Saturday 14th of May 2016
This weekend it rained in Beijing. It was raining drama, raining thrills, raining cards, and raining rain. Although at times it threatened to turn to a shower of excrement the Barbarians took another enormous step towards some reigning of their own.
Opting to play an altogether simpler brand of football than is considered conventional, the Barbarians played the majority of the second half of the game with only nine men on the field (whether this was the result of refereeing ineptitude, an embarrassing lack of composure, or both, nobody will ever know. Except those who saw the game).
With the rain driving down, and just as Murchik was probably missing the crucial penalty in some Mickey Mouse game of embassy football somewhere else (much to Dias' delight), the Barbarians started unusually brightly (briefly). Muniz was played through on goal down the left-hand channel in the very first minute only to slice his shot wide or skew his square ball too far in front of Curtis for him to reach; the ball missing both potential targets by so far that to discern Muniz's intentions from its path was impossible.
Rather unsportingly, Kozo then decided to make a game of the game by waking up and beginning to use their classic 'disguise our long balls by playing them at a thirty degree angle and make everybody think that we play stylish football' tactic to great effect, targeting the Barbarians right. The Barbarians caused Bradbury some consternation by moving Khalid into the back line to stem the steady flow of traffic towards Collins' goal; "the problem is that he's going to try and play football now" rang the warning Bradbury offered the management, but luckily this proved not to be as big a problem as it had initially seemed for the remainder of the game. Which was a relief.
With the score still delicately poised at 0-0, crucial contributions were made by the Barbarians' two resident brobarians. Blackburn came into his own at the back; clearly relishing the conditions he took it upon himself to play the uncompromising style of defence that has made him a cult hero among the fans, and crushing everything that came his way in putting in one of the standout performances of the season. Similarly, Ethan Collins continued to showcase his love of intensity through the way he watched everything, hawk-like, and pulled off a couple of extremely tricky saves in what could have proved to be the most unforgiving of conditions (except for, perhaps, a blazing inferno or a nuclear winter).
At the other end, a dubious offside call (although, this being the IFFC, the phrase is somewhat tautological) put paid to Muniz's hopes of atoning for his earlier miss, following a sublime overhead-pirouette-wraparound-razzamatazz dink over the top from Curtis.
As half time approached, the breakthrough finally came. As Sham surged into the Kozo penalty area he was brought down, the referee pointing to the spot
Thank you, Nick Beswick. 1-0.
Collins once again saved Barbarian bacon immediately after the restart as he tipped away a beautifully precise long-distance bullet from the Japanese number 6, ensuring that the Barbarians' lead was intact as the ref blew for half time.
After a half time team talk once again blighted by babble and differences of opinion, Sam 'the Prophet' Bensley entered the fray and immediately started to exert his influence on the game, elegantly spraying balls to all corners, and a number of times releasing Curtis and KP 'to Feet' Mothapo down the flanks with razor-sharp precision.
It was one of these delectable passes (whether from Bensley or another Barbarian has since been lost to the sands of excessive drinking or the sands of time; not that it should matter anyway, it's a team game and Nick Beswick usually ends up with most of the credit anyway) that ended up falling to Mothapo midway inside the opponents' half. Sashaying past a couple of defenders and into the penalty area, Mothapo decided that it was all too easy and started trying to tackle himself. Apparently he's too good to even tackle himself and, instead, the young South African missed the ball completely and managed to boot his own ankle. As he plummeted towards the turf, a Kozo player buffeted the barbarian in his own attempts to win the ball and a penalty was awarded.
Babyish buffoonery from the Kozo goalkeeper (threatening a Collins-style walk off*) and a cacophonous noise (his own goalkeeper, bizarrely, offering him some bilingual heckling) failed to put off old iron-nose, and he duly converted the chance in exactly the same manner as the first; a veritable action replay.
Thank you, Nick Beswick. 2-0.
Beswick once again was the focal point of the next action of note as, somehow outpacing the defence and well-placed at twelve yards out and just to the right of the goal, he latched on to a pass from Curtis before letting the pressure get to him and scuffing his shot at a hat-trick, and immortality, the wrong side of the post. Suspicions among the players after the game were that he had, as with his 70 yard ball to noone out of play in the previous game, deliberately erred to boost the confidence and self-belief of his teammates.
