After a long summer Spartans returned to League action on Saturday against newly promoted Mes, who also made it to the cup final and only narrowly succumbed to USRC. The first, and as it perhaps turned out, biggest challenge of the day was actually getting to pitch. In years gone by civil unrest, blocked roads and last minute bus pick up changes, would have decimated the squad for sure. However, impressively everyone made it to Taikoo in time ahead of perpetual latecomer Manager Kelly and we had a full squad of 16 pitch side to select from ahead of kick off.
As the heavens threatened to open Steph and Pete had the hardest selection discussion for some time, but opted to stick with the tried and tested 4-3-3 attacking formation: debutant Anthony between the sticks; an imposing back 4 of Adam, Colbourne, Jonny and Louis; Pat, Wozza and Ali in the middle; Simon, Dani and a rejuvenated Ginger Ninja McAtack up top. A ridiculously strong bench of Big Mac guzzling Stevie, Rommy, Mendez, SY (and Steph if needed) waited menacingly in the wings.

30 seconds to kick off Steph barked out the instruction “are you timing this Pete?” which was very fortunate as it allowed for an official time of 9 seconds to be attributed to what must be the (or close to the) fastest ever Spartans goal. It came about following some terrible early decision making in the Mes back line which allowed the ball to break through to Simon, who burst onto it with glee and finished firmly past the keeper.

The early goal only served to embolden Sparts, whilst at the same time seeming to demoralize Mes. Some lovely football was being played in the opening phases and it was no surprise that the lead was doubled half way through the first period. Ali sent in a pinpoint corner, which Colbourne met like a steam train to double the advantage. Just 4 minutes later Ali himself extended the lead with the goal of the game and likely a contender for goal of the season: a 25 yard screamer into the roof of the net that the Mes keeper scarcely saw.

McAtack – the pre-season expert – was leading the line admirably, linking up play nicely and holding things up when needed. It was therefore fitting that, after a couple of near misses, it was the ninja himself that made it 4-0. Great work by Dani down the left saw the ball break free and, after what seemed like an eternity for the watching bench willing the ball in, Mcatack calmly rounded the keeper and slotted home. 4-0.

With half time approaching – and numerous chances coming and going for Sparts – the lumbering Saffa at the back for Mes decided to encourage his team-mates to “smash him” as Simon picked up the ball in the corner. Very unsavory and unsporting indeed, but sadly perhaps not surprising from a player of very limited ability. Manager Kelly put the buffoon back in his box with the factually accurate, but perhaps the not most imaginative, comeback of “you’re rubbish”. That was him told.

The half-time whistle came and it was a message of positivity from Steph and Pete, although everyone realized the need to guard against the strong wind second half and the fact that an 11th player had finally arrived for Mes. Ali allegedly reported to Mcatack that “I’ll score a couple more second half mate” which was characteristic of the confidence running through the team.

Any fears of a Mes comeback were put to bed scarcely 10 minutes into the second period as a long ball downfield opened up into a straight race between the Mes keeper and the mercurial Simon. Despite the keeper having what seemed like a 30 yard head start, there was only one winner here as Simon nicked the ball first and slotted home.
It was 6 five minutes later as Dani sprinted to the by-line and cut back for substitute Rommy to clinically slot home for his first goal in a Spartans shirt. 10 minutes from time Rommy again converted smartly, this time from a well-taken Pat corner to make it 7-0. Spartans then scored an 8th via the ever-calm Lazyboy and Iceland loving Adam. Personally I missed the goal, but someone mentioned it was reminiscent of the Pele bicycle kick against the Nazi’s in Escape to Victory. I’m not convinced myself, but it goes into the record books!

As the full time whistle brought an end to a very satisfactory open day, the only slight disappointment was that it could have quite easily been double figures in all honesty. A mixture of some rusty finishing combined with some excellent saves by the Mes keeper kept the score to 8, which at the end of the day is nothing to be sniffed at and left Steph and Pete very happy indeed.

Perhaps most pleasing about the game was the level of performance by all 15 Sparts that played a part in the game. Anthony and his back 4 were excellent in keeping a clean sheet and were hardly troubled. A special mention to debutant Jonny at the back who looks some player and even managed to get through this game without vomiting. One thing is for sure, I would not want to a centre-forward up against Jonny and Colbourne this season! Our front 6 were all superb and it was pleasing to see both Rommy and the lightening-quick Mendez make real impacts when they came off the bench.

The vast majority of Sparts made it (eventually) to Baan Thai for the first official social of the season and a well-earned celebration. Yours truly was less fortunate, falling victim to the crazed mood swings of my “dear” wife, having to pull out of the dinner and then ended up sprinting away from a charging mob of thousands in Causeway Bay, who themselves were running from water cannon-supported riot police. This then lead to a 1 hour hike back to Happy Valley via the hills of Tai Hang and Broadwood Road and more importantly highlighted the imperative need to submit pink permission slips (available from Mcatack upon request) in a timely and efficient manner.

By all accounts Saturday evening went off a storm, with the evidence suggesting that dark horse Adam and not-so-dark horse Steph were the last men standing. From what I’m told MOTM and MOTD recipients were as follows:
– MOTM: Colbourne: a rock at the back and a real threat in the opposition box. Rounded off a faultless performance with a goal.
– MOTD: Ali: Despite a very impressive performance and a stunning goal, who could forget the (albeit successful) schizophrenic cat crawl out of midfield in the second half. A near miss for Louis for sure!!
Next week Spartans Derby – nothing more to say!! See you all there!!