On an extremely windy Saturday afternoon at Chaoyang Stadium, the Beijing Barbarians faced Russia United in their third IFFC league game of the 2011-2012 season. A beautiful clear blue sky provided for excellent conditions, which nevertheless did not quite compensate for the crappy field. With a large running track circling the pitch and no ball boys, both sides knew a lot of running was going to be done off the pitch.
After the previous game's defeat against Afrika United, the Barbarians were looking to bounce back with a strong performance and three points. But with Captain Mo still out and Keeper Carlos injured, as well as central defensive rock Keith having bent over the wrong way and injuring his back in the process, some changes had to be made.
The starting line-up saw Barbarians B goalkeeper Shaw between the sticks, with Phil Lowes, Laurence Garner, Andrew Robertson and Kenny Bain in defence. In midfield the Barbarians lined up with Henry Manual, Nathan Dilliway, Stewart Fry and Alex Dorangeville. Upfront, as usual, the dynamic duo of Dirk van den Elzen and Kevin Plume were ready to cause havoc.
The Barbarians lost the coin toss and were forced to start the game playing against the wind. Manager Bradbury's pregame pep talk reminded the players of the early goal conceded against Afrika and implored them to be switched on from the first minute. This warning was promptly ignored, as Russia United scored in the first minute on their first attack! The Russian left winger ran down the side and crossed the ball into the middle, where the striker calmly slotted it into the back of the net, leaving the keeper with no chance. 0-1 before the game had begun. Not an ideal start to the game, to say the least.
The next few minutes were somewhat promising, with a beautiful cross from Alex to Kevin, whose shot just barely missed the target. Just when the Barbarians were starting to find their footing, though, another setback in the 15th dampened their spirits further. Some shaky Barbarian defending once again allowed the Russian left winger to make a run down the flank then calmly hit a precision shot into the lower right corner for the 0-2 lead.
This was the Afrika scenario all over again, but this time the Barbarians were determined to fight back. In the 16th minute a well-taken free kick taken by Laurence was headed on by Kevin to Henry, who blasted a shot just wide. A few other chances left begging, and then things got absurd.
In the 30th minute the referee whistled for a foul against the Barbarians about 10 yards outside the box. After the wall was set up and the Russians were ready to take their free kick, the referee moved into the spotlight. The Russian stood over the ball and tapped it to his teammate. As soon as the first player touched the ball, Kevin rushed in and blocked the shot. The referee didn't like Kev's astute play, however, and decided to give the Russians another chance free kick once again. Kevin's protestations were rewarded with a yellow card.
The free kick was taken again; this time it was Nathan rushing in for the block as soon as the Russians touched the ball. The referee didn't hesitate one second to reward Nathan with his customary yellow card. This is were things got a bit mental: The referee refused to explain his decision, while the Barbarians felt hard done by, as they had done everything by the rule book. This led to several minutes of heavy "discussion" with the ref, which ended with Stewart telling his teammates to "f**king back off" to let him talk some sense into the ref. Amidst all the chaos, Nathan substituted himself off out of complete frustration.
Finally the free kick was taken for a third time, and for a third time led to nothing. The Barbarian bench continued to mock the ref, who eventually decided he'd had enough and whistled to interrupt play once again. bringing the ball right next to the Barbarians bench, awarding another free kick to the Russians. A somewhat odd decision and certainly not the standard operating procedure. The Russian taking the free kick was so perplexed he just kicked it softly to the Barbarian defender. With that the game moved on, but the incident most definitely put the team out of sync -- before we knew Russians scored their third goal of the day with a shot from outside the box.
Although already down by a hefty margin, the Barbarians regained their composure and got off a few good chances, particularly John's shot (off some nice combination play between Kevin and Stewart) hitting the side netting. Another good cross from the wings, this time from Kevin, and Stewart was unlucky not to score. Just before the end of the half, the Russians scored their fourth goal on an clear offside no-call. After this demoralizing setback, halftime couldn't come a moment too soon.
Some strong words were expressed during halftime, with the Manager making his disgust well known, equating the performance to "absolute dogsh*t" and other eloquent turns of phrase. Unfortunately his words did not have the desired effect in the second half, as the Russians made it 5-0 after a textbook run down the right wing, pass into the middle, and solid shot by the striker.
At this point the Barbarians seemed to finally find their rhythm, creating several chances in succession: Nathan's near-miss, a dangerous cross from Greg that threatened the keeper, and a free kick from Nathan providing Andrew with his first chance of the day. But just as before, as soon as the Barbarians got a few chances, Russia countered and put the ball into the net. 6-0 on account of a clearance that landed right at the feet of the Russian attacker, who had to just stick his leg out and score.
The Barbarians decided that this was enough embarrassment for one afternoon and launched into attack mode. Debutant Thomas Housham crossed the ball into the box, where Nathan's header just barely missed the target. Then, in the 63rd minute, Laurence's header off a corner kick finally found the net. 6-1. Henry M., Kevin, and Stewart linked up well, and Stewart's shot was just tipped over the bar by the goalkeeper. The referee, perhaps worried that we were forgetting about his atrocious first half performance, awarded a goal kick (?!). Another perplexing decision for a referee who by all accounts and even his somewhat low standards had a piss poor game.
With time winding down the Barbarians refused to give up. A free kick by Kevin in the 70th minute led to a corner. Nathan's shot was stopped with an impressive save by the keeper. Finally, an 85th minute handball by the Russian defender inside the box gave the Barbarians with a penalty, which Andrew calmly and confidently converted with a blasting shot to the left that the keeper had no chance to save.
The game finished 6-2 and was a disappointing result for the Barbarians. As the saying goes, "you cannot polish a turd"; this was a dismal performance all around. The Man of the Match vote went to Stewart, closely followed by Laurence, Andrew and John. The Buggery F**ker went to both Nathan (for substituting himself) and the referee for his myriad mysterious decisions.
On a more positive note, the Barbarians did not let their defeat dampen the festivities at By The Tree, where there was a massive turnout for Philip Lowes' going away party. Phil has been a stalwart Barbarian for years and will be leaving Beijing to go and eat sausages in Germany. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family all the best.