Clapham Masters 3 - Suttonians Vets 4
By Frank Barretta
The Future's Bright, The Future's Vets.
Deep into Autumn, with Clapham's senior XI's in action and England playing the All Blacks on TV - assembling a vets side to play an undefeated Suttonians Vets friendly with one week's notice - you'd have thought we were crazy to go for it. Well, what followed was a thoroughly enjoyable day in which Clapham Masters forced Sutts to cling on to a hard earned 4 - 3 win.
This result seemed unlikely 90 minutes before, with Sutts scrambling around for players, kit and excuses for the ref. With their final two players and kit not far off, we eventually got underway.
Now, starting with nine men is football's equivalent of boxing's "rope-a-dope". We all know that. But when faced with the situation of playing against nine men, it does funny things to a side. The Clapham back four stayed exactly that - a back four marking no one - leaving our front six to be outnumbered a mini game out British Bulldog in the Sutts half, to which we as a back four were not invited (real shame that, as I'd back John McGowan to do well in that. Leathem too). Anyway, in this frenzy Jimmy Mctavish scored a cracking volley to fire Clapham ahead, after good link up play by Colin Brown, Marco and Errol McCarthy. And you'd have backed Mick Gorman to make it two from a teasing Chris Brewster cross, only for him to just fail to make contact with his head (the only header Mick missed all day).
Then for the 'game-changer', Sutts became an XI. With strikers on the pitch, they set about using them and got themselves ahead before half time. Some fresh legs were introduced in the form of Steve Platt - wearing leggings - and Gordon McCarthy. Clapham played higher up the pitch in a bid to turn up the pressure, effort that was rewarded with Errol McCarthy getting on the end of a Colin Brown flick on. A real poacher's goal and made it 2-2. Then a sucker punch, Sutts star striker jinked passed a few challenges and clipped in a delightful finish to put them ahead, quickly adding a fourth.
Lesser clubs would've dropped their heads and conceded further goals but Clapham kept going. Errol hit the bar, Gordon hit the side netting and John McGowan went close from long range. Then Colin Brown pulled one back from close range with a few minutes left. The next few minutes saw Baz O'Neill and Frank Izzard join the hunt for an equaliser which was just out of reach.
So a narrow defeat against a decent vets side who play together regularly. But that didn't stop all 14 Clapham guys staying for drinks in the bar, sitting down with the oppo for what must surely go down in COXA history as THE best post match food ever served at Norbury.
What next for vets football at Clapham? Friendlies in the new year then look to formalise a side in a vets cup or league as of next season. The enthusiasm is there. As is the organisation. So claiming "vets football is the future at Clapham" isn't quite as crazy as it sounds.