With the development of the squad over the past year meaning that we had a younger age range to choose from, we found ourselves quietly confident of being more competitive as we rocked up at ROKO for this year’s march to the arch. Surely our young, agile, highly skilled athletes would more than hold their own against the might of whatever else the regional qualifier could throw at us?
Err… no. First up were Gosport & Fareham Civil Service, who looked to be strangely familiar, very similar to Gosport Neanderthals. In fact, they were Gosport Neanderthals. Well, we knew they were quite good, but they were beatable. Did we get complacent, were we too comfortable in our superiority? Maybe, because after Pete Brown had put us ahead, we seemed to just switch off, and an equaliser followed by a late winner put our noses out of joint straight away.
Next up were Pompey ITC Black (they had entered three teams, Black, Yellow, and Blue). We knew they were good, as they were Pompey’s first team. Sure enough their movement, passing and clinical finishing, honed by years of playing in the ROKO cages, saw them to a fairly comfortable 3-1 win. The Many Shades’ goal coming from Mark Hughes.
Straight away we were in action again, this time against the strongest team in the competition, Brighton and Hove Dolphins, who had been National Finalists in this competition last year. Fast and physical, they totally dominated the Many Shades, pulling us apart as they attacked and closing us down instantly whenever we got the ball. A thumping Chris Poirrier shot proved our only consolation as the Dolphins hammered six past the helpless and beleaguered John Kennett.
Due to a quirk of the fixture list we then had almost an hour to contemplate our 2019 FA People’s Cup experience thus far over a cup of coffee and a chin-wag. Cages and unlimited touch seem to combine to beat us. We felt that the results would have been very different on open pitches, six- or seven-a-side, and three-touch. It would also be safer, without the crunching tackles from behind and the slamming against the boards that we had experienced and witnessed so far. What we had experienced was simply 5-a-side football with some older blokes charging around.
So to our final game, and the wonderfully named Arthritico Mad Ryde (Athletico Madrid, gettit?) were challenging us to see who would finish bottom of the group. We were determined not to let that ignominy happen to us, and stormed into a two-nil lead courtesy of Pete Brown and Mark Hughes. However Ryde were equally determined to get something out of it, and with just over a minute remaining they had pulled back to equalise. An inspired substitution, throwing the bruised Mark Hughes back on for the final minute, was just enough to swing it our way, and almost immediately Ian Thakore struck to regain the lead. With Ryde now throwing caution to the wind, the last kick of the match saw Mark Hughes complete a spectacularly tense and exciting last few minutes of football to see us home 4-2.
The Many Shades of Grey squad was: John Kennett, Ian Thakore, Chris Poirrier, Dave Hall, Mark Hughes, Jeff Pickering, James McIlwaine, and Pete Brown. Stew Russell provided one moment of inspired management; the less said about the rest of his moments the better.
Huge thanks to the fantastic turn out of Ultras who came along to support us. If we miss any of you out, we apologise, but from memory it was: Frank Antony, Rich Bishop (and his personal food bank), Phil Hannam, Dave and Helen Rowbrey, Mick Sidwell, Ian Warren, and Pete Brown’s partner Karen.
Pete Dolamore, Barry Ingram, Colin Jeffery, and John Morgan all came along as well. As the FA People’s Cup is also open to individuals to make up a team on the day, they joined in with Rod McMillan’s Solent City to experience three defeats and a draw in the other group.
So no triumphant march to the arch for us again this year. But we can certainly say that another experience was added to our long and occasionally glorious history!