No sooner had the aches and pains of our last (and first) foray into the world of competitive social inclusion football had eased, we were back for more punishment!
We had been very kindly invited by the great team at the Derby County Community Trust to take part in their Active Choices Recovery Cup. So, after a very early start, we were on the road heading for the East Midlands with vague dreams of winning a trophy, but a very definite sense of spending another great day with some good friends kicking a ball about.
The size of the squad had to grow as this was to be a 7-a-side tournament, or at least it was when we left. By the time we got there, thanks to some no-shows and drop-outs, it had become a 6-a-side tournament. Given there was only 7 of us, that was a blessing!
Thanks to the transfer window being open, we welcomed two new comers in the squad; Gavin Dawson and Richard Morley. Two fine additions to the team so I couldn't have been happier. Richard gains an extra bonus for being a Nottingham Forest fan like me ;-)
With the initial fixture list going out the window, our re-jigged first match was against Everton. A tough start as they had a reputation as being a good team, they were the previous winners of the last tournament we entered in fact. The sun was shining and the energy and enthusiasm was high for both teams. It was a close match but ultimately we lost 1-0. Not a great start, but a good performance gave us something to build upon.
For the next match we were playing a team called 'Active Jack'. Hopes were high that this was just going to be one very fit person playing on his own, but sadly it wasn't be. Instead, one of the multiple Derby Active Choices teams were our next opponents. They had home advantage, so we had to pull something out of the bag to kickstart our tournament.
It looked like things were looking up as we soon cruised into a 3-0 lead. Goals from Andrew and 2 from Callum gave us confidence and we settled into the match. The '0' was even more amazing given I had replaced Richard M. in-between the sticks (as us footballers call the goal) ;-)
As the game ticked down, they started to assert some pressure pulling one goal back, then another. With one minute to go it was 3-2 then Peter went for a tackle on the edge of the box which was beautifully done in a style only someone who dislocated his elbow in the last tournament could do, full of heart and passion. At which point the referee blew for a penalty! Nooooo!
Arguably it was on the edge of the box (i.e. it was definitely just outside) but it certainly wasn't a foul (says the perfectly impartial writer of this blog) ;-) Still, they had a penalty kick, with only me to save the day. I didn't. Deep into the bottom left hand corner it went, like a spherical missile. We snatched a draw from the jaws of a fine victory. A little disheartened but at least we didn't lose and we did have our first point on the board.
The next match brought us down to Earth with a bump...or six bumps to be exact! 6-1 to Live Well. A team of fitness instructors posing as a very good football team! Just when we thought we were making good (if slow) progress, we got a tanked. We needed a plan. We needed a shape. We needed a formation that worked. We needed a drink!
After the first set of matches, the fixtures were all repeated so we had to play Everton again. We gave them a good game last time, so anything was possible.
As manager I had tinkered with the team and came up with a formula that was almost guaranteed to work. I didn't play! Richard and Gavin organised the lads on the pitch and left all the important pointless shouting on the touchlines to me. To be honest (and definitely not an excuse) I've been coughing up a lung for the past three weeks so running around too much wasn't really a good idea. I had every faith in my team and my managerial masterstroke worked! We beat Everton 2-0. With Peter attaching himself like a limpet to one of the Everton players, our defence was rock solid. Who'd have thought I'd make such a brilliant manager! Squad rotation and motivation are so going on my CV. I guess the lads on the pitch may have helped a bit, but man, what a manager huh!
The match wasn't without casualties. One of the Everton lads took a hard football to two other smaller softer ones which put an end to his match. Let's hope the guy with the GoPro strapped to his head captured that moment. Do you still get £250 from You've Been Framed?
Next up, another match against Active Jack. They had an interesting addition to their team, the referee from our first game with them. Hmmm! I'm sure that won't come back and be an issue though.
After racing into a seemingly unassailable lead in our first match, only for that to prove to be very assailable indeed, we were confident we could get our second victory to really push on. Things were looking rosy. It was a harder match for sure but, with just a minute to go, we were 2-1 up. What could possibly go wrong? I mean it's not like they were going to be awarded another penalty in the last minute due to a handball right? Wrong!
I know what you're thinking. If it was a handball, then they should get a penalty, and you're right. Except the person who handballed it was the goalkeeper! WTF! After what happened in the first game, this was a little frustrating to say the least. Have you seen Pixar's Inside Out movie? When Anger blows his top and flames come shooting out of his head? That was Richard Bendelow! There goes our chance of winning the Fair Play Trophy!
Colourful language was plentiful resulting in a warning from the organisers. We absolutely appreciate the need to be respectful of refereeing decisions (even the dodgy ones) but twice in a row, with the same time, in the last minute? Someone call a statistician! Sufficed to say we felt very badly done by.
Now here's where the story gets a little 'controversial'. Now I'm not saying that because we were in Derby and our team had not one, but TWO Nottingham Forest supporters in it, that decisions didn't go our way, but I'm definitely sure that's what happened. For legal reasons, that's not what happened. (but it definitely is...allegedly.)
