us and our hosts ignoring the obvious need for some speedy ark building, an even greater concern was that we might be subjected to extra time and penalties. The referee summoned the captains, and with the pleasantries over the Wildcats found themselves paddling upstream in the first half.

After which lengthy digression and preamble, and notwithstanding the need to restrict myself to one page, I can turn at last to a detailed analysis of the events of the game. We lost – ‘nuff said.

Man of the match: Otter Otto

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