The Hoofer: Our keeper is out of his box

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The Independent Online

Saturday morning and off to a windy Parson's Green in south-west London. The precise venue was South Park, in fact, so it wasn't surprising that the morning would have an element of farce about it.

Before kick-off an elderly man wandered over. He revealed that he had played on the same pitch as a pupil at the school next door. "Of course, we didn't have grass back in those days," he said.

Of course, we thought to ourselves. You're so very old that grass probably hadn't been invented. "The pitch was shingle. If you fell over and cut your knee and started crying you got the cane."

In recent weeks Oxygen FC have had plenty to cry about, although we've had no trouble scoring goals. Unfortunately, neither have our opponents. On Saturday we were two down within 10 minutes thanks largely to a wind that would register in the upper reaches of the Beaufort scale. Their nippy centre-forwards stretched us at the back as even the most innocuous pass from midfield was transformed by the gales into a devastating through-ball.

Goalkeeper Paul has been one of our best players this year – thank the Lord – and it was a blow when he limped off with an injured knee after half an hour. Not for the first time this season, Russ swapped the left-back's jersey for the 'keeper's and set about protecting our net in his unorthodox but effective fashion.

As Paul departed reluctantly, his penalty area now in the hands of a stranger, he glanced back in the manner of a father leaving his young son with a babysitter. As play continued he only had eyes for his beloved 18-yard box. The concern was justified. A few minutes later, Russ was spotted gesticulating wildly towards the touchline, waving his hands in the air and motioning towards his face.

With play at the other end of the field, Paul peg-legged it on to the pitch, prepared to administer a blast of Deep Heat or some rudimentary medical attention. When he came within earshot, the scale of the problem emerged – not a hamstring or an eye injury, but something more fundamental to the goalkeeper's art.

"Have you been eating crisps?" Russ bellowed. Paul's confusion deepened. "It's your gloves," Russ complained. "They smell of crisps." In case Paul hadn't got the message, Russ raised both hands to his nose and pulled a face of pantomime disgust.

Thereafter, play was held up when a referee wandered over from a neighbouring pitch to borrow a whistle. Our genial man in black guffawed and plucked one from his kitbag. Then, with a happy wave of an wrist wrapped in a red, gold and green sweatband, play began again. As the wind dropped, goals eventually came from Dan and new signing Alex, prompted in midfield by Daymo and Nick snapping at heels like dogs in a park.

Alas, two goals were not enough, and we were blown away in a 4-2 defeat. There was disappointment but no tears. We're not going to get relegated and we're too old to get the cane.