Despite our frustrations, we regrouped and moved on. Unfortunately we were moving onto another match with Active Life who thumped us in the first match. Oh boy!
And by 'oh boy' I meant that we, almost unbelievably, beat them 3-0 (it might have been 3-1 but I was too excited to keep score!). What a result! Adam Rowley, fountain of all knowledge, later referred to as "the game of the tournament". Official endorsement that's legally binding and can't be repealed at any point.
After a rocky start, some very good and some very dubious decisions, we had made the top half of the draw. We were in with a chance of winning some silverware! Unbelievable Jeff! For a team who have only played together once before and considering the level of competition we were up against, we were all over the moon (and all other football cliches).
After a lunch break and a chance to restock on Lucozade Energy drinks, we had two matches left to play. The first semi-final was going to be between us and our friends from the Middlesbrough FC Foundation. Doh! We came all the way to Derby to end up with a derby match against our local neighbours. They are a fantastic outfit who do great work in our local area and a very good team to boot! The winners would go into the final and were guaranteed a trophy so it was all to play for! We had to play out of our skins to beat them, which with a combined age of about 66 and an average weight of 20st (most of that is me), it was going to be a tall order...and I'm only 5ft 7"!
Sadly, we were well beaten by a very good side. Our lack of fitness was starting to show with gaps opening up at the back that even Peter, with his important blocks, and Richard, who was still pulling off a string of important saves couldn't do anything about. Whilst we were blowing out of our arses, our strength of team spirit kept us going. We were going to have to settle for the 3rd place play-off.
I had promised my son I was going to bring a trophy home. Looks like I was going to need to stop off at a trophy shop on the way home!
Going into our last match, I assumed the goalkeeping gloves and we summoned all of the energy we had left for one last push against a new team; Jericho House. It didn't start well. We soon found ourselves 3 goals behind, but we weren't finished yet!
Gradually, with some stunning goals from Andrew, we were back in it. Little by little, we were getting back in the game! 3-0 became 3-1! 3-1 became 3-2. With the dying minutes of the match, Andrew (who must have been a contender for the Golden Boot) got the ball at his feet. I could see from my goal area he was positioning his body for a strike right into the top corner of their goal. It was like it was happening in slow-motion. He struck the ball with all the power of Stuart Pearce in his prime and the ball went sailing right from his boot and right ...... into the next pitch! Hit like a upwardly mobile banana! Oh no! Our dreams of salvation dashed, but who cares! What an amazing day.
I never in my wildest dreams thought we'd finish the day 4th (and no, it wasn't out of 4!). There were some incredibly talented teams there who play regularly all over the country, and then there was us. Little Men Tell Health, only playing for the second time and with two lads who had never played before. What a performance by everyone, but especially us. I was so, so happy and very proud of the lads.
Middlesbrough FC Foundation played Live Well in the final (who, let's not forget, we beat 3-0, but let's definitely forget that they beat us 6-1). It was a great match, full of skill and passion. The perfect way to bring the tournament to an end.
A very close contest in the end. Had it not been for an amazing block late in the game it might have been a different story, but a massive congratulations to Claire Streeter (probably the second best manager there) and all the lads from the Middlesbrough FC Foundation on their well-deserved victory. You can read their own blog about the day right here.
There was a nice sense of serendipity that Derby won the last tournament in Middlesbrough, and Middlesbrough won this tournament in Derby.
Even though we finished 4th ultimately (of which I'm still incredibly proud and still more than a little amazed), I like to think that as they're from Middlesbrough and we're from Middlesbrough that we can take their triumph as a moral victory for us too and look forward to sharing the trophy for the next year! When can I come and pick it up Claire?
All that's left to be said is a HUGE thank you to Adam Rowley and all the staff and volunteers at the Derby County Community Trust not to mention the referees (but not all of them ;-) for giving up their time and for putting on a fantastic day.
Finally, I'd like to say an even bigger thank you to the lads who gave up them their time to play for Team Men Tell Health who help support and spread the word of this site. No-one ended up in A&E which was always a bonus! I'm so proud and grateful to Richard 'Short Fuse' Bendelow, Callum 'Alice Bands Are For Men Too' Bendelow, Andrew 'Fit Bit' Clark, Peter 'The Rock' Burgess, Richard 'The Cat' Morley and Gavin' 'Swipe Right' Dawson (excluding Martin 'Dropped Out Twice at Short Notice' Baird!). Thank you guys. Next stop Europe!
More accurately next stop was TIbshelf Services for a team celebratory meal. McDonalds all round, undoing all the hard work and exercise we'd done earlier that day but we were loving it!
You can the Derby County Community Trust's own blog on the day right here.
If you fancy joining Team Men Tell Health on our next journey around the country, please let us know! No skills required, just a good sense of humour and a willingness to have fun!