Maung, Flabbo 2

The Spartans hitting their stride…

You asked for it and he’s back with another scintillating match report, the American Hack… and this time Paul Hoy, no incriminating photos of you and gold fish who write notes in passable English and pass them off on unsuspecting Englishmen in Shanghai (I drink black tea, not green tea). Welcome to the Terrordome…

Another Sunday early morning start but this time fortunately on HK side but against traditional bogey team University. Sun is out, nary a cloud in the sky… After last week’s inspirational comeback from 2 goals down against Yan Po, the Spartans have a big squad and are looking to keep the good vibes flowing.


Taking a page from the book of master tactician Mourinho – the Chelsea whiz kid – the Spartans kick off with a daring 3-5-2 formation, with a 3-headed central midfield composed of Paul the Guvenor, Will of Shenzhen by way of Portsmouth, and Henry (he of the I’ve never turned down a 3 am shot of Absolut Vodka school of party animals), with Lionel doing his thing on the right, and Alex the Terminator (how many poor sods did he run over? A robocop out there with some nifty defensive plays and some well-hit crosses) on the left.

Alan W is joined up front by a rather svelte-looking Flabbo. F pulls out the shiny new Copas out of his bag. Will a change of studs be what it takes for the Manila Maniac to get the monkey off his back? And Andy C is back from Middle Earth or as some might call it New Zealand to cement the back 3. The game starts brightly for the Spartans with the midfield pretty much clogging the middle and lo and behold the 3-5-2 actually working. Some bright interplay lead to a few nice crosses that just go awry. [As you can guess, I’ve forgotten most of what happened due to the post-game celebration that went on and on but more on that later.]

We’re looking composed at the back and Ben (trying desperately to sweat off all the alcohol from the night before by staying rigidly stuck to his line) not being too challenged. University has a good swift midfield and 2 decent strikers so the Spartans know they have to jump to an early lead and then hold on (but that’s been true for all of our games).

Halfway through the first half, Alan gets the ball with his back to the goal does a couple nifty pirouettes that would make Baryshnikov blush only to find the ball glued to his left foot.

[If anyone’s interested there’s a good movie out there called "My Left Foot" about some paraplegic painter who dabbles paint with a brush pinched between the toes of his left foot, a pose which come to think of it sometimes reminds me of Alan when he’s forced to shoot with his left foot, unlike Stevie W who’s just deadly with the left, the right being a different story altogether, but such is life. Now back to the match report.]

Alan does the only thing and squares the ball back to an incoming Lionel, a charging bull. Lionel takes one look, sees the goalie off his line, puts his head down, and then fakes the goalie by pretending to trip while lashing out at the ball simultaneously – a nifty move that he’s had a lot of chances to practice since the beginning of this season. A huge divot goes flying temporarily blocking the goalie’s view of the ball (or maybe he mistook the divot for the ball). Too late he realizes the error of his ways (too much booze, too many fast women – ooops that would be Henry, the George Best of the Spartans) and starts backpedaling. Time stops, the ball seems to hang up there in the ozone for an eternity, and then time speeds up all too fast for the University goalie. He’s scooping the ball out of the back of the net. 1-0 for the mighty Spartans! Now that makes the 7th Spartan to have scored before Flabbo (not that he was keeping track).

Dazed and confused, we’re actually in the lead! And the Spartans are relentless. It’s like a switch has been thrown and you can sense the electricity, the samba current… We keep pouring it on and Alan who’s been working tirelessly steals the ball from a University central defender and makes the sweetest of crosses (with his right foot, of course). And there he is… I blink once, an apparition, a mirage, speedier than the new KCR extension, it’s Flabbo with a beautifully timed run, a marker drapped all over him… rising majestically to meet the ball with a glancing header and knocking it into the right-hand corner past a goalie still rooted to the spot, arms flaying like a windmill, and just as ineffective. Before you can say Igor Biscan, the Spartans are 2-0 up on University.

Sometimes the game can look so easy and sometimes the game can look so like Liverpool-Blackburn. Of course the Spartans have a habit of making things look easy for the opposition and we have our usual 5-minute before halftime meltdown. The University players are starting to fall at a rapid rate (that grassy knoll sniper’s ghost must have been let loose on our pitch via that Halloween voodoo), as if they had been shot. Free kicks are piling up quickly against the Spartans, a lot of shoving is going on, and the #19 comes close to scoring twice, once off a seeing eye cross deflected into his path (only for him to put it wide when staring at an open goal) and then off a goal mouth scramble coming off a corner kick. Phew the referee, the University’s 12th man some might charitably accuse, finally blows his whistle.

Halftime and that means time for Rickman to make an inspirational speech, looking rad (now that’s a word I haven’t heard since "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off") in the white T-shirt, jeans, and sunglasses. Not a worry in the world. Game on, the heat is starting to take its toll and the speedy wingers for University are making some darting runs. Holes (not big ones) are starting to appear. The fresh #7 gets the ball in the box marked by Lionel who nips him (the slightest of nips but with this referee u knew what was coming) and gets not only called for a penalty but yellow carded as well.

To add insult to outrage… I keep expecting Ben to pull off a Tim Howardesque save (that would be the American great hope in goal who unfortunately has been rather shabbily treated by Sir Alex at Man U but that could be my rather uninformed opinion) but he guesses wrong and the ball rolls agonizingly close by untouched, unloved… All of a sudden University are back in 2-1 and now’s the time to answer the siren’s call. In the Spartans’ moment of need, their old war horse Flabbo (our Shearer, our England) rises to the occasion and taking a beautiful through ball from Lionel beating University’s offside trap, calmly coolly slots the ball home for a 3-1 lead.

Mark and Marco come in to shore a sagging midfield that’s been running round all day. Mark in the center with good collection of the ball floating them out to Marco who’s dashing down the left wing and uncorks a couple shots that come oh so close. Stevie’s in as well up front for Alan who put himself into a couple good scoring positions (the goals will come) and was especially unlucky not to have scored in the second half when University’s goalie through sheer ingenuity made a brilliant save with his arse.

Keith comes in for Kid Will who’s acclimatizing himself well with the squad. Keith pulls off a couple crucial clearances with that omnipresent head of his. Stevie’s trying to kill time with a little tango with the left corner flag… But then ball ballooning towards our far post and Ben’s gone done a runner can’t punch it. University player unleashes a shot which caroms off Andy Crooke’s noggin only to have that flagged as a goal by a line judge wearing University-tinted trifocals and it’s 3-2. Just like that. No respite for the Spartans.

Things get interesting as University make one nice sweeping move but Ben is up to the task and holds on to the ball and keeps holding on to the ball, swallowing it into his mitts (paid for by management?). Tony Choi, shout out, done well on the left, but gets handed a yellow-card. Is this a sign that the Apocalypse is upon us, or a bad omen for Tuesday’s coming presidential election in the US? Andy C solid as ever.

Shout out to Wayne and his funky set of wheels and rolling dem funky cigarettes. Andy Leung who gets in the match in the dying minute which took a really long time to die thanks to the referee.

If I’ve missed anyone, sorry, but maybe considering that I’m such a jaded cynical American (a man without a country if Bush wins come this Tuesday) maybe that’s not such a bad thing… But major props to Flabbo who took the ribbing like a man and came up big when we needed him most. I think I’m gonna get all mushy and weepy… Not. MOTM Flabbo and the beat goes on.

Life is good. But too much of a good thing can be a bad thing as a couple Spartans found out later on that day, and I’ve got lots of strange text messages from girls named Lollita that must be promptly deleted. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and da kidz are alright… I’m out like Liverpool versus Deportivo come Wednesday.