With UCL storming into a 15-8 Varsity lead on Monday afternoon, the football double-header on Monday evening was a crucial opportunity for our girls and boys in red to steal back some points. Both KCL teams had had successful seasons, both having already gotten at least one over their godless counterparts earlier in the year. Everyone knew how much was on the line with their game, a way of measuring success for the season as a whole. Needless to say, tensions ran high.
At 5pm sharp, the women’s teams walked onto the field. Clad in glorious red and white, the pride of London were out there to make us proud, vocally backed by the Strand faithful in the stands. With no time for formalities, the game kicked off. From the get-go, the match ran at full speed. Countless balls down the wings for both sides kept the back four on their toes, the red-and-whites kept the box clear. The midfield turned countless turnover into attack through some brilliant playmaking repeatedly channelled through Hollywood and Ólafsdóttir, à la Xavi and Iniesta. A stepover here, a one-two there, the girls weaved their way past the hapless blues time and time again, Fennema and Brill linking up multiple time in magnificent fashion. Then, completely against the run of play, a UCL cross eluded the hitherto outstanding Megan Scott and landed on the head of a blue and purple striker who headed it goalwards. In a moment of Diego Maradona/Luis Suarez-esque courage and divine intervention , a lone King’s defender bravely took one for the team and stuck her arms out to stop the ball from crossing the line. Penalty. Red Card. UCL score and take the lead.
Frustrated but willed on by the ever-vocal red and white supporters, the girls fought for every last ball, but the tide was now turning against our fighters. UCL started to edge 50/50 tackles and the referee inexplicably called free kicks out of nowhere and stuttered play time and time again, like a magician pulling fake rabbits out of their hat. A second goal for UCL before half time meant the fans and players alike had some work to do at half time. After 15 minutes of getting level-headed, the fans emerged with pints and the players with a renewed determination to win. It was still all there for the taking. A nail-biting opening dozen minutes ensued before the breakthrough was finally made. Goal, 2-1. Pandemonium erupted in the stands as Wellington’s red army likely set off seismometers all over Tooting and Mitcham. Game. On.
The ladies in red rallied the troops and pushed for every last ball, sticking their foot in for a loose ball time after time, fighting for every last drop. Despite being one player short, the twelfth man made the difference, as the ladies pushed for the equaliser. Yet, despite their divinely inspired efforts, we witnessed another case of “Same old Gower, always cheating”. In what could only be explained by the referee losing their contact lenses, a handball went uncalled, multiple card-worthy fouls went ignored and the game slowly slipped out of the fingers of the reds. Even with fresh legs subbed on to push the team on, the UCL ladies turned the tide and made it 3-1. And then 4-1. Game over. (I’m also told there was a missed penalty for the reds while I was getting a pint, my bad).
Despite the loss on paper, they won our hearts. The game left everyone in the stands on their toes from whistle to whistle and if games were won through pure skill and desire alone, the reds would’ve emerged as victors. The ladies walked off the field with smiles on their faces, as they should, having firmly stood their ground in a confusing game where their efforts were never truly rewarded. Hidden under a scoreline that truly flatters UCL was a storming effort from the pride of London, who know the slate will be clean and ready to be painted red next year.