Updated: Dec 28, 2019
Photos courtesy of Ara Blazquez
Britannia (1) 4
14, 39, Keane
Ratas (1) 1
@Valdefierro 18.00 26.04.17
The hand of history was on the shoulder of the Exiles on a fine Sunday afternoon as they faced up to the sure knowledge that nothing less than a win would be enough to keep their 2nd division status alive. The atmosphere was tense, the game prior to the Brits fixture saw wild celebrations as second place was confirmed for Atletico Miteiro. A crowd had attended the match and stayed in their seats as Ratas and Britannia took to the field to warm up. Suñer once again took his role as coach as the Brits lined up for the first step in their ultimate two stage do or die challenge. Two games remaining, six points required.
Things did not start well. Ratas kicked off. They knocked the ball about playfully, comfortably, to the back drop of Atletico Miteiro players and followers celebrating with cheap champagne. Ratas had no pressure on them from this result and they seemed to relish the freedom such comfort gave them. Britannia, nervous, heavy with the weight of the task in hand, stood off and marked the runners. Nothing looked likely and no pass was offered, so the Ratas player dropped his shoulder and ploughed into the box and let off a shot which found the bottom right corner. Without touching the ball, within a minute Britannia were one down. The worst possible start to a must win relegation struggle. It was a shock to the system and as the Brits gave the ball away after the restart, Ratas once more unpicked the defence and came close to doubling their lead within two minutes of the game being underway. The opposition relaxed and exchanged jocular remarks as to how much of a score they could rack up against such woeful opposition. Whether it was coincidence or not, it was then that the Britannia Lion emerged from slumber.
A glimmer of channelled anger, a glint in the eye, a steely determination seemed to seep from the Brits. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” provides a famous line that adorns the player’s entrance to centre court in Wimbledon. “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same” and this principle found meaning in that moment. The players reached a micro recognition in a unified resolution, an attitude that dispensed with the fear of defeat and the glory of victory. There was simply the game, and it was afoot.
Almost immediately the pattern of the game shifted, Keane dominating the play from the centre of the park and taking the ball to the opposition. Ratas quickly gave him extra attention freeing up Tamargo, Wells and Gilman to find space. The Ratas defence seemed uncertain as to who to close down. Within a space of three minutes their keeper pulled off impressive reaction saves to twice push shots from Tamargo, then Keane, onto the post. On both occasions the deflection fell agonisingly short of follow up runners Gilman and Wells. Ratas attacks were less successful as Morrissey and Alejandro Larraga closed the gaps and the midfield worked hard to come deep and clean up. Rapid breaks with some exquisite passing play had Ratas getting increasingly hesitant about committing numbers forward.
The Brits peppered the Ratas goal and a degree of urgency started to creep their game, rotten luck had dogged their season and doubts as to whether their domination would pay dividends started to emerge, passes started to run long and Ratas started to feel that maybe the storm had been weathered. Then, taking the game by the scruff of the neck, Keane surged forward on a run, Tamargo drew the defender and the diminutive Scouser exploited the space, rifling the ball into the bottom far corner and drawing the Exiles level. Piedrafita came on for Wells and the trio of Keane, Piedrafita and Tamargo started to turn the screws on the opposition. Piedrafita showing a series inspired touch, turns and vision, bringing another level of panic to the Ratas defence as their midfield dropped deeper to sustain the bombardment.
The defence looked solid, with Perez performing impressive saves when called upon, and also demonstrating a sharp eye in reading the game to come and claim with confidence when required. As the first half came to a close, the Brits had shifted tactic to a long ball rapid break as they felt the exertion of their travails, but also exploited the space opening at the back. Tamargo holding the ball up and hustling the defenders, the role he so tirelessly performs, brute force with delicate passes, but with added bite. Journeying further wide than before, coming deeper than previously, his game had taken on an expansion, his strength and vision starting to pay dividends for those around him. Ratas looked more competent in attack through the closing stages of the the first half but the Brits held firm and went into the break energised and unified.
The half time team talk was determined and confident. The team felt they had the measure of the opposition. Ratas had rotated all four of their bench players through the first half and no combination of players or individuals had shown anything to concern the Brits. The game was there for the taking. As they took to the field, it was clear, everything came down to the next 30 minutes.
So the second half got underway and Ratas, as expected, upped the tempo and energy in their attempts to retake the lead. Wells and Morrissey on the back line stood firm leading the team in throwing solid blocks and tackles to break up the attacks then unleashing the characteristic counter trident attacks. Corners proved particularly dangerous as Keane relentlessly picked out the statuesque Gilman, who twice glanced headers narrowly wide of the post.
