And so, at 9 a.m. on Saturday 14th May 2011, we assembled in the car park of the West End Club, Chippenham. Six guests, four volunteers, two staff of Doorway, ready to travel in three cars to John of Gaunt School, Trowbridge. There, at 10 a.m., would commence the 2011 WASP (Wiltshire Addiction Support Project) annual 5-a-side football tournament – Doorway Football Project’s first competitive outing.
It was hard to believe that it was only eight months earlier that I wrote this post about the Homeless World Cup and our nascent football project. Our numbers were low to start with. I tried to lift my spirits by remembering how Jon Regler had had the same worries about low turnout when they started the now hugely successful Streets Revolution in Oxford. I wrote in the post:
“Jon Regler reminds me of how their project also started with small numbers. Little acorns, and all that. We hope that patience, persistence, hard work, and commitment to what we are trying to achieve, will get us to where we want to be. Just like those players in Rio”
But I’m not sure I wasn’t talking a good game rather than being totally convinced. Yet we stuck at it, and eventually the numbers taking part rose. I must give credit here to Chris Ballinger of Chippenham Futsal Club, whose coaching skills and enthusiasm made the guests feel they were really getting something special. Skill and fitness levels and confidence grew apace.
And so, here we were. We had entered into a tournament without ever having played anybody outside Doorway. We had no idea how we matched up to the other teams. There would be sixteen (at the last count on the Thursday night) – the WASP team plays every week, the Amber Foundation Trowbridge team are all under 25 year-olds (our two oldest players are 58 and 52), the Police team would be likely to be fit… To be honest, we weren’t at all sure we weren’t going to get the mother of all tonkings.
So we drove to Trowbridge with a fixture of excitement, anticipation and fear. Well, I did, anyway. The weather was almost perfect for an outdoor tournament on Astroturf – intermittent cloud and sun, but no real threat of rain, maybe a little too much wind for a game allowing above head-height balls (we’re not used to that). It was good to see a few familiar WASP faces as we arrived. We changed into our sky blue kit. Was this a good omen, with Manchester City due to play Stoke in the FA Cup Final the same day? Then again, City have a habit of blowing things…. We had entered the tournament as the Doorway Blues, as blue was not only our kit colour, but the name was a reference to the Doorway blues band, Electric Doorway.
So out we went. Boy, did those two pitches look big – much bigger than the hall we are used to at Ladyfield Church. Our fitness would REALLY be tested. Some teams had dropped out, so there were now two groups of seven. All teams in a group would play each other in ten-minute games, and the top four from each group would go through to the knockout stage. We were in a group which included WASP A and Police A, both of whom were expected to be very strong teams, so it already looked like a tough task.
We had time for some warm-up drills under the aegis of Chris, and I did think that our warm-up looked more organised than that of the other teams. The tournament then got under way, and Amber were playing one of the council teams on one pitch. We watched a very competitive start, and looked at each other with some trepidation as to how we would fare. And soon it was underway for us…..
We had eleven players, and each game used five players and one substitute. I had negotiated with Debbie, one of the chief organisers, that we could rotate players as long as we had a definite five plus one for each game. So our ‘manager’ Kev had decided on a rotation policy, with priority of appearances given to the six guests, but the other five being given run-outs.
We dominated the first game but with no luck in front of goal, including one tht hit the woodwork, until Guy headed home for the only goal of the game. When the final whistle blew, what relief and happiness! Whatever happened, we had won a game, and not embarrassed ourselves.
And it just got better and better. With each game, confidence grew. Second game was against the fancied Police A team, and gradually through the game it dawned on us watching that we were better than them. In the end, Doorway pushed forward more, knowing there was nothing to fear, and were denied a great win by the woodwork, having been frankly all over the Police by the end. There was one comment during this game of “we can’t beat the police, or they won’t give us bail again”………
In fact, the Doorway coaches and support made a fair bit of noise throughout. Oh, OK, a lot of noise. I’m usually pretty loud at the football, but I was definitely outshouted by Reds, and plenty of others ran me close. And it was pretty much all clean, apart from from one word from me. Oh, and me calling the ref a fascist. And that was a joke. Honest. Reds also came up with the chant of the day: “We’re homeless, we’re blue, we’ll score more goals than you”
The team went into the lunch interval on one win and two draws, with no goals conceded. The manager and coaches decided that the best strategy was to put the best possible team out for the next game to get the win that should ensure qualification, even though that meant putting out a less strong team against the might of WASP A. The win was duly achieved with belting goals from Chris and Kev. And so for what was probably in retrospect, one of the best bits of the day. We went out for the slaughter, but battled, and battled. It was sheer rearguard defending. We came for a draw – and through sheer commitment, we got it. The final whistle was greeted as if we’d won.
The final match was won also, with a goal from Chris, and so we had qualified in second place in our group. The reward – a quarter-final against Amber. THAT Amber, the one we’d watched at the very start and been scared by. We started with a more defensive formation, and pushed forward more towards the end when it became clear there was not too much to fear. If the game had gone on a bit longer, we were the ones more likely to have scored a winner, but 0-0 it finished, and so to the dreaded penalties. It was level after five penalties each, but then we missed in sudden death, and the dream of winning was over.
So, we had lost, but with great honour,and the team and supporters consoled the player who had missed the penalty. I shall not name him, because it wasn’t he who missed the penalty, it was Doorway – we were in everything together as one.
We watched the rest of the games. Our conquerors Amber lost their semifinal (which I reffed) to WASP A on penalties, then won the third-place play-off. WASP A then beat Police A 1-0 in the final.
Doorway Blues were unbeaten, without conceding a goal, in regular time.
We were knocked out by the team that finished third.
In the group stages, we drew with the eventual winners and runners-up.
Pretty good achievements, but at least as important were that we had fun, we showed team spirit in abundance, we played for and appreciated each other, we were all equal, and our team played with sportmanship, commitment and discipline.
Generally it was a really well-organised tournament, and the standards of sportsmanlike behaviour were excellent. I refereed two games, and they were no trouble at all. Maybe some of the overpaid Premier League primadonnas should come down to a tournament like this and see what football SHOULD be about – no playacting, no petulance. And we often hear that many of the top players have had difficult upbringings, so allowances should be made – well, what about the players in this tournament?
Our players had this to say about the day:
“Good learning experience. Beats homework!”
“Really good. Good atmosphere. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed watching and playing”
“It was a real tonic. It’s really cheered me up”
“We stuck together as a team with no arguments, and all supported each other. My mind was all over the place off the pitch, but as soon as I got on the pitch, I was focussed. I needed a day like that”
“Really good day. Really well-organised. We worked well as a team. Very proud of how we did. Glad we got to the knock-out. We need to score more,but we’ve got a solid basis, and we hit the woodwork loads”
“It was good to be a part of something. Everybody put in 100%. Great to be part of a team. Everybody was looking after each other. It was excellent”
More photographs of the day can be seen here.
Just one final personal thought. There was another important event for me on May 14th. My older daughter Becky had her 21st birthday. And I was reflecting earlier today that there were similarities with the football project – a baby I had helped bring into the world came of age on Saturday.