It's amazing how time flies! It's hard to believe it's been a year since we took our first foray into the world of Social Inclusion Football at a tournament organised by our good friends at the MFC Foundation. It might be hard to believe, but passed it has and we were back baby; ready to go and hoping to stay out of A&E this time!
The weather was looking like it would be good to us and the day was promising to turn into an incredible 6 hours of football, or as close to it as we could muster!
The trophies were glistening in the sunshine, the teams were arriving (well most of them) and, more importantly, the burger van was cooking up a range of healthy snacks to keep us going. Mint's healthy right?
Despite two last minute drop-outs, we'd assembled a team. Well almost.... we started with just 6 (a bit of a problem when you're playing a 7-a-side tournament) so had to borrow a body from Hartlepool NEA (not Burnley as we first thought!). Step forward the soon-to-be-legendary Michael!
Proving that our Men Tell community is full of legends, we welcomed James for the first time and the very lovely Matt had come all the way up from Grimsby to play. He was fantastic as a virtual social media friend, and even nicer in person!
We were also pleased to have Andrew rejoining us, all the way from Harrogate, looking half the man he used to be! We mean that in a good way!
[insert sound of whistle here]... and we were off! We were drawn in a league with MFC Foundation, Burnley (who hadn't, at that point, arrived), Wrexham and another team from Hartlepool who had bravely turned up in a pink strip!
First up for us were the team from MFC Foundation, our nemesis! It was their tournament and were favourites to reclaim the trophy from Derby County Community Trust, even without their fantastic keeper. Now we normally end up playing them later in the tournament, so it came as a nice change to get beaten by them straight away. Thanks to our now customary slow start, we went down with a battling 1-0 defeat. A defeat that may have been caused by a very dubious pass across the defensive line from Andrew or a goalkeeping error, who's to say..... but it was definitely the former! Not a great start granted, but by no means a disaster.
With the team from Burnley missing-in-action, we were confident of getting a draw from our match with them. Without them to play, we had to be satisfied with the team from Wrexham. They'd travelled a long way, so let's blame the distance on the fact that we won our next match 2-0. A brace from Liam with some beautiful footwork and trickery meant we were off and running.
Our next opponents were the PinkStrip Warriors from Hartlepool. They'd arrived in numbers, so certainly had depth in their squad. Undeterred, we were playing better with every match.
We're not the tallest of teams, but felt that we could get some penetration (oooh-errr Missus) with some 'Route 1' football. Big kicks from the Manager, headed on by the Captain for Andrew and Liam to chase. It might not have been the epitome of 'sexy football', but it was working. 2 goals from Andrew (including an assist from me!) and another from Liam meant Hartlepool were soon down 3-0. Confidence that we'd reach the top half of the draw was growing!
With other results going our way, we knew we were in the top half of the draw for the next round. Awesome!
It was brilliant to see all the other teams enjoying the day. Taking a walk around, chatting to the lads from Mind's Get Set To Go scheme, Carlisle and others proved how much people were enjoying themselves. There was a palpable sense of inclusion on every pitch. We're starting to see the same faces at these events, so it's great that everyone gets on so well.
Next up for us were Everton in the Community, MFC Foundation 'B' Team (by my reckoning, they were one of about 47 teams Middlesbrough had entered); the second half of the day started with the runner's up from our morning group, Wrexham.
Wrexham started much better in the afternoon, no doubt spurred on by their first taste of a local delicacy Parmo in a Bun! Despite their early goal, the game was far from over and their goal seemed to spur us on. With a defence trio of James, Michael and Peter getting stuck in, opponents simply couldn't break them down. Like a collection of Gandalf's from Lord of the Rings! Their subconscious cry of 'Thou Shalt Not Pass' meant they were chasing every ball, cutting off every through ball and leaving no challenge left behind. To think we got Michael on an emergency loan deal! He was immense! Might have to make that loan permanent!
With the defence working well, Matt and Richard anchoring midfield and Liam and Andrew up front, we soon equalised. We then added another... then another! 3-1 to the guys from Men Tell Health!
Sadly for us, the school run was beckoning for Andrew who left us Thank you for coming brother. He was soon replaced by some young whippersnappers from the Futsal project. Dan joined us and had all the aspects we like in a team mate; youth, fitness and a pair of boots that you couldn't lose in the dark. Welcome Daniel!
Middlesbrough B Team were next. If their 'A' counterparts were anything to go by, this was going to be a close match, and it was. Lots of great football and two evenly matched teams played a great game. Thankfully we got the all important goal late on, meaning all we had to do was see the game out.
The referee announced 5 minutes to go. It was the longest 5 minutes ever, but we stood firm and won the game 1-0.
