LX v Royal Navy Evergreens
In common with most airfield locations, the pitch and surrounding facilities at Yeovilton, whilst excellent in every respect, have an air of windswept exposure. So it is a pleasant encouragement that the sun shines from a cloudless sky and the earlier chill breeze has died to a murmur by the time the game starts at .
In keeping with such a beautiful day, LX play from the start is bright and positive. The Navy, as expected younger, but a scratch side with some occasional players, struggle to find any rhythm. Lined up with Paddy Maher in goal, Mark Watson at sweeper, plus Colin Pinks, Alan Jackson, Brian Tubb and David G Read, (three quarters each), as backs, the LX defence deals comfortably with the occasional incursion. Good positions are carefully built further forward, with excellent passing and imaginative movement from Mike Harris, Sudesh Nayar and Brian Stokes in midfield regularly releasing the front trio of Bill Goodrich, (just as fearsome without pads!), Gordon Small, (lively as ever despite 4 months out with a broken collarbone), and trialist Parmjit Bolina, (‘Parmi’), who shows great skill on the left further enhancing his reputation as ‘the man for all positions’.
We are thus able to dominate much of the early play, and by the end of the first quarter are 2 goals up. The first comes from a Mark Watson short corner strike, (surely the longest, heaviest stick in the game!). Barry Sewell, the Navy keeper, is helpless as the ball deflects off a defender high into the net. The second is a exemplary penalty stroke from Brian Tubb, awarded, somewhat ironically, a split second before Mike Harris nets anyway even though heavily body checked.
By this time however, the Navy are beginning to find their sea legs, and by the time the half ends, are definitely in the ascendant, defending with more composure and launching some dangerously pacy counter attacks. Paddy Maher is called into urgent action several times with sharp saves, in particular from a surprisingly fierce reverse ‘dig’ just as the whistle blows.
After the break the Navy side continue to improve and are now territorially dominant. Despite half time exhortations from LX Captain Mark Watson that it must not happen, after little more than 5 minutes, the Navy score from a short corner. First shot well saved, but a second strike, ‘high wide and handsome’ from the left, is abruptly defected past Paddy Maher. 2-1.
Now definitely back in the game, the Navy pile on the pressure, and LX are grateful for the younger legs of Mike Harris and Brian Stokes, who work assiduously in support of a hard pressed defence, as well as carrying the ball upfield in the occasional retaliatory raid. With the Navy committing a lot of players forward, these excursions look promising several times, and eventually, on about three quarter time, we win a rare short corner. Out to Mark Watson, right to Mike Harris, back to Gordon Small, unmarked on the penalty spot. Slick, one touch move, perfectly executed. 3-1.
Relief however is short lived, 3 or 4 minutes at most. This time a Navy short corner, unfortunately redirected by a defender in front of goal. 3-2. LX are obliged to soak up more pressure, but it gradually becomes spasmodic and incoherent, and we regain territory and initiative. Surprise, surprise, we seem to be lasting the pace better than our opponents! Deep into the final quarter, we win another shortie. Carbon copy of the previous one, this time clinically converted by Mike Harris. Don’t we do good drills! 4-2. Finally, in the dying moments, the ‘piece de resistance’, a memorable goal from open play as a flowing move unfolds down the left. Small to Bolina, back to Small, back to Bolina, across the goal from the by line, tap in for Gordon. 5-2. What a comeback for him!
So, on the face of it, a satisfying win, but, in reality, a closely contested game full of momentum shifts, much more evenly balanced than the score line suggests.
After the customary group photos, up the road to the Sparkford Inn for a few beers and a splendid carvery lunch, this time with a room to ourselves. Very convivial.
Many thanks for such an enjoyable day go to the Navy hockey supremo, Alan Walker, who made the arrangements, Pat McAuley, who managed their team, and especially to Tom Darlington (LX) and Tam McHail (Navy), for their high quality umpiring. We look forward eagerly to the next encounter in September.
Squad:-Paddy Maher, Mark Watson, Colin Pinks, Alan Jackson, Brian Tubb, David G Read, Mike Harris, Sudesh Nayar, Brian Stokes, Bill Goodrich, Gordon Small, Parmjit Bolina
Reporter: Adrian Money