There followed a period of fairly frenetic football where neither team really seemed to hold the upper hand (other than in terms of the scoreline), before the match took a turn for the dramatic, a turn for the dishonourable, and very nearly a turn for the disastrous.
Seeking to pay homage to his predecessor and idol Big Stu 'the Gaffer' Hayward, Dawson couldn't think of any better way to honour his former boss than doing his best to emulate Hayward's actions in his final game against the Japanese by getting sent off for attempted murder. A chest-high, studs up, two-footed lunge resembling a move from Street Fighter 2 (tame by IFFC standards), and a five minute conference with half of the Kozo team (having initially reached for the yellow) was all it took for the referee to give Dawson his marching orders.
The Barbarians readjusted by slotting Sham the miracle man into right back in an attempt to neutralise the Japanese onslaught, and they managed to do this whilst in the process creating a few decent chances (all of them squandered, of course).
After one such chance was created, Muniz was seemingly brought down in the box. A third penalty for the Barbarians? Surely not?
No. Absolutely not.
Carlos Muniz is as strong as an extremely strong ox. So strong in fact that his stare, after said foul, knocked a Kozo player 5 yards away to the ground. The result? A straight red to go nicely with the yellow he acquired earlier in the game for tackling (apparently it's against the rules to do that if you're playing in white).
With nine men on the pitch, the Barbarians knuckled down and saw out the remaining 20 minutes in an unprecendentedly calm and collected fashion.
Colum Curtis chose the moments immediately following the second sending off to reveal his true identity. From his locker he brought out something more impressive than any of the tricks, flicks, trickflicks, flicktricks, or trickflickflicktricks that we've seen to date: he brought out his defensive responsibility. As the crowd realised what was happening, a deferential hush momentarily fell upon them, in reverence for Colum and his bravery, a sense that something had been lost but also a sense that something greater had been gained. A true Barbarian had emerged from the shadows.
Of course this silent awe was shattered all too soon, probably by a C-bomb screamed by one among the rambunctious Barbarian horde on the sidelines (which although poetic in its own right served to stain a moment of unequivocally pure beauty).
With Curtis all commitment responsibility and slide tackles galore the rest of the team dug in, adapting to their (ridiculous) 4-4-0 shape, in all honesty fairly comfortably seeing out the win to nil.
Next up for the Barbarians: Saturday 4pm @ SiDe Park vs French L'Equipe. Let's Smash 'Em and let's win the league.
*Collins-style walk off: storming off the field when unhappy with a decision. Not, contrary to popular belief, flouncing around with arms-a-flailing as if listening a little too enthusiastically to Beyoncé; that's a Collins-style warm up. It's easy to confuse the two.
Man of the Match: Colum Curtis (Defending!)
Honourable Mentions: Mark 'Buzzwick' Blackburn (truly unbelievable, inspirational, crunchy performance), Sam Bensley (bossing it after he came on, Nick 'Action Replay' Beswick (goals, composure, humility in spurning a hattrick chance, referee-chat-related hypocrisy), Ethan 'Brobarian' Collins (MARTINEZZING UP, and some majestic goalkeeping)
Donkey of the Week: Alastair (reasons undisclosed)
Shampagne Moment(s): (1) Kozo player appealing for a free kick after one Barbarian (Carlos) savagely cut down another Barbarian (Sham! Why would he do that to Sham?!)with a brutal Blackburnesque tackle in the middle of the park.
(2) Colum Curtis ridiculous air kick cheat move late in the second half. Unbelievable; so good in fact that everybody thought Nick Beswick had the ball.
The Numbers Game
0 clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet
0 pairs of boots purchased by Nick Beswick since he left his last pair at the field.
1 points required from the Barbarians from their final two fixtures to secure the title
1 days this year when it has been acceptable to support Forbidden City. That day has now passed. Thank you, Forbidden City.
2 Nick Beswick penalty taking masterclasses in one day. A treat.
5 weeks since the giant fist has made an appearance
9 weeks since Nick lost his boots
14 number of crunching tackles by Blackburn
31 Gideon watch. The rain makes him angry.
751 pounds per square inch. The force of a Muniz stare.
950 unbelievably everybody paid and the Barbarians collected the exact amount of the match fee. For a change.