Allan 2, Flabbo 1, Marco 1

"Spartans must be eating three shredded wheat as they again got up early and hammered NASA, this time only 4-0. That makes it four thumping wins in a row, scoring nineteen goals in the process and conceding only one." YauYee League web site 12-12-04.

The Spartans as of late have been playing fantastic football, solid and cohesive, with contributions coming from all over the pitch… Of course that’s not what went through my mind at 7 a.m. Sunday as I rolled over to turn off my alarm clock, silently muttering choice words about having to fall out of bed and play footie at such a god forsaken hour. I exaggerate slightly as it was a gorgeous morning and once the sun came up and the rays struck you it was good to be alive and the birds were twittering in the trees.

My cellphone battery ran out of juice sometime around 4 a.m. Saturday as did most of my memory of what was (I’m sure) a memorable Christmas affair. Props to Spartan management for taking the Guinness dolos and putting together a nice show at Jimmy’s Kitchen followed by (quite) a few more drinks down at the Stag. So I was kinda out of the loop but decided to drag my carcass down to Sandy Bay for the 8:30 a.m. showdown with NASA. I show up bright and early at 8 a.m. and imagine my surprise when I’m greeted by the sight of a few lonely joggers.

No NASA, no referees, no Spartans, no way of contacting anyone to find out if I’m at the right pitch or not… Panic starts to set in but I chill and eat an orange and part my hair down the middle and bump into the refs sitting in the stands next to me and smile and wave. In the locker room changing I hear Flabbo’s booming voice a mile away from Admiralty with a tinge of ambiguity. "No Ben, no Terry, they’re dropping like flies…" How reassuring some things are. Expect the unexpected. Keith, Lionel, Will, Henry, and F roll in. I’m told Ben’s missing the match because of a bout of Saturday Night Fever, the kind u contact when leaving a disco or get asked politely by a bouncer to exit at 6 a.m. and u realize u’re actually quite beat and the thought of being able to move ur body in a fashion that approximates playing footie is so remote that u lose ur cookies and get da fever (I don’t know how Stevie does it). [Hope you’re feeling better. Drink plenty of water and lay off the Menthols for a while.] Looks like we’ll get the requisite 8 to make the match legit.

Stevie is pulling on his goalie gear, a bit dusty from disuse. Alan’s on his way. And somehow, some way, we manage to line up with 11 guys on the pitch. Flabs is paired up front with Alan, filling in the big, wide Stevie boots. Henry and the Scouser in the middle. Marco & Lionel on the flanks (our Robben and Duff, well almost, not quite), Will and Tony right and left back, and Andy C and Thierry in the center. Keith, Kenny, Rickman, Andy L, and assorted posse, krew people, girlfriends, and hangerons in the stands, numbering all in all a rousing crowd of millions out there to cheer on the Spartans.

NASA has a few players who missed the first shellacking and we’re expecting a much tighter match on a pretty wide pitch. They kick off and immediately their speedy #5 makes a run calling for the ball which luckily for me doesn’t get delivered. As the game progresses, he falls back to a central midfield position to pull the strings but is effectively neutralized by Paul H and fails to have an impact on the match. Notorious slow starters that we are, especially at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday, Flabbo and Lionel are yelling at everyone to wake up and get their heads into the game, giving everyone an earful. Will is having a blinder at right back, winning every 50:50 ball with authority and putting in some nifty crosses. It’s his last game for a while as he’s off to balmy, tropical England for the holidays to relax on a beach in Portsmouth.

Alan gets the ball at his feet near the box and makes some nifty moves ("he’s crafty…") to beat 2-3 NASA defenders until he’s sillily taken out from behind and rightfully makes one or two full rolls on the ground (but nothing compared to my masterpiece the week before against HKSS where I completed 5 body revolutions of extreme difficulty after being viciously hacked to the ground right as I was about to embark on an Ronaldo-esque 50 yard sprint – I’ve been told it was worthy of an Oscar, which is a compliment if u come from southern California). So minutes into the match and we’re awarded a penalty which Alan calmly slots into the lower right hand corner for a 1-0 lead.

This might not be so bad after all (I’m thinking) and worth getting up for so early in the morning. Some more interchanges between Henry who’s doing a good job of winning balls with Paul in the midfield and slipping them off to Marco and Lionel on the wings with the ol’ toe poke he does so refinely. And Flabbo gets the ball with a defender to his back stuck on his hips, spins the dude, turns and I think with the left foot (correct me if I’m wrong) beautifully places the ball in the upper left hand corner for a 2-0 lead. Game on! The third goal comes shortly afterwards with a move started by Henry who one times the ball to me who instinctively knowing that Paul H has acres of space in front of him down the middle does a nifty heel pass to P who in turn takes the ball and using Flabbo as a decoy (no assist on that one, geezer) puts the ball on the foot of a streaking Marco for goal number 3.

