Yeah, uh huh, you know what it is… BLACK ‘N YELLOW, BLACK ‘N YELLOW, BLACK ‘N YELLOW, BLACK ‘N YELLOW!
On a sweltering 27 May at the Harlington Sports Ground, the Southwell and Bernard Sunley Hornets FC overcame last year’s winners, Beit Hall FC, to clinch the Interhall Evelyn Gardens Cup.
Starting the season back in October, the S&BS team looked shoddy. Opening with friendlies against Holbein & Willis Jackson FC and Fisher Hall FC, Southwell delivered a couple of poor performances which didn’t pick up as the season began. The first success of the year was a default victory against a disinterested Pembridge FC, who failed to show up. Hindered by inconsistent turn outs, Southwell stumbled into the season with a mixed bag of results including numerous draws, losses and the occasional win. The S&BS Hornets hobbled into the winter break hovering around mid-table.
With not a great deal of victories under the belt and a disjointed feel amongst the team, an away game against Clayponds in the January cold just about typified Southwell’s season so far.
Characteristically reckless (and often, unnecessary) challenges from Johan Rekers, Matt Pike’s ineffective 360° spin move and frail defensive lines (leaving goalkeepers flapping at air) all contributed to a 7-3 loss against a team struggling even more than Southwell at the time. There was a mutual consent that the blame lay heavily on Taha Butt, whose laziness to travel further than Battersea Park left the rest of the team weakened.
This, however, would prove to be a major turning point. With the position in the league rapidly dwindling and hopes of making the play-off stage appearing to fade away, such a defeat was what the team needed in order to wake up and smell the coffee before the season was lost entirely.
The second half of the season saw Southwell improve drastically as a more consistent squad of players helped create something that slowly started to resemble a team. Alex Smith at ‘left back’ (in inverted commas because rarely would you find him anywhere or the left side of the pitch let alone at the back) could be found causing mayhem all over the place, scoring more goals than the strikers. A dynamic trio of captain Mateusz Zarucki, Taha Butt and the ever-angry Myles Jarvis began to command the midfield and combine towards not only a number of goals for themselves, but also set-up the likes of Matt Pike or Nicusor Popescu playing up front. With everything going considerably better than the first, the Hornets managed to net themselves several victories. The highlight being a 9-2 win in an Evelyn Gardens derby against Fisher Hall FC, in which defender Alex Coney demonstrated his fantastic ability to stop a ball using his face.
Southwell ended the regular season in 4th position overall, landing them a quarter-final tie with neighbours Holbein and Willis Jackson, which turned out to be more than eventful. Southwell were only able to convert one of the many chances they created in the first half. However, the real drama was to follow in the second half. The action immediately recommenced as Southwell stormed to a 4-1 lead with goals from Alex Smith and Myles Jarvis. The Holbein team eventually realised that Alex ‘Sandy’ Riley was making his debut in goal (in place of an absent Rob Hollinshead) and managed to exploit this fact by scoring two quick goals. All that remained on Southwell’s mind was to maintain the one goal lead until the final whistle. Everything was going according to plan until the last action of the game, when human wrecking-ball Johan Rekers (again, unnecessarily) steamrolled his way through one of the Willy J players in the box. This sparked a 20-minute debate on the severity and maliciousness of the challenge, to which the two captains settled on an unorthodox indirect free-kick in the penalty area to Holbein and Willis Jackson FC. With every single Southwell player lined up on their own goal line, Holbein captain Sean Jordan miraculously managed to find the net, taking it into extra time. With both teams clearly exhausted, Southwell went behind after a spill from Jono Palmer, who had relieved Sandy Riley from his nightmare in goal. In the second half of extra time, Southwell showed true character and fought back with a goal from Jarvis to take the match into penalties.
The first four penalties taken by Butt, Palmer, Jarvis and last-minute call up Joe Kempton were dispatched with no issue only to be matched by their Holbein and Willis Jackson counterparts. The fifth penalty taker for Willis Jackson stepped up only to have his attempt saved by another substitute keeper: Matthew Taylor. The pressure was now solely on the shoulders of Alex Smith to carry Southwell through to the next round. In an atmosphere one can only describe as tantamount to a World Cup Final, Smith failed to seal the deal. Sudden death. One more penalty rattled the back of the net for Willis Jackson and so the burden shifts to pasta-loving Italian Andrea Greco. The keeper stands tall in his goal as Greco strikes the ball. The next few seconds seemed like a lifetime, as the ball somehow ricocheted off one post and on to the other before crossing the line, leaving the Southwell team both confused and overjoyed as they were not out of it yet. The seventh penalty for Willis Jackson resulted in another brilliant save by Taylor which meant that captain Zarucki, who had been neglecting responsibility, or as he put it, “regaining energy”, called his own number and stepped up. Under the pressure formed by a crowd or random bypassers, Zarucki delivered one final swing of his boot which secured the Hornets passage into the semi-finals.
After such a close shave in the quarters, Southwell were hoping to dispatch Eastside FC in the semi-finals without having to undergo the same drama. Again, Southwell started strong, utilising the long throw of Taha Butt to penetrate Eastside’s box on numerous occasions resulting in goals from Jono Palmer and Mateusz Zarucki in the first half. It was also apparent during this game that the back four of Southwell had finally found some cohesion. Man-mountain Alex Coney, along with the slick-skilled Martin Kouame, who had anchored the back four throughout most of the season, teamed up with James Johnston and an out-of-position Jono Palmer, to provide Southwell with a solid defence and only their second clean sheet of the season. With another goal by Jono Palmer bagged in the closing stages of the second half, Southwell wrapped up the semi-final with a convincing 3-0 win just as news filtered through from the opposite pitch that Beit FC too had won, setting up a mouth-watering final.
