Last Saturday at the Stadio Dello Barbarian, an heroic second half performance from the Barbarians saw them all but extinguish Beijing Tobacco's chances of reclaiming the title they won two years ago.
Starting brightly and opening the scoring within ten minutes through an exquisite free kick from Sham 'pagne' Mos, the Barbarians were brimming with confidence. Said confidence quickly translated itself into a misplaced sense of security and the Barbarians' intensity, organisation, and vigour, vanished almost immediately after the goal.
The Barbarians, fielding perhaps their strongest team in living memory, could do nothing (except play better) to prevent what happened next as Tobacco ignited and, using a combination of deadly precision and blistering pace, produced an incendiary fifteen minutes of devastating, explosive football from which they emerged with a 3-1 lead.
For Tobacco's first, some sloppy play in the middle from the Barbars gave their opponents the time and space to fire a precise cross-field pass to the right winger, number 18 (who Tim Kayahara possesses not so many fond memories of), and he (as three of the Barbarians' back four appealed for an offside decision) proceeded to burn the Barbarians' left back and cannon a blazing toe-poke past Collins, high to his right.
Almost immediately afterwards Collins made what would transpire to be one of the most crucial plays of the game, displaying icy cold composure to stand up to the number 18 in another one on one situation and deny his deft effort.
The second goal for Tobacco very closely resembled the first; another lost ball, another crossfield ball, yet another scorching run, and another one on one which saw 18 round the keeper for his second of the match.
After the second goal the Barbarians switched things up in an attempt to smother the Tobacco threat, with the returning Basho 'Nick' Basho coming off the frying pan and into the game.
Another goal, Tobacco's third, came regardless of the Barbarian tinkering as some shambolic defending again offered a Tobacco forward the chance to smoke the defence and score, which he duly did.
At half time the Barbarians were 3-1 down and it looked as though their unbeaten streak was shortly about to go up in flames.
The second half was completely different (and far more enjoyable)than the first. It was a story of Barbarian hordes laying siege to the Tobacco defence with even more gusto than Ethan Collins attacks the giant pizzas at the IV.
There was skill on display (mostly in the form of tricks from the insouciant Colum Curtis more ludicrous than any you would find in a football video game, or even a magician's suitcase), there was heart (brio, gusto, desire, and PASHUN too) , there was determination, and there was an incredible team spirit evident as the Barbarians again did what they have done already so many times this season (on the field and off) and came from behind (wahey), giving everything and again coming away with a favourable result through goals from KP 'KP' Mothapo and an under the weather (yes, this phrase is being employed euphemistically) Carlos 'Mad Dog' Muniz.
In the closing stages Tobacco could sense that all the momentum lay with the Barbarians and began to play extremely dirtily, entering into some dangerous and, ultimately, cowardly challenges designed to do nothing other than injure their opponents.
Extremely fortunate not to incur any dismissals (is 'fortune' the correct word to describe the process whereby a team intimidates a referee to the extent that the official is afraid to give any decisions against them?), Tobacco were also fortunate in another more palatable way as Colum Curtis worked his way away from a defender on the edge of the area and unleashed a majestic, curling strike towards the top right hand corner of the goal, only to see it rebound off the crossbar to safety.
At the end of the game disappointment not to have taken all three points and remain top of the league outright was palpable in the Barbarian camp, but all that this will do is add fuel to their desire to smash the French this afternoon at Lido and get back to the top of the league. There is no doubt that they are all one hundred percent committed to making 2015-16 the year of the Barbarian.
Man of the Match: Sham Mos - hand (feet) in all three goals
Honourable Mentions: Murchik (for being a fast runner), Mark 'Beavis' 'Buzz' Blackburn, Ethan 'Pizza' Collins, Super Gideon (he's back, kids), Sam Bensley (just a quality performance), Nasir (Barbarians' chief scout has really come good, it would seem)
Shampagne Moment: Colum 'Fifa' Curtis dribble past 5 opponents on the halfway line/ Sham Mos' conversation with the officials after the game (that boy has quite the unique sense of humour)
Donkey of the Week: Alastair Dawson (100 yard sprint to save 0.6 seconds)
The Numbers Game
- 0 Number of times The Shirt has been washed this season
0 Bench-clearing brawls; highly unusual for this fixture
2 Number of feet off the ground in 85% of Tobacco's second half tackles
2 Number of extremely compromising images of key members of the Barbarians management which circulated on social media this week
3 goals contributed to by Sham
8 Number of unintended uses for a lacrosse stick discovered post-game
FAST Time, not in seconds, that Dawson sprinted to save 0.6 seconds
19 Average time, in seconds, that the ball spent in the Tobacco keeper's hands per possession
21 Average number of beers consumed, per player during the post-match revelry
67 Average level of pain inflicted by post-post-match revelry hangovers, on a scale of one to ten
99 Number of the shirt lost by Colum Curtis
99 Minutes late, team total (a good week for punctuality)
Gideon watch: 77 this week- no wonder it's so hard to hail a cab in this city these days