The defense is really solid and NASA get one errant shot on goal the entire first half. They’re not even putting in dangerous free kicks or contesting headers. Tony does his step over with back to attacker 180 turns to get out of danger a couple times. Andy C is magisterial, clearing all danger, and Thierry is without a yellow card and using his knees to great effectiveness as he tries to settle down balls and go for 40 yard blasts (which never come because that settling down part is a bit harder when u’re moving at full blast and trying to bounce through a couple NASA players). NASA’s #14 and #15 attempt some runs but the Spartans midfield is doing a great job of getting "stuck in there" and not giving NASA’s midfield time to look up and make that pinpoint pass.

3-0 at halftime, a commanding performance I must say. The team is loose playing well, brimming with confidence. Sun is shining down. A few changes are made at half and Will moves up to right wing with Kenny in on at right back. Super K takes no prisoners and is winning challenges and even running over his own teammates to head balls. Sheer, unfettered aggression. You can see the word "Kill" etched in Kenny’s eyes. NASA seem deflated and Spartans are getting the better of the chances. Rickman is lively in central midfield coming in for Henry and has one moment of beauty where he pulls down the ball eludes a couple NASA defenders to see Alan and Marco calling for the ball on the either side with no one in front of them only to have his cross hit the one NASA player for miles around right smack in the chest. A pity, would have been sweet.

The game starts to degenerate a bit and Will takes a shot in the ribs and has to be subbed out. Keith comes in and Kenny moves forward to inflict maximum damage and even put in a few sweet crosses. One is angled towards Alan who has time but powers it wide off the goal. But Alan makes amends by rounding and rounding and rounding the goalie until the ball pops up on his trusted right foot for goal number 4. Andy L has one chance when the goalie drops a cross but Andy’s got his back turned the other way and can’t quite get to the ball first. He does a good job of creaming a few NASA defenders.

Game slows down. NASA suffer a few hurts. Paul H decides to go into Beckham mode (sort of like God mode when u play one of these Playstation single shooter games but not) and hack some poor NASA sod from behind with the ref running behind Paul H the whole way hand on back pocket where cards are kept. Paul earns a yellow and is missing the crucial match next week against Hearts. Oh yeah he’s sodding off to Australia on Tuesday. No wonder. Well hopefully you get plenty of rest and don’t do too many crazy drugs. But he has one more moment of "glory" some would call it. Ball bouncing a mile above his head and Paul decides to give it the old bicycle kick. [What have u been getting up to in bed lately?] He stretches his leg above his head further than humanely possible (must be some of that Alien blood) and promptly lands flat on his back with a resounding thud. The ground is shaking, the might giant has fallen. I’m thinking shit I hope he didn’t twist his knickers. But in the looming gloom he rises again to do battle, a true gladiator.

There are a few other moments of hilarity. Defending 4-0 and striving for that all important clean sheet so Komissar Lionel can properly compensate the hard working Spartan defenders (and not cheat us as I suspect he has been, there’s something fishy about that scoring and who’s on top and who’s not), NASA start to show a pulse and win a few late corners. The first one is cleared by Kenny who bull rushes everyone and heads the ball out of danger. The second one is cleared by Kenny inches over the bar as he (purposefully?) foots the ball away (Kenny: an own goal doesn’t get u the magic 3 points in the fantasy league).

And the third is cleared off the line by Keith. And the final whistle blows and everyone’s taking a shower and off to the Stag for a bite and a drink only to find out that places in Wanchai actually do close down and people do go to sleep. 10 minutes of standing out in the bitter cold (luckily I’ve got my hat and scarf) and someone opens up the door so we can trundle inside and get warm. Everyone’s sipping a brew and Alan orders the Fish and Chips and it’s the biggest fish I’ve ever seen (must have been swimming off the coast near that nuclear reactor in Sanya Bay) and we get to watch Leeds United-Sheffield United highlights. Bliss! Indeed a really nice way to kick off a Sunday. I recuperate in time to watch the Arse-Chelsea game and must say it’s a fair result, exciting in some stretches, but that Henry bloke’s 2nd goal will bring not so fond memories to those Spartans who were on tour in Shanghai.