Southwell, dressed in their infamous black and neon-yellow kits, came into the final as underdogs against last year’s winners, Beit Hall, kitted out in a more subtle and professional (and boring) navy blue. The biggest game of the season was done justice by a record-breaking crowd of three die-hard supporters who had made the long journey to Harlington to cheer on their team. As he had all season long, captain Zarucki gave a motivational and very emotional team talk before the match. At 2pm, with the scorching sun high in the sky, the match kicked off. In the early stages both teams started slowly in an attempt to not waste too much energy. A few probing balls and decent runs down the wing by Moe ‘MoeMoe’ Fekry was all that could be mustered by both sides. The best chance of the first half fell for Beit when a corner headed back across the six yard boxed was poked towards goal only to be saved by Hollinshead. Captain Zarucki kept his team inspired as chances during the first half seemed fairly few and far between for Southwell who couldn’t quite find the final ball, despite the relentless effort by the midfield in the blistering heat. Matthew Taylor returned to the side, after missing the semi-final, to play centre back allowing Martin Kouame to move to left back. Both players put in excellent performances hassling some of Beit’s key personnel. With a free-kick taken by Beit’s Bilal Abou El Ela flying over the bar, the first half action wrapped up and both sides retired to the shade with a goalless draw.
With oranges at the ready, Zarucki delivered his halftime team talk and the mood was pretty good in the Southwell camp. Out of the sun and finally able to gather themselves together, the Southwell team then went about plotting how to improve upon their performance before heading back out into the heat.
The second half began a lot more spritely for Southwell. Taha Butt and Tito Bastianello combined well in midfield distributing the ball a lot better and picking out players’ runs. As always, Andrea Greco provided much needed width down the left flank as Southwell managed to get some decent crosses into the box and put pressure on the Beit back four. The first clear-cut chance for the boys in black and yellow came via Jarvis’ failed attempt to convert Butt’s goal-bound corner by clearing it off the Beit goal line instead. Beit however weren’t going to give in that easily and an onslaught of long balls and darting sprints rained down on the Hornets’ defence. Fortunately, Alex Coney and Matthew Taylor were once again up to the task of putting their boot through anything that came within scoring distance of the Southwell goal. After strikes by Taha Butt and Nicusor Popescu (which were closer to the corner flag than the goal) combined with the relentless sun caused tempers to fray as both sides became impatient. With challenges flying in all over the shop, some more dangerous than others, heated arguments between the teams sprouted and then the match got a lot more personal. The game continued to ebb and flow with both sides getting close to their opponents’ goal yet still not breaking the deadlock.
At around the 75 minute mark, Beit were awarded a free kick in dangerous territory. A four man wall was constructed and Bilal once again stepped up to take it. This time his free-kick was on target and required a reaction save from goalkeeper Hollinshead to his left. The danger was not over. A poorly cleared corner ball found of one of the Beit team members, Oli Klottka, who struck the ball goal-bound, but was cleared off the line by the ever-reliable face of centre back Alex Coney. Southwell replied with a dangerous header from captain Zarucki, which was followed by a decent save from Beit captain Chris Aspinall. Finally the game’s excitement seemed to be living up to its billing.
Southwell began to counter by finding space down the wings. With five minutes to go, Greco linked up well with Kouame (who finally had enough energy to take part in an offensive play) and managed to cross the ball through one of Beit’s player’s legs to the Southwell captain on the edge of the box.
Without hesitation, Mateusz took the shot with his left foot and slotted the ball past the keeper into the bottom left corner. Goalscorer Zarucki immediately headed to the corner flag where he began to engage in some risqué activities with the flag before being joined by the rest of the team, bench and all, in a euphoric celebration. Needless to say Beit were not pleased and were keen to get play back underway.
Content with a one goal lead with only minutes remaining, shouts of “nil-nil” and “play it safe” reverberated around the Southwell team. Yet only minutes after the restart, Jarvis’ 100th attempt to get past all of the Beit team finally succeeded as he broke free of the defence down the left hand side, where he managed to fire home a second goal from a narrow angle. A two goal lead for Southwell in the last minutes was everything the Hornets could have asked for, and they knew that they couldn’t have let that chance slip by.
With only injury time to go, a rather audacious effort on goal from the halfway line by Beit’s Bilal was dealt with comfortably, as the pressure on Beit started to mount faster and faster. More taunts going back and forth between players really brought to light how much this game meant to both sides. In a desperate attempt from Beit FC, Bilal’s header managed to hit the crossbar. The Southwell defences stood strong against the multiple balls played into the box from either wing, with Martin Kouame cementing his Man of the Match award.
After what seemed like an eternity to the Hornets, the referee blew the final whistle and Southwell & Bernard Sunley Hornets FC were thereby crowned the 2012 Champions of the Interhall Evelyn Gardens Cup! The celebrations began almost immediately with ‘MoeMoe’ leading the spraying of water, mimicking champagne, and the drenching of the captain in an American sport style ‘Gatorade bath’. At the prize giving ceremony, Beit were very gracious in defeat and all in-match hostility dissipated. As the trophy was hoisted high into the air in front of the three fans to rapturous applause, there was a moment to reflect on the whole season and just how much we changed as a team since the shoddy performances just months ago, to the champions we were now.
“Our strength was not that we had individualities in the squad, but that we formed a team that really understood each other on and off the pitch. I would like to thank you all for coming Sunday after Sunday and giving your best, as well as having to read my useless Facebook posts and listen to my very emotional speeches – I hope that you all had just as much fun as I did! I would also like to thank Anthony Hennelly and Sport Imperial for organizing this event and giving us a way of taking a break from all the work!”
– Southwell and Bernard Sunley FC Captain Mateusz Zarucki