Finally, we played Everton in the Community, all the way from Merseyside. We've played them before at another tournament and they're a good team; strong, disciplined, Scouse and organised. Thankfully, on the day, we were too!
It ended 1-1. With a little mental calculation and other results helping us, we were starting to realise something. Something that seemed impossible at the start of the day.....
Unbelievably, we made the final. The real final. Like the final of the two best teams from the day. What. The. Actual. F**k. How did that happen? That doesn't compute. Hang on...... lost only 1 game, conceded only 3 goals (up to that point), kept 3 clean sheets and played better as a team than we ever have. No, it does work out. Holy Moly it's real! I could not have been happier for us. OK a little amazed, a tad confused, but generally over the moon!
As the final kicked off, we remained optimistic. We'd played incredibly well all day so had nothing to fear from Derby County Community Trust. OK, they were like a real football team, with energy, skill, youth and organisation, but then we all had a really good suntan developing, so......swings and roundabouts.
Now here's where I need to take control to avoid any myths developing. You might hear stories about a laughable mistake by the Men Tell Goalkeeper (i.e. me) where the ball was looped over my head, hit the post, hit me and bounced in. If you hear that, don't listen to it. I mean it's true, but please don't listen to it.
Sufficed to say, a few minutes into the final, Derby sent a ball looping towards my goal. Shouldn't be a problem, thought the goalkeeper (i.e. me) and proceeded to gently guide to out of play.... except it didn't go out of play, it hit the post, then me, and then the back of the next. NOOOOO! I was mortified. Talk about letting your team mates down! I said it then and I'll say it now...I am SO sorry lads!
Stupid mistake aside, the final was fantastic. It didn't exactly go to plan, but it was a great match. From the first gifted goal, Derby were soon two goals up....then three. Thankfully we managed to pull one back, but we just didn't have enough in the tank to even things up. It finished up 3-1, although you probably worked that out for yourself!
To attain a sense of realism, it might be worth reading this next bit out loud. As a Nottingham Forest supporter, this is going to be really difficult to type, so you'll get the same effect by reading aloud through gritted teeth. Here goes. Well done to the team from Derby Country Community Trust. Well played lads.
We've been to about 5 of these tournaments now (well not 'about' 5, exactly 5!).
It's always inspiring to see the winners, runners-up, fair play champions (or whatever other silverware is up for grabs) walk up to received their trophies at the end of a great day's football. Today was no exception, apart from the fact that, unbelievably, we were walking up getting our medals and a huge trophy with them.
We're not even a 'real' football team. We only come together at tournaments, we don't train inbetween, we've never had the same squad, let alone same team from one tournament to the next. Despite this, 8 blokes who, for most part, were meeting for the first time, came together and were runners-up in a competition. A competition that boasted nearly two dozen teams who will play together regularly, are much fitter (let's be honest), much younger (on the whole) and represent the community arm of a number of professional football clubs.
Now I'm not saying any of that is down to my incredible man management skills, footballing knowledge, tactical insight or meticulous planning, I'll let you, and the history books, be the judge. ;-)
Seriously though, after a great day, not to mention a little sunburn, I just wanted to say a huge thank you to the amazing Claire Streeter and all of her team from the MFC Foundation for organising the event. These things can be an absolutely nightmare to arrange and coordinate, so all credit to Claire for being the force of nature that she is. I'm proud to call her a friend and the work they do in the community is amazing. Thanks also to the referees from North Riding FA for coming along and being generally brilliant.
Last, but by no means least, I want to give my own thanks to the guys who are selfless in their commitment to Men Tell Health. They give up their time to come together when needed to help spread the word and always contribute to creating a brilliantly friendly atmosphere and an amazing sense of camaraderie.
It's not just me who thinks so. This is what Richard wrote on Instagram (without prompting I might add!)
My eternal gratitude goes to Richard 'Edge of the Box' Bendelow, Andrew 'Catherine Has Your Medal' Clark, Matt 'It's Grim(sby) Up North' Smith, Peter 'Wot No Ambulance' Burgess, Daniel 'We Didn't Find Out Your Surname' Someone, Michael 'Here There & Everywhere' Fisher , Liam 'Tinkletoes' Bendelow and James 'Defender Extraordinaire' Hadman.
We all share this magnificent trophy, it's as much theirs as it is mine....although obviously I'm keeping it in my office, but they are welcome to come and look at it, or polish it, anytime they want. Thank you boys!
PS: There is no truth to the rumour that the Middlesbrough FC medals that EVERYONE received were only bought because they were reduced in the relegation sale. Absolutely none! ;-)
PPS - The Northern Echo had a write-up about the tournament which you can find here. Thankfully no mention of my goalkeeping disaster or my Alice band! Every cloud ;-)