One Ratas attack made it behind the back line, Morrissey forced the player wide and Perez blocked the shot which rebounded off Wells...thankfully straight back at the keeper! The trio exchanged a knowing smile and look, it seemed the team’s luck was on the turn. Perez threw the ball wide to the left to Peidrafita who collected, turned his man and launched down the touchline. As he neared the final third he drew two men and released the ball in to the box to Tamargo. The opposition keeper and a defender committed to close him down and he rolled the ball right to Keane arriving at speed. The playmaker collected the ball jinked out of reach of an opposition tackle and tucked the ball into the empty net. It had been a team goal and it was celebrated with fervour. Finally, a chink of light could be seen.
As the teams reset for the kick off, Larraga switched for Gilman and Wells moved forward to the pseudo sweeper role. Ratas launched a torrid series of attacks once more, increasing in frustration as the Bulldog steel of the Britannia Anglo Saxon spine started to show. Jarring, solid, but legitimate tackles were flying in around the midfield, preventing Ratas from finding the final ball through to goal. Ratas implored with frustration at the referee who told them to play to his whistle. This midfield battle was brutal and exhausting, yet imposing physical Ratas players were being muscled off the ball and shying out of challenges with the fired up Britanicos. Rudyard Kipling words screaming like a crescendo of voices in time with heartbeats as "If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run", the Brits defended their lead with measured resolution. Wells crunched into a tackle and tangled with a player as he stole the ball away. The Ratas player caught the back of his right ankle and the Man of Kent struggled to run it off. Gilman called him over to the touchline, sensing a swap back into the fray. As Wells grimaced and headed to the touchline the ball was distributed to him from Piedrafita. Instinctively, Wells quickly played it wide to Tamargo and rediscovering his desire sprinted to overlap him, Tamargo read the run and pushed the ball into his path. Wells beat a defender for pace that he found from the depths of an unknown cauldron of words and enzymes and launched a speculative shot at the far post, it ghosted through the keepers arms and behind the post and the Brits knew at that moment they had won the day. Wells ran to the bench and celebrated with the coach Suñer and the injured Ramos. The team descended upon the bench too and Wells took the chance to switch out for Gilman and give his swollen ankle attention. It had been a goal a long time coming over a hard season. The celebration was of comradeship and relief, a combination of most pleasing attributes indeed. "If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss". Britannia had taken the magic gamble of the moment. On and on and the Craic was good.
Ratas made an attempt to launch a response, but the Britannia line held firm. As Ratas took a corner the ball was cleared rapidly to a solitary Tamargo faced with the opposition keeper well beyond his penalty box. He rounded the keeper with aplomb and scored a well deserved goal of his own. He had played provider for much of the game, two clear assists and creating space for the first and his goal was just reward for a tireless and resolute performance. The game was now, truly, won. Wells was desperate to get back on the pitch and Tamargo withdrew to allow Wells back on the field and immediately threw himself into deifant and solid tackles, urging the Brits to keep the intensity up and remind the opposition today was not to be their day. The Brits once again muscled larger and stronger players off the ball and used a combination of adrenalin and desire to close down the opposition. "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!'"
Such intensity could not last and the final ten minutes saw the game become ragged and disjointed. Tiring legs saw mistimed tackles and the Ratas players started to express their frustration further. A couple of “tactical” fouls crept into the Brit game and heads cooled as the minutes ticked away. Britannia contrived to hit the post one more time and the ball pinged around the six yard box like a pinball but as the whistle blew it was greeted by a team who had worked tirelessly for their win. A balance of silk and steel that finally showed the promise of what the squad had been threatening to deliver in flashes throughout the season.
The Brits mulled around, congratulated each other and seemed unprepared to leave the field and draw a close to what they had achieved. The grand scheme of their survival was at that point uncertain, but they perhaps wanted to savour the Schrodinger moment, when they were neither one win away from safety or relegated, but simply, in the moment, a team, proud of their performance. it was not just a win, but a torrid ballet on artificial grass. All eight players involved could once again, in days to come, draw an old hand to a faded eye to wipe away a tear and mumble “ I was there”. Either that or no one could find the key to the dressing room.
Results elsewhere actually went their way, truly luck had finally turned up to the party. With New Team thrashed 6-0 by the league winners, Qumica, Britannia head to their final game against relegated Casablanca knowing that a win will preserve their second division status. Finally, their destiny is in their own hands and if the determination and style shown in this performance is recreated, it will be a reward well deserved.
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
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