Wirral vs Anselmians
By stephen briggs
Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn't have....
Have you ever fallen in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with? So sang Pete Shelley, former frontman of 1970’s punk combo, the Buzzcocks. What’s this got to do with Wirral Under 16’s Cheshire Cup match with our old friends from Eastham, Anselmians, I hear you ask? Well, absolutely nothing, except that Pete Shelley died recently, aged 63, and his passing is worthy of note, methinks.
Former punk rocker, Shaun ‘Screech’ Seddon arrived at the club after a night on the lash to meet up with old punks Fishy Chandler and Tin Legs Ivory and plan how they were going to turn over the Saints. For the first time in three years, Wirral would have 15 players to start a Cheshire Cup match. To frighten the opposition, Coach Seddon ‘packed’ the bench and named his subs as Oscar the Dog, Al Capone, the Beast of Bolsover, Ivan the Terrible, the Stranglers and the Pontypool Front Row.
Anselmians coaches and players arrived at the ground and the coaches started putting the team through their pre-match warm-up and perfecting their set plays. Saints’ Lucy H lamented that her squad had been decimated with injuries and a plague of in-growing toe nails but they could still get a starting fifteen together, but they had no subs. “You should see our bench” crowed Screech Seddon.
Wirral would line up with a front row of props Josh C (team captain) and Jack C with Ben S as hooker. The second row would be Christy C and Isaac S and the back row would consist of flankers Curtis R and Max P with Laurie S as No8. In the ‘backs,’ Isaac N would play scrum-half, Peter B at stand-off with Evan R and Ollie P as centres. On the wings, Tom P and Miles H would bring speed and agility