One Step Too Far

Report by Andrew Warshaw

In the end it was a case of after the lord mayor’s show and all somewhat surreal though a highly enjoyable trip for everyone concerned.

Whilst there is no doubt that the nationwide publicity generated by the Fenix Trophy can only have enhanced Town’s reputation, it was perhaps understandable that the players, having performed miracles to get the club promoted, were still on cloud nine when the Europe-wide competition reached its climax on the banks of Lake Garda.

If our extraordinary 13-12 penalty shootout defeat to Prague Raptors on Friday could easily have gone our way but for the lottery of spotkicks and two worldies from the opposing keeper, by the time it got to the third-placed playoff against Lewes 48 hours later, the players were out on their feet after a gruelling  schedule and, quite frankly, had their minds on continuing the promotion party in a beautiful part of Italy – as did most of the fans – and looking ahead to the summer with their families.

Had we not achieved the Holy Grail of Step 2 football, in all likelihood we’d have gone into the Final Four with a different mindset. But there was no doubting where our priorities lay.

Nevertheless, the Town diehards who made the trip were in excellent voice during both our encounters with a choice rendition of new and old songs while as an exercise in promoting the ethics of non-league football and the special values of the clubs involved, the tournament undoubtedly has its place, nothwithstanding the somewhat haphazard organisation.

It helped, of course, that the weather was fabulous, adding to the sense of jollity amongst the various sets of fans as the booze and banter flowed in equal measure.

As for Town’s two below-par performances, it’s probably fair to say neither offered much as a spectacle though that was down in large part to the boys being  physically drained as a result of a their playoff exertions.

Friday’s semifinal with the multi-national Prague Raptors, who went on to lose to the final to FC United of Manchester, saw Adi Connolly given the gloves, Scott Thomas rested, Sam Youngs still away, Jake Cass’ season sadly over and both Ollie Knight and Dylan Adjei-Hersey on the bench.

The weekend was full of amusing anecdotes and stories too numerous to list here but one of the most hilarious  concerned the team sheet for Friday’s fixture.

For some reason, instead of going with their actual names, the organisers decided to identify two of our players by their Italian translation. Hence Manny Harvest was named Manny Raccolta while Ollie Knight was identified as Ollie Cavaliere!

As for the game itself, the Raptors at times moved the ball impressively from side to side but had little end product. Had their keeper not saved brilliantly from Lewis Taaffe’s first-time half volley we would have gone in ahead at the interval.

His second save right at the death was just as good, somehow keeping out Marcus Wyllie’s powerful diagonal strike that seemed destined to burst the net and put us in the final.

Instead it finished 0-0 and went straight to the dreaded penalty shootout, each of them struck confidently until Marcus, of all people, saw his shot saved second time round to hand our opponents victory though I think we all can forgive him given his 31 league goals!

After the game Gavin Macpherson, at times looking as shattered as the players, commented: “Their keeper made two unbelievable saves in normal time but in all honesty we looked a bit leggy after the week we’ve had which is totally understandable. Yet we still created the better chances.”

And so to the third-place playoff against our old nemesis Lewes which was always going to be a challenge, to put it mildly, with bruised and battered bodies and minds elsewhere.

Sam Youngs had rejoined the squad after flying in on the Saturday, albeit having hardly slept, and with Manny Harvest injured and Marcus rested, an exhausted group of players in a scratch formation were always only going to be able to go through the motions in the heat and humidity.

Archie Tamplin gave Lewes the lead and although Town had produced little goal threat, Obi Onyeagwara produced a second-half stunner out of nothing to equalise.

It looked like another shootout was on the cards before Chris Whelpdale won it for the Rooks in the last minute of normal play to leave us in fourth spot.

Cue more  chants of “the Town are going up” which kind of summed up the whole occasion.

“The boys have socialised themselves, put it that way,” said Gavin afterwards. “Would I have expected a different mindset if we hadn’t got promotion?  Yes probably but once Monday happened, I of course had to make allowances. We weren’t our usual selves in this competition but I didn’t expect anything different. Today was one of the strangest games of football I’ve ever been involved in but as usual, the fans were unbelievable.”