With our 35A’s winning their Grand Final the previous weekend, the pressure was squarely on the Barnstoneworth 35BN team to follow that up and clinch the Premiers title to go with our League Championship, which saw us squaring off against Doyalson on the showpiece Pluim 1 pitch.
In a departure from previous years, we decided to start our preparations with a Grand Final team breakfast at the Crowne Plaza, which was very relaxed and enjoyable, even if some of the guys weren’t super-impressed with the 7.45AM meet!
On arriving at Pluim Park, it was wonderful to see that the pitch looked to be in fantastic condition, meaning that we would have no excuses not to try to play attractive football. Pre-game preparations went really well and we looked focused and determined to get the job done. With a good talk in the change room and solid warm up under our belt, we were clearly ready to play once we walked out onto that beautiful pitch.
With talk of the importance of a good start still ringing in the guys’ ears, it was great to see Jorge capitalise on some hesitant defending by DOY latching onto a great through ball from Frank to slide home after just 52 seconds of play and give us an early advantage. That early breakthrough felt like some sort of redemption after we had allowed DOY to score against us in the first minute of the Major Semi Final two weeks prior and helped to settle any early nerves. We continued to enjoy the majority of possession and control of the game for the rest of the first half and were unlucky not to extend our lead, with Frank twice going close to scoring, including a free kick that clipped the crossbar from 20 yards out with the DOY keeper rooted to the spot. Whilst we were largely dominating the half, our failure to capitalise always raised the possibility of DOY catching us on the break and when the referee awarded a penalty to our opponents after what looked like a foul on John, we were collectively dumbfounded by the decision. That Geoff saved the resultant spot kick was karma playing its part, as the penalty was just one more bizarre decision from an erratic referee, whose handling of the game was quite honestly woeful. The fact that we then had a clear penalty shout waved away by him some minutes later did nothing to alter our opinion that we were effectively playing against 12 men but despite this, we were still able to take our slender lead to the break.
Our half time talk was primarily about maintaining our focus and trying not to let the referee’s handling of the game affect our attitude, which was very difficult in truth. Whilst we had been fairly comfortable in defending DOY’s attacking threat up to that point, it was always likely that they would throw everything at us in the second half and so it proved, with the game developing into a real arm wrestle for most of the second period. With us being forced to sit a little deeper than ideal and defending for increasing periods, we were forced to adopt a more counter-attacking approach to the game. Whilst we were still able to create chances, none were clear cut enough to grab a second goal to weaken the resistance of our opponents and when the referee awarded DOY a second penalty for a blatant dive, we began to think that he would decide the outcome of the game, instead of the players themselves. That Geoff again saved his second spot kick of the game was nothing less than we deserved, given the appalling decision to award the penalty. When we were shortly after denied the clearest penalty shout of the game after Jason was chopped down from behind whilst clean through on goal, we knew that the perceived officiating bias was unfortunately very real.
In my nine years as a coach, I have never lodged an official protest about a referee but I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit quietly back and allow the worst referee I have ever seen to decide the outcome of such an important game. That my representations to the official table will no doubt have fallen on deaf ears is a forgone conclusion but it simply isn’t good enough that CCF cannot seemingly provide a competent official for Grand Final games. In view of the club’s collective experiences with the individual in question over the course of this season, it is something we will be following up through TUFC, as our players simply deserve better. It was therefore something of a relief when the final whistle sounded, without the referee having had any further major impact on the course of the game, allowing us to finish as worthy winners. Whilst the game could never be labelled a classic from a playing perspective, it was tense and gripping and who knows how different it might have been with a competent and unbiased official allowing both teams to compete on an equal footing. With due respect to DOY, as worthy opponents as they have been all season, they would surely be forced to agree that they were second best on the day and had they been the victors as a result of to two of the worst penalty decisions of the season, that would have been utterly wrong.
So we finally find ourselves Premiers after having been runners-up a couple of times in the past, which coupled with our League Premiership, meant double delight for everyone involved with the team. It is nice when the footballing gods choose to shine on such a deserving bunch of guys, as we all know the game can be a cruel mistress at times.
Geoff (thou shalt not pass) Channels was rightly deemed man of the match for his double penalty save heroics but each and every one of the team was outstanding on the day and the fact that our post game celebrations led straight into our presentation night was simply the perfect end to a fantastic day!
Final Score: Barnstoneworth 1 – 0 Doyalson