The Hoofer | Peter Conchie

The only way is upright
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The Independent Online

It was quite a weekend for a game of football. As I drove through the squally streets of south London there were reports on the radio of a typhoon in Alsager, a tree crashing into a tower block in Southampton and a pregnant woman rescued from rising flood water in Cornwall.

But we had a game in Wandsworth Park and, as it turned out, could only envy the weather in the rest of the country. There are two pitches, and we were on the one nearest the river – the one which doesn't have a concrete shelter for the substitutes and which collects the water running down the hill.

The signs were not good before kick-off. All four corner posts were bent in the howling wind, and the referee had removed the flags for fear that they turn into lethal weapons. Rain came down as if thrown on-stage from buckets, and birds struggled to take off.

This was a big game for Oxygen FC. The last eight of the cup. It would be an exaggeration to say that it had been a struggle to get this far in the competition, as there are only nine teams in our league and seven of them – including us – had received a bye to the quarter-final stage. Even so, as finalists last year, our expectations were high.

We began well and grabbed the lead with a sharply-taken goal from Big Doug. Chris lolloped down the left wing and his cross was met by a perfectly timed run from the large fella. Unfortunately, as the weather deteriorated, so did our football. The opposition equalised.

It was a controversial goal – a through-ball was clearly offside, and the linesman agreed. At the back, we stopped while their forwards continued. The referee allowed play to continue and, despite the linesman's flag, awarded a goal.

As extra time approached anxiety levels rose. Never mind the result, the prospect of another 30 minutes in a torrential downpour was too much to bear. In such appalling conditions the important thing is to stay upright. One false move would leave you eating mud in your opponent's wake.

"Just stay on your feet, Del!" I yelled to our centre-half, urging caution as he jockeyed with an attacker. But in the split second between "Del" and "feet", Del had fallen with a sticky thud and was on his back, performing the dance of the dying fly.

Two more goals followed in extra time, neither from us. As the centre circle became unplayable it was effectively game over, although Gareth scored a beauty by way of consolation, beating three men and lashing the ball home for his first goal in four seasons.

By the end we weren't playing football, we were completing an obstacle course. Our opponents could have scored at least twice more, but on both occasions their strikers simply slipped over in the mud when through on goal.

As the end of the match approached the rain came down harder and thoughts of cup glory faded. At least our white shirts, which had become spattered with dirt and filth, turned white again.

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