The Hoofer: Now I believe in miracles

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The Independent Online

The changing room was abuzz with mobile phones and the conversation centred around long-lost friends. Talented, hard-working players we hadn't seen in years. In the land of amateur football that can only mean one thing: your team's been let down at the last minute and you need some more bodies.

The changing room was abuzz with mobile phones and the conversation centred around long-lost friends. Talented, hard-working players we hadn't seen in years. In the land of amateur football that can only mean one thing: your team's been let down at the last minute and you need some more bodies.

On Saturday morning, two mates of Del had phoned in excuses and we were about to field 10 men against South West Central, the geographically ambiguous outfit who knocked us out of the cup in monsoon conditions two weeks ago.

In this situation, almost literally anyone will do. In the warm-up, Russ told me that he once played 90 minutes while waiting for an operation on a snapped anterior cruciate ligament. This is a bit like trying to drive a car without a steering wheel. His contribution consisted of running in straight lines with a bandage bound around his knee, hoping that no one would be stupid enough to pass him the ball.

And so the networks rang with desperate call after desperate call. "Is that Dave? Are you still playing football?"; "Tim? How's that knee of yours after the car crash?"

The best I could do was to offer the services of Ralph, my sexagenarian father-in-law, veteran of Accrington Stanley reserves and the only man in Lancashire to have scored from the halfway line with a header.

We wandered on to the pitch like condemned men certain that death awaited them, but carefree and released of any anxiety. With mighty figures such as Josh and Daymo absent, it was a chance for minor stars to shine. It was a lovely spring day. So what if we had 10 men and our opponents had seven substitutes. (I'm not making this up. They had seven substitutes.) Butterflies fluttered around the net, the trees were flushed with cherry blossom, and we were about to get hammered.

We managed to stay on level terms for 10 minutes and then, like a miracle, Simon appeared. Zake's greatest contribution on Saturday was, in one phone call, to make his mate Simon feel guilty enough to make the journey from East Sheen.

Word has it that he was once a youth-team player with Fulham. When he touched the ball you could tell this lad was quality, but at our level fitness counts for as much as talent, and at times he was reminiscent of Diego Maradona in the later stages of his career.

In recent weeks Lee Martin has been muttering about a lack of service up front. As Doug toiled like some selfless John Toshack to Lee's Kevin Keegan, the game began to swing our way. Lee's first goal was redolent of Mark Hughes as he ruthlessly snaffled a half-chance in the six-yard box. His second was pure Lineker: as their keeper parried a shot, the boy Martin pounced. The final goal, the winner as it emerged, was total Thierry Henry. With five minutes to go, Lee made it three as he tucked away a classy through-ball from Simon.

The opposition may have hit the bar five times and missed a waiting-room full of sitters, but we deserved this one. It's quality that counts, not quantity.

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