MY GREATEST GAME: SUBSTANDARD LIEGE VS THE POACHERS, 2015
LEAGUE: COUNTY DURHAM FA, MEN’S 7ASIDE
WORDS: ANDREW MARTIN
ILLUSTRATIONS: MILLIE CHESTERS
It’s 2015. Uptown Funk is enveloping the world in a musical sickness that will linger for years, and Jeremy Clarkson is just weeks away from decking a producer over a lack of hot food. Meanwhile, in the coalfields of County Durham, seven-a-side football team Substandard Liege are at the business end of a title race they never expected to find themselves in.
We’re playing a team of fathers and sons – at least I always assumed they were fathers and sons – called The Poachers. Sleeper earrings glinting in the floodlights, tattoos of skulls and snakes that seem to writhe in the pre-match cigarette haze. It’s midwinter in Northeast England and half of their players are wearing just a bib with no shirt underneath. They are not here to play games.
My lads, Substandard Liege, are pussy cats in comparison, but we’ve realised that if we win all of our remaining games, our little patchwork team might actually be league champions come the end of the season. We’ve got to get past this lot first, though, and they look extremely ready to uptown funk us up if it comes to it.
I’ll be honest – all I can remember about the first half is that I nutmegged somebody in the corner, and he said something very unpleasant to me. I can’t remember the first half because in the second half, our big centre-back, let’s call him Dave – because that’s his name – gave away two penalties. In a seven-a-side match. Two penalties. The Poachers scored them both, and we found ourselves 4-2 down with about fifteen minutes to go. We can all feel the title slipping away from us, but I am simply not having it.
“Dave, have a rest. Swap with John.”
“It’s not my turn to come off!” And it wasn’t, to be fair to him.
“It f***ing is, mate. Your head’s gone.” And to be fair to me, it had.
We immediately bring it back to 4-3. In the last five minutes, we snatch an equaliser to make it 4-4. Dave is doing acrobatics on the touchline, feeling more emotions than anyone could possibly process at once. In the last minute, The Poachers get a corner from our left. Everyone back. They take it low, along the ground. Makes no sense. We intercept. Shawzy, Dan and I play rapid-fire triangles up the pitch. Shawzy goes round the keeper like Ronaldo with the teeth, squares it to me. Super-slow motion. Tap in from half a metre. Wrestling at the corner flag. Guttural screams. Dave’s exploded. Handshakes. “What a bloody match that was, mate. Fair play to yous,” says the Poacher-in-chief.
The full-time whistle blows. We go on to win the league on goal difference. Julio, get the stretch!