16th March will be forever associated with two iconic sporting events. The first ever FA Cup Final was held at The Oval on this day in 1872 when a crowd of 2,000 people watched The Wanderers defeat The Royal Engineers 1-0 with a goal from Morton Betts - a tap-in following a mazy dribble through the Engineers’ defence from Walpole Vidal (footballers had some great names in those days). The officials would have checked on the goal with VAR but the photo hadn’t been developed by the final whistle! Mr Betts actually played in the final under the pseudonym of ‘A.H. Chequer’ as his normal club was the Harrow Chequers, a blatant and frankly outrageously transparent ruse which remarkably still appeared to flummox the FA into allowing him to play. Fast forward a mere 147 years and Wales secured a brilliant 12th Grand Slam in the driving wind and rain in Cardiff (should have kept the roof on Ireland!), a universally acclaimed victory which was heralded throughout the Barnes clubhouse (or perhaps that was just where I was sitting). Wales! Wales!
Sandwiched in between these two great sporting moments was the 10am crunch game between Old Kingstonians and Barnes Beavers earlier in the day (in 2019, not 1872). There was a lot riding on the result – a win for the unbeaten and already promoted OKs would secure them the SOHL Division 2 Championship while the 5th placed Beavers were looking to ensure a top half finish which would better the 7th place achieved last year. Following a great 1-1 draw at Shene just before Christmas we were expecting another close game.
Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and we were 3-0 down after just a quarter of an hour as we collapsed quicker than the England rugby team. Ironically the first goal came after sustained pressure from the Beavers where we had three consecutive short corners but from the third OKs stole the ball (think of a Scottish interception from an Owen Farrell pass), broke the full length of the pitch and scored with a free shot on goal. Five minutes later we had conceded twice more, firstly after Paul had saved an initial shot but the follow-up effort was converted at the near post and the third from a short corner shot into the centre of the goal. Back came Barnes and it was our turn to register a goal when Tommy’s scooped shot from the edge of the D beat the keeper into the corner but OKs then scored twice more after further scrambles and initial saves from Paul. 5-1 was looking pretty bleak but we won a penalty flick just before the interval when Tommy’s shot was smothered by the OK keeper. Pops calmly flicked the ball into the goal to make it 5-2 at half time.
Remarkably after seven first half goals there were none in the second half but this certainly wasn’t the end of the action. The OK centre forward hit two good reverse stick shots just wide and a few minutes later Dan cleared the ball off the line under pressure from two forwards before deflecting the follow up shot over the bar. James and Tommy then both had shots well saved at the other end while OKs were only thwarted from scoring more from four fantastic saves late in the game from Paul including one double effort and another flick pushed clear. However it was the Beavers who finished the strongest with Tom shooting narrowly wide and in the final play of the game Mike ran with the ball from inside his own half before shooting into the side of the goal.
So a 5-2 defeat but a reasonable performance against a team who are still undefeated in their 19 league fixtures this season. Old Kingstonians have clinched the title with a game to spare while Barnes drop down to 6th place. With just one game to go we can still finish anywhere between 4th and 8th so the target is to come in 6th or above to improve our 7th placed finish last year. The final game of the season is at home against 3rd placed Old Cranleighans in a fortnight. A difficult choice for Beaver of the week this week as the team started slowly but played much better after the calamitous first quarter (just like Scotland). Therefore the garland goes to Dean for covering an awful lot of ground at left back and putting in some fantastic tackles and blocks throughout the game. Congratulations Dean!