Reporter - Steve Rolls
There are times in life when we human beings are challenged to face up to trials and overcome difficult obstacles, we often need to examine our hearts and motives and dig deep to release qualities and attributes that would otherwise lie dormant. There are moments when we need to stand together, encourage and motivate each other and persevere through the pain for the victory. Other times we simply need to persist with a humble heart understanding we cannot alter the past but we can grow through the lesson and change the future. Regardless of the hurdles that ‘can do spirit’ coupled with the Holy can conqueror any enemy and endear a quiet satisfaction and inner peace that money cannot buy and circumstances cannot rob.
So it was for The Heartlands United Squad as they faced the opening league match of the new campaign. Severn first team regulars suffered a one match ban as the management drew a line in the sand over a missed training session – not life and death some would argue but in a journey to real manhood, trust, dependability, reliability are qualities that are practiced before they are planted. How would the Heartlands Young Guns respond to this discipline and could the management enforce the ban and still find sufficient players to honour the fixture?
Locks Heath looked fit and eager as they warmed up in the September sunshine – their Barcelona kit seemed to make their skills all the more silky. As they went about their pre-match preparation in a series of super organised groups – Heartlands United by contrast stood around in their borrowed white shirts. This is what it had come to, just nine available players – some were outwardly disappointed that the game seemed destined towards a farcical one-sided conclusion. Meanwhile four of the banned first team squad who had at least made it to the game embarked on a last ditch representation to play.
Finally it was what it was – a cobbled together nine that included two proper veterans and a linesman selected from the gang of four. Where were the other guys who had missed the training session? They had elected not to turn up – it was of course the easiest thing to do, it is this pathway of least resistance that leads its travellers to a destination of mediocrity. The Autumn sunshine grew hotter and the men in white knew the time had come to stand up and be counted – its an old expression but its bang on, just one person with the wrong attitude and 9 turns into 8 or worse!
There was an air of confidence in the Locks Heath Squad, as the kick off approached they knew this game had three points written all over it not to mention the big boost to the goal difference account. Mark Gibson affectionately known as Gibbo the Heartlands United Manager and himself on the verge of veteran status took up his position between the sticks, he fumbled with the big goalie gloves to straighten his spectacles as he squinted to pick out his teammates. The ref blew his whistle and immediately the boys in white were on the attack, with a series of early corners and a couple of near misses the makeshift Heartlands team put down a marker of intent. Locks Heath were notably rattled and somewhat confused as they initially failed to make a two-man advantage count.
Heartlands complete dominance in the early stages of the match culminated with the referee awarding them a penalty – Step Forward Reece Drayton eager and confident to take responsibility. Reece had come along way to place this ball on the white spot – he was the only young gun to have made the previous weeks training session. It was not not just his height that had grown over recent weeks, here was a man that was beginning to defy his critics – his attitude and approach were also beginning to tower, confounding people who had considered given up on him. The first team goalie Reece had swapped places with Gibbo as part of the match strategy. He took a number of steps back from the ball and stared straight ahead at the target – one of the sidelined players said “ he goanna miss it” Reece swung his left foot and the ball rocketed into the corner of the net. One nil up in less than twenty minutes but no one was under any illusions.
Within ten minutes Locks Heath were level and five minutes later a smart move down the right undid United’s defence and it was two – one. Heartland heads drooped if not dropped and we wondered if this signalled the goal rush.
James Shearsmith Heartlands new summer signing was getting more than he bargained for, playing his first full match – his blistering pace around the pitch was taking its toll on his heart and lungs. The real battle however was being waged in his mind, it was a war he would win and its victory brought fresh breath as the blood pumped round his legs. One by one these wars were also being won by his teammates. Two – one down at half time and Heartlands felt like they were winning, but could they keep the score down for the last 45?
The Heartlands caretaker manager stalked the length of the touchline bellowing encouragement towards the men in white – the Locks Heath onslaught never arrived, maybe one or two were losing their own battles? - It’s a different conflict playing against just nine but it is a skirmish in the mind that needs to be overcome. The minutes passed, Gibbo and the back four defended everything . Tom his red beard glistening with sweat was like a brick wall at a right back, Graham the Grandfather brought a wealth of wisdom to the centre of defence, a cool head a steely calm defiance, legs that wouldn’t give up. Matt at left back had been a last minute borrow – his natural left foot fitted nicely into the Heartlands shape. Earlier on the way to the match somewhat perplexed by the lack of players he had asked, “what’s going to happen?” Now he knew! Spock would have described it as “a football match Jim but not as we know it”
The minutes ticked away and Heartlands managed to make sporadic advances on the opposition territory – Dan Keeping the lone striker chased down everything giving no respite to an increasingly jittery Lock Heath defence. Robbie Hammond had stepped in at the last minute his pace and energy defied his bulky build, the years rolled off him as he kept up a relentless disturbance in midfield – half the half had gone when the caretaker began shouting for a goal. It’s written somewhere to call things that are not as though they are – this is the strap line of the Faith Business. “Come on Heartlands this goal is coming!!!
Real life is full of hopes and dreams but also disappointments and mistakes – this is what makes it real, football is of course real life and Bill Shankley was right it was more important than life and death, so it was for Jarvo, something had to die within him to play this game of his life. A team will always need a leader and Jarvo emerged from a shadow to cut a swashbuckling beacon of hope and determination that helped galvanise the spirit of those around him. He took an early responsibility to drop back to the heart of the defence and from there he marshalled his men with encouragement and authority stamping his presence on the match. As the game entered the final ten minutes – Steve Jarvis was not looking to keep the score down.
The game slipped into stoppage time as Heartlands earned a corner from no where, The guys who had been banned had long stopped their kick a bout on the neighbouring pitch, they were glued to the touchline eyes riveted on the drama that was unfolding. The Lock Heath box was crowded with white shirted defenders, the ball came in as players jostled for position it got a flick off a blue head before Graham Cole bundled the ball over the goal line. Delirium broke out on the touchline even among the neutrals – The Heartlands players were in two minds to mob Graham or resume the shape of the team, they got back in position twisting their fingers in the side of their heads as they exhorted one another to keep concentrating. In the end there was no need for any attention span, the whistle went and the same hands that shook the players of Locks Heath hugged each other in sheer satisfaction.
Football results come and go, character has an eternal edge to it – you cant learn it in the classroom or the dressing room you can only develop and test it on the field of play. Life is a big pitch – in a sense even the suspended guys had their own game they to were part of the field.