Let's go back to one very wet December morning in 2016 and, yes, we were at it again. No not that! (filthy mind!). No, we'd been kindly invited by our friends at North East Athletic to take part in their Christmas In Recovery Cup, taking place at a very wet Durham University Sports campus. It was pouring down so we were soaking wet even before the sweat started pouring. Did we mention it was wet?
As is always the case, here at Men Tell Towers we operate a fluid and dynamic squad rotation policy. I don't expect any of you non-football efficieandos to understand the complexities of the policy but, sufficed to say, if people can't play, won't play, drop out at the last minute or ignore our begging emails, then we scramble around looking for replacement to make up the numbers. That said, we had assembled the largest squad ever! It can only be a good thing!
As the squad started to descend on the campus, the team was coming together nicely.
The banter was flowing as usual, which is only helped by one of the team turning up in these bad boys! If only life came with an Instagram filter ;-)
There were no over-sized headphones to accompany them, but have you ever seen a footballer wearing something like this and not been world-class? What do you mean 'Yes' ???
Luminous footwear aside, we were ready to drink milk and kick-ass...and we were all out of milk.
I'll be honest, it took a little while to kick-ass. Hartlepool FC were training on one of the pitches we were supposed to be using and chaos seemed to be raining (see, not just wet) on the others, so we had to spend the 'warm-up' time trying to avoid the rain. Did we mention it was raining?
These kind of tournaments can be incredibly difficult to organise, with so many people to coordinate and so many teams to juggle, that it wasn't unusual for things to kick-off late. In this case, quite literally.
Eventually, we were ready. Which was more than could be said for the referees. There was a distinct lack of refs, qualified or otherwise, which meant teams were taking turns in timekeeping and / or divvy out the all important 'fair play' points. What could possibly go wrong / right?
In a crazy move, straight out of the Tinker Man's rulebook, our Captain Fantastic Richard (he told me to say that) went in goal. An injury meant his defence splitting passes and mazy runs had to be someone else's job for a while, but with a huge squad, we were confident it wouldn't harm our progress.
And so it came to be. One game down. One goalless, but entertaining, draw. One clean sheet kept. A solid foundation on which to build!
Not content with having a Cesc Fabregas doppelgänger on the team in the shape of James, Richard could clearly smell the opportunity to make the most of our solid footballing skills.
'Miraculously' the injury that kept him from playing out, suddenly healed (other theories are available) and we had to appoint an award-winning goalkeeper.....luckily we had one!
Yep....it was Gary Time! (which is like Hammer or Chico Time, but with less dance moves).
We followed our first goaless draw up with a fantastic 4-0 then a 2-0 win. Now I'm not saying that we didn't concede anything because I was in goal, I'll let history be the judge of that!
Either way, the goals were flying in and the team was playing pretty damn well, thanks to a heady mixture of my management, Peter's fluorescent boots and Richard's captaincy....although we all know how much a Captain influences a team ;-)
As lunchtime came around, we had to have a change of personnel. Childcare and work commitments meant our large squad became slightly less large for the run in. We lost Gavin and James, but we saluted them off into the sunset (which we could barely see as it was probably still raining....although honestly, I don't remember).
Now here's where things take a slightly controversial turn. It wouldn't be us if there wasn't some kind of turmoil would it!
Whilst we were off having a well-earned spot of lunch, unbeknownst to us, the second half of the days' football was already kicking off. It's worth noting that there wasn't a timetable for the day, so while we only spent about 25 minutes having a rest and trying to understand why Gareth would bring Fig Rolls, by the time we got back we found out that we'd missed our next game. "That's f**king outrageous" I hear you say. I know right!
The consequence of that was that we'd been 'demoted' into the lower half of the draw. After the first round of games, those with the best point score across the numerous mini-leagues were put into the 'top half' of the draw for the next 'round'. They go on to play for the main trophy, whilst those in the lower half go on to play for a different one. It's a common format with these tournaments as it gives everyone something to play for throughout the day. It didn't go down well, but what can you do! Turns out, nothing.
Was it a blessing in disguise? Who can say, all I know is that we turned on the style and came out of our bit of the tournament with a huge win. I can't remember how many we scored...I lost count at about 6. Victory was ours! We'd won our first trophy! Hurrah!
Well, kind of. We jointly won the Fair Play trophy at the last tournament, but we've not seen head nor tail of that since! This was our first trophy that we could actually touch and take fancy photo's of with our fancy new iPhone 7+.
The ultimate winners on the day were the team from Leeds (apologies I forgot their name) but they played really well. I mean obviously if we'd have been in their group, we'd have beat them about 23 - 0, but that's the great thing about hindsight. You get to make it up and no-one can prove you wrong. Well done lads.
Ultimately, despite the problems with organisation and Men Tell getting 'demoted' it was a great day. The rain eventually wore off so we could sail home and everyone looked like they had a bloody good day.
We managed to accrue some more silverware (well bronze at least) for the trophy cabinet and even got a medal! We also helped spread the word of Men Tell to our friends in County Durham. Thanks to David McCormack and the team from Durham University Sport for organising the day. It can be a thankless task, but we appreciate all your efforts. Bring on the next one!
Finally, I'd just like to say a HUGE THANK YOU (look it's in capitals and everything) to the guys who gave up their time to play for us; some for the first time, others for much more than the first time. I really appreciate you taking the time to play so a heartfelt 'Gary Time' thank you to Richard, Callum, Gavin, Peter, Liam, James (the one who looks like Cesc Fabregas), James (the one who doesn't) and Gareth. We literally probably couldn't do it without you, so thank you!
See you on the 10th May!
If you fancy being part of Team Men Tell and wear one of our fancy strips when we come to your area, just let us know. No footballing skill required, but the ability to engage in some friendly banter is a must!