*BS*Mark Winter continues his new weekly column with a reminiscence of the impact a substitute can make at any level…*BF*
A week or so ago, I offered to write a Dover Sunday League column for this website. Having been very politely turned down, it wasn’t too difficult for me to appreciate why such scribblings wouldn’t have been appropriate here.
In essence, I’d simply be asking the club to indulge me while I mercilessly take the rise out of my mates. Having earned a few quid for the better part of 14 years doing just that, I’m happy to cut my losses and accept that I had a good run for somebody else’s money.
No matter, as the comings and goings in the local league have given me a wealth of anecdotes to dip into from time to time, particularly when I’m seeking to raise a chuckle and illustrate the lighter side of the game. Hence I shall crave your indulgence as I relate the tale of how I was privileged enough to have witnessed the most remarkable contribution ever made by a substitute (I expect) in the league’s 46-year history.
Our story is set in the 2001-2002 season when over-40s side Bull Fossils are making a reasonable fist of competing against much younger sides in the Dover & District Sunday Football League. Having bucked up after a slow start, the Coffin Dodgers, as they are known locally, were drawn at home in the Diesel Johnny Cup to a club with a proud and distinguished history: Snowdown Colliery Welfare.
“At home” was the message that everyone got, apart from one Fossils’ squad member. In these days of super-injunctions, I shall recognise the fellow’s right to privacy to a degree; let’s simply call him Fraser if for no other reason than this is actually his name. Fraser, an amiable and highly intelligent Scotsman on his day, had turned up at Snowdown’s Spinney Lane ground, some 12 miles away from the Danes in Dover where the tie was about to kick off. Responding admirably to the clarion cry, “you’re sub, get yourself here double quick,” Fraser quite literally got on his bike to ensure that he was kitted out and ready to strut his not inconsiderable stuff some 10 minutes after the start of what proved to be an end-to-end affair between two well-matched sides.
‘Ready’ might not be the most appropriate adjective to describe his situation, however. Fraser needed a further 10 minutes to appreciate that the game he was watching during his warm-up run wasn’t actually ours. When the penny dropped that we’d swapped shirts with another club to avoid a colour clash with the Colliers, he joined the rest of us on the touchline of an adjacent pitch. In the finest traditions of the Sunday morning game, Fraser took, squarely on the chin, a volley of good-natured abuse that was harsh, yet fair and unremitting. As the game itself became a support act to some top-notch Vaudevillian cabaret, Snowdown scored twice to take a lead into the half-time interval.
Many, I’m certain, will share my view that when a day starts this badly it seldom improves. As something of a weedy pigeon, I would almost certainly have returned to a horizontal position under my duvet long before reaching this juncture. Luckily, our ebullient Braveheart was made of much sterner stuff and if the two fine goals he scored during his second half cameo didn’t fit his dullard-of-the-day persona, they were very much in keeping with the fabulous game they decided in the Fossils’ favour. Such was the quality of our hero’s first goals of the season, they seemed certain to erase all memory of his earlier misfortunes. Or would have done in a fair and just world.
It was some time after the final whistle that we discovered, with celebrations of an unexpected victory well under way in the dressing room, that the man of the hour was nowhere to be seen. Subsequent investigations revealed that Fraser, with hands on hips and adopting a semblance of a man-of-action gait, was still on the pitch and standing adjacent to the centre spot where he had placed the match ball. In short, the man who’d won the game had no idea he’d done so, and was waiting to kick off extra time, being oblivious to the fact that we’d taken an early lead before his arrival and had won the game 3-2.
Fraser’s protestations that he should have been alerted to this fact were reasonable, but dismissed under the where-would-have-been-the-fun-in-that principal. 10 years on and pushing 50 rather firmly, our man still turns out regularly and still hopes to live this story down.
I find his optimism misplaced but quite touching.