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Journey’s End – For Now….

Parkgate Social Eyes brought their phenomenal first competitive season on the South Yorkshire Ability Counts League to a stunning close this afternoon with two wins, a draw and two narrow defeats in the  Championship Five-a-side Divisional Tournament at Goals Sheffield – and roared on by the Social Eyes Barmy Army, the guys deservedly collected their medals with the other six sides who have competed so keenly throughout the campaign  with the Rawmarsh side, writes Margaret Gregory for the Social Eyes FC Website and the Bootiful Game.

There had been worrying rumours about the fitness of key members of the squad in the run–up to the “Round-Robin” tournament, and the fans worst fears were confirmed when defensive mainstay Claire and pacey wingback Martin were ruled out with ankle and hand injuries respectively. Two visits to A and E had been a worrying start for new coach – and Sheffield United supporter, which explains a fair bit – Jack, who admitted to some nervousness ahead of kick-off amid widespread controversy about his training methods. Anxious to get to the heart of the matter, we asked Claire about the injury. “There was no-one around me,” she revealed, “but my ankle gave way.” Claire’s rehabilitation programme seemed comprehensive (rest and elevation) although, she seemed a little hesitant to reveal exactly what she was taking with the ice – with vodka mentioned at least twice, although she did commit to Social Eyes for next season. It also became apparent that Martin had been playing through the pain barrier in the last round of fixtures, having suffered a hand injury at Goals Doncaster. Warriors all!

Coach Melissa seemed confident. She was definitely talking the talk. “These guys have been fighting for their shirts all season,” she insisted as she named a starting five of Kenny the Cat, David, Joseph, Tom and Josh for the first game against Derek Dooley Blue. The supporters weren’t convinced – but soon would be, and the “Melissa Out” banners remained furled.

No 1 fan Rachel was in positive mood as the game got under way – just a ten-minute blast per game. The first encounter brought an unwelcome reunion with Derek Dooley’s lethal striker though, who fired four superb finishes to clinch a 4-1 win despite an expertly-converted penalty from Josh. Kenny was magnificent in goal.

Undeterred, Melissa made just the one change from game two, bringing in Connor for David at the back for the clash with Club Doncaster Titans Black. It was a ding-dong, end-to-end encounter, with Trudy entering the fray in her trademark crocheted pink hat, looking comfortable at the base of the diamond in midfield, and looking just like Graeme Souness might have done in his hey-day – if he’d worn a pink hat. Connor, too had a fine game, going close from distance, and Kenny was again agile and sure-handed between the posts. Titans struck early, and there were worrying moments for the Social Eyes faithful when Trudy went down with no-one round her; after a few seconds, though she got to her feet and left the arena, waving to her adoring faithful. With the clock running down like a Brexit negotiation, and with Titans’ keeper Paul in outstanding form, Josh struck from close range to level the contest up at 1-1. A point gained, we all reflected, as oddly, Melissa thumbed through her passport.

The squad donned their Asset-Alliance sponsored track suit tops and munched on their highly-nutritious custard cream half-time snack as they contemplated the third game and a re-match with Bradford Diamond on Pitch Five. Trudy repositioned her pink hat and issued a rallying call to her teammates.

It was a magnificent contest. Josh – who else – struck early for Social Eyes with a really cool side-footed finish, and but for the absolutely wonderful Gemma Fletcher between the posts for Bradford, could have established an even bigger lead; but Diamond came back into the contest, and forced Kenny into several fine stops. Tom and Joseph grabbed back control of their third of the pitch though, and Josh clinched a fine win with a second from distance in a really competitive match-up.

We’ve always wondered where the Social Eyes Barmy Army disappeared to between games. It turns out that there’s a direct correlation between the bar takings at Goals Sheffield and Doncaster Goals when our supporters have been in town, and today was no exception, as they disappeared again ahead of Game Four, and a tough looking assignment with Doncaster College. They were back for kick-off, although one or two were visibly staggering, and it wasn’t long before the referee was blowing for a free kick to Social Eyes as Josh went down under a heavy challenge. Up he got to deliver a stunning free kick past the keeper’s left hand to put Social Eyes in front. Doncaster College, though, are a brilliant side, with two of the best strikers in the Division, and despite the heroics of Connor, excellent substitute James and Tom, the mobile No5 and No8 combined to fantastic effect on more than one occasion as the goals flowed. 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 2-3 and then 2-4 as the Doncaster team showed their class in a fine performance. No complaints from Melissa and Claire, seemingly distracted by airline tickets.

A gap now before the final clash of the season, and the Social Eyes support were treated to an alarming insight into the worrying rewards mechanism already in place. As Coach Jack – off to Ayia Napa, by the way – pointed out, Director of Football Claire and Manager Melissa had managed one win each in the regular season, yet were heading to Las Vegas for a celebratory vacation. Many of the supporters didn’t hear this – they were back in the bar, of course – but as many of the squad contemplated trips to Cleethorpes and Skeggy, it was clearly a case of “For the few, not the many.” Pete had his gamesmanship front and centre, looking for every meteorological advantage and checking the direction of the sun before advising Kenny on which goalmouth to occupy. You could almost feel Brian Clough nodding approvingly.

Melissa though, was indignant; she’s on her on her way to Nevada after all, and insisted that the squad were focused for the final game. “None of them are in flip-flops, and none of them are on the beach,” she insisted somewhat unconvincingly, as Kenny, Connor, Tom, Josh and Joseph trooped out in Speedos and croc shoes for the final clash with City Knights White. Not for them the glamour of Caesar’s Palace mind, or the excitement of Siegfried and Roy and their Tigers; certainly not for the late, lamented Roy, at least, as he was killed by a tiger in 2003. Any road up…

We needn’t have worried. Josh settled the nerves with an early strike, and when City Knights threatened, Kenny, Connor and Man-of-the-Match Joseph kept the opponents at bay as Josh completed a fine hat-trick, the last following a fabulous right-wing run and cross shot to give him NINE goals in five games. His agent could be seen rubbing his hands, lighting another cigar, and checking out flights to Vegas. With Tigers. But no Roy.

A deserved 3-0 win brought the season to a close, and the guys joined the other Championship and Premier League Teams to receive their medals from superb League organisers Mike Stylianou and Darren Warner, watched by the excellent competition referees. Photos were taken, hugs were shared, and Kenny caught the mood of the moment perfectly when he told his team mates that “they had done him proud.” And so say all of us.  And so, they had.  

The guys also raised £27 for Mike Stylianou’s appeal in support of a replacement minibus for the Special Needs School. If you are interested in supporting the fund, DM us at the Social Eyes or Bootiful Game Websites

So, a memorable season comes to an end for a special group of players in a special team in a special League. None of us can wait until next season.

 Seriously, Social Eyes would like to thank Asset Alliance for their sponsorship, the incredible Margaret Gregory for her website work and match reporting, Jack and Jack our coaches, Sheffield and Hallamshire County FA, and the volunteers, supporters, parents and carers of Social Eyes FC.

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