MY GREATEST GAME: AYLESFORD VETS v DEFIANCE VETS, 2019
CUP: KENT COUNTY VETERANS CUP
WORDS: MIKE BACKLER
ILLUSTRATION: MILLIE CHESTERS
You know when you drive past a football pitch and there’s a grassroots game in full flow? Have you ever thought about the odds of seeing a goal in that fleeting five seconds? Or even a key bit of action. A flashpoint. Anyone whose route had taken them down the Forstal Road and past the Aylesford Recreation Ground on that wet November morning would have been very unlucky not to see something. It had everything.
Aylesford Vets had been formed a few months earlier. A few lads starting to creak on a Sunday morning joined up with those that hadn’t kicked a ball in years. Still, we found ourselves in the last sixteen of the County Cup, drawn against an established team from Charlton, Defiance Vets. Inclement weather, bog of a pitch, cup tie with your mates, underdogs. This is why you play, isn’t it. Our main striker, who his teammates won’t mind me saying, scores A LOT of our goals, was struggling to make it due to childcare issues. I popped him on the team sheet anyway. You never, never, know.
Lo and behold, we raced into a 2-0 lead, then 2-1, before finishing the half comfortably 3-1 up. The second half had all the bearings of watching England in a major tournament game. Leggy, unable to retain possession, dropping further and further back. The quagmire of a pitch taking its toll. Chasing shadows. Cramp everywhere. 3-2, 3-3. Defiance had their peckers up. With the very near last kick of the game, our keeper “Big Game” Bill Biss made a remarkable stop to keep us in it. Into extra time we go, desperate for reinforcements.
And they arrived. Our striker Ashley “Goals” Russell appeared on the sideline, much to the fury of the opposition, who seemed to think it was a tactic of ours to not play our best player for ninety minutes. You know, to keep it interesting. With me burying the fact that I’d received an email earlier in the week from Kent FA saying there would be no extra time in cup ties due to fading light, and with the opposition still irate, the whistle sounded on an extra time that was just wild.
With just five minutes to go, Defiance’s mittened striker buried a beauty from a tight angle and set off on a lap of honour round the park, hounded by his elated teammates. We sank to our knees. Nothing left in the tank. A heroic last-ditch tackle from our full-back stops us going 5-3 down, before one last long ball with a couple of minutes to play. A flick on. A through ball, and guess who is through on goal. It’s only Ashley bloody Russell. As he slots it home and wheels away celebrating, back down the pitch, way back down the pitch, I lie face down in the mud. It’s too much.
And there’s more. Much more. There’s still time for the mittened striker to throw a few haymakers at our defender in pure frustration. Incredibly, he remains on the pitch and deep into a penalty shootout that you can hardly see from the halfway line as it’s so dark, it’s only him that has the chance to win it for Defiance. It’s saaaaved! “Big Game’’ keeps us in it again. At 7-7 we have the chance to win it, and our full-back rifles home. But why not some more drama? He’s forced to retake. And that goes in as well. Somehow, we’re through.
How did we get on in the quarters? Lost 3-2. 2-0 up at half-time. But hey, that’s football. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.