It’s hot. Damn hot. But then again, i don’t think i’ve played a game in Maidstone where the sun wasn’t beating down and people were turning into lobsters… Just another day in the Garden of England apparently (according to the Maidstone Pumas’ General Manager).
So, we arrive in Maidstone, with the sun beating down to find a nice firm pitch, a 5 man refereeing crew (albeit consisting of Harry Potter, Tweedle Dum, the Flagless Wonder, a trainee from Somerset and some bloke called Nobby – fills you with confidence…), and two teams ready to go at it. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was all systems go, ready for kick off, but that wasn’t quite the case. We had our roster check, we had the coin toss (we lost, and i blame Tommy Clarke…), and we even buckled the chinstraps, but one essential part was missing. The ambulance. Yes, it’s compulsory to have an ambulance at the game, and we didn’t have one. So we waited…and waited…and waited… Talks of a Maidstone forfeit were bandied about. Talks of Gladiators being awarded the game. The refs confirmed that we had to wait an hour before this happened though. So we continued to wait. It was like having the music from Countdown in your head for an entire hour. Watching the clock tick round, and imagining the impact of this. 12.30 came and went, as did 12.45. The big hand was getting nearer and nearer the top of the clock when, all of a sudden, with seconds remaining, the Ambulance came into view, greeted by rapturous applause and cheering… Actually more like a chorus of “About bloody time!” from 60 disgruntled football players. But that was not the only drama to unfold…
So, we kick off, and Maidstone take the ball. Ineffective on their first drive, we take over. Three plays in we see Alex “Slider” Robinson storming into the End Zone for an apparent score, only to have it called back for a block in the back. tut, tut Dave Scott.
The score does come though, with Duncan Flack storming in from close range, but not before the Pumas managed to sneak in one of their own. However, because Slider’s great, he runs in the 2 point conversion and the Gladiators take the lead at the half. This was soon followed by a Paul Gates run down the sideline for another 6.
Unfortunately for us the Pumas were not dead yet – a 31yard TD brought them level with only a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Colchester marched menacingly into the red zone behind more strong running by Robinson and Flack but a six yard loss on a sweep brought up third and long. On fourth down, Robinson was stopped a yard short on the Pumas’ 4 but the home team had the ball with time running out. However, the youthful exuberance of Mark Gilbranch proved too much for the Pumas’ running back, as he was hauled down at the line of scrimmage. Mark finally managing to prove that he is actually more useful with his pads on than he is with the pub quiz answer sheet in his hand… Mark was backed up by Nick Foxley and Paul Brunsden, forcing the Pumas to punt the ball away with less than a minute on the clock…Gladiators take control with 37 yards to go… tick followed tock followed tick followed tock. You could hear the cogs in the official’s watch moving – or you could have done if he hadn’t been wearing a digital watch… The heat was intense, sweat dripped off everyone, some guys were roasting nicely and the tan lines were really something special.
First Down – minimal gain.
40 seconds to go.
Second Down – nothing.
Less than 30 seconds. tick followed tock followed tick followed tock
Third Down – Dan “the slinger” Singer drops back, closes his eyes, utters some sort of prayer and lets the ball fly… imagine the slow motion spiral as it sails through the air… Gates leaps, Defenders swarm around him, the ball drops…. into Gates’ hands at the 8 yard line for a first down.
Last chance now… tick followed tock followed tick followed tock, 15 seconds to go….Robinson sweeps round the outside to the 3 yard line. Then chaos – as the clock runs lower and lower, the officials can’t decide where to spot the ball. I stand there screaming at them, pointing to where Robinson was down, but still they discuss the spot, and even change the ball. tick followed tock followed tick followed tock. Then, blessed relief, Harry Potter signals that the Pumas have taken a timeout. 3rd timeout, 3 seconds on the clock, 3 yard line. Why they’d call it then, nobody knows. All we know is that it gave us the opportunity to get the play in. Coach Neil O’Hare was cool, calm and calculated. He assessed the options, and knowing that there was time for one play only, he called King Right Toss. 3 seconds, 3 yards, 3 words.
Whistles blow, the teams line up. Singer starts shouting, “Red 18, Red 18…” the snap goes, the blocks are made, but hardly needed – the Pumas’ defence are exhausted in the heat. Singer turns, tosses the ball to Robinson. It’s Robinson to the 3, the 2, the 1… TOUCHDOWN! Time expires, the crowd (all 2 men and their dog) go wild, and the Gladiators claim the win. Slider racks up another 100yard game, and Duncan gets a score, so he can’t whine this week.
So, lengthy break now – about 5 weeks until the next game, but there’s plenty going on behind the scenes, so watch this space for updates…