Wins, Wallies and Weary travelers…

June 14, 2013

So the season is underway, and after a first game triumph we move on to our first away game, a lengthy 2 hour coach trawl from motorway to ring road and back, which results in a depleted roster of players turning out in the middle of a field to impress two men and a dog. I jest… somewhat…

These away trips are filled with both excitement and dread in equal measure from the team, who loathe the cramped journey the seemingly below par changing facilities, the sloping fields, the unkempt grass, the wonky posts and the cold showers. But these are accepted without question, and with a tacit nod to the opposition who will have five such journeys of their own over the course of the season.

So we migrate from far and wide to the bus, as if a beacon attracting the dregs of society. Students, still wrestling with the vodka on their breath from the night before, the twenty-something gym rats who stroll through the rain in their flip flops, carrying bags of fresh fruit and protein shakes, and the weekend warriors who trundle up to the bus just delighted to have a day away from the wives and girlfriends, delegating childcare to the rest of the family. It’s a disparate group of individuals, who come together as a team every couple of weeks. And, as glamorous as this may sound, it’s only the start of the saga…

So what I’ve described so far is pretty uniform for many teams around the UK i suggest, but now, let’s look more specifically at the Gladiators. Peeling back the curtain on one of the more disfunctional group of misfits you’ll ever see.

Now, we’re on the bus, inevitably there’s a latecomer, someone we’ll either chose to wait for or leave behind depending on their relative significance on the field. Often there’ll be frantic phone calls to someone who was under the impression that they’d told a friend of a friend’s brother in law to leave a message for the gameday manager’s wife that they’re not going to be there on the day. So the bus pulls away, 20 minutes after the time we advertised we’d leave, with a grumpy driver.

At this point we have the usual exercise, the head coach stands up surveys his men, like a military leader readying the troops for combat. His head soon drops and plants squarely into his hand in true Charlie Brown fashion as he sees the bunch of reprobates that turn up. The starting running back is injured – in truth, Casey’s milking it for all it’s worth, but that’s ok, we’ve got Chris Pa…. No, we haven’t. Last week’s breakout superstar is absent as well. Exams. The perils of being a student. Why couldn’t he be like the rest of them and just not care about his grades!

Still, we’ve got a couple of runners, so we should be ok. The Quarterback, the now legendary Curtis Bourke, sits in the corner trying to decide who to hurl abuse at this journey. His first target is the returning Phill Pearson. For the uninitiated, Phill is a law unto himself. The self proclaimed walking STI, Phill’s past is chequered to say the least. Whilst his past is worthy of an entire website of its own, there is the one story that continues to be indelibly linked with Phill wherever he goes. Most will be well aware of this by now, but let me precursor the story by saying that Phill is a lot more grown up now, far more mature, and he’d never let anything like this happen again…we hope.

So, let’s paint the picture, it’s a night out in Colchester, the beer is flowing, the shots are flying, and the dancefloor is packed. Phill’s beloved girlfriend is away, in Australia no less, and is due back in a day or two, so he’s taking advantage of a last night of freedom. He stumbles out of the Hippodrome (that’s Liquid, for those under the age of 28…) and having exchanged some flirtatious messages with a girl earlier, he thinks that it’s got to be worth a look, so he fumbles in his pocket for his keys and manages to unlock his car. Clearly well over the limit he realises that driving isn’t the most sensible option, but rather than call a taxi, he has a better idea… I’ll drive on the back roads instead. You know, the single carriageway roads, with very little space for cars to pass, with steep drops off the edge of the road, or trees skirting the tarmac… Genius. So, pretending he’s James Bond, he swerves around tight corners and speeds along the road. Soon, somewhat predictably, a chain of events unfolds whereby car and tarmac are no longer adjacent. In fact, some might say that the car and the road were separated… by a ditch. Now, it’s not as bad as you might think, he didn’t get seriously hurt or anything like that. The car had found its way into a field, separated from the road by a small ditch, and a slight incline, which made it pretty difficult to get back onto the established thoroughfare. So what do you do? You’re in a field, in your car, and you need to get back onto the road. Well, logic dictates that somewhere in the field will be a gate or an entrance, after all the farmer needs to get his tractors onto the field somehow… So what does Phill do? Well, he certainly doesn’t go looking for a gate…

Still riding the James Bond wave of adrenaline, with a mixture of vodka, Red Bull, gin, lager and Jaegermeister coursing through his veins Phill reverses the car 50 yards into the field, he mashes it into gear, slams his foot down, and he hears the triumphant Smokey and the Bandit theme song in his head. He accelerates quickly and the car leaps into the air, soars over the ditch, landing comfortably back on the road, to tumultuous applause from the spectators… or not. No, the car landed squarely in the ditch, and young Pearson couldn’t get it out. So what do you do now? Panic? Phone someone? No, apparently you stay in the car and you fall asleep. Of course, silly me.

Knock, knock, knock

Phill stirs, but is convinced that he’s imagining things, so he goes back to sleep.

Knock, knock, knock

Hmm, that’s a noise that needs investigating. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he can’t see anything but a massive blur, gradually the world comes into focus and he sees a car, a white car he thinks, but it could be blue, it’s still too early to see. There are two men at the window, they’re wearing black… For a minute Phill contemplates whether his time is up, and the Grim Reaper had come to claim him… But the Grim Reaper is one man, not two, and he rides a fiery white horse, not a white car. But, this is the 21st century…

And then the world snaps into focus, it’s not a white car, it’s a white police car. The two men are policemen. And they’re still knocking on his window.

It’s fair to say that this part of the story doesn’t need too much explaining. It ran along the lines of “Who’s a naughty boy then?”, however, as the car wasn’t moving, he couldn’t be arrested for drink driving. Talk about legal loopholes…

So, Phill goes home, sleeps off the hangover, having promised to retrieve the car from the ditch later in the day.

Later in the day… Phill recruits a friendly driver to help him tow the car out of the ditch, and they return to the scene of the crime (“not a crime, just a misdemeanour. I wasn’t actually driving at the time…”). And then, to cap the whole saga, what do they arrive to find? No, the car hadn’t been stolen. Some young ASBO clad youth had decided to toast some marshmellows, and so lobbed a match into the car and burnt the whole thing out. It was a smoking shell of a car, good for nothing but rubbish.

Serves him right you say? Well, did I mention that it wasn’t his car? You remember that girlfriend that’s in Australia? Well it’s her car…

And she’s due to land tomorrow. And is expecting Phill to pick her up from the airport in that very car.

Still, Phill’s far more grown up now. So he says…

Anyway, we come away from Milton Keynes on this occasion with the win, and soon we head to Watford for game 3 – another away trip, another dodgy changing room, crooked field, and goalposts fixed to the top of the soccer goal. Despite this, another win before returning home to take on the unbeaten Bedfordshire Blue Raiders.

So, we’re hosting the top of table Blue Raiders. Expectations are high. Tension amongst the team, as everyone understands what needs to be done. And, despite flags for any word uttered on the field, or any inkling of a hold, the Gladiators remained unbeaten, routing the previously undefeated Bedford side, and taking both divisional top spot, but also the number 1 ranking nationally. 3 weeks until taking on local rivals Essex Spartans on a Saturday night in Billericay with county pride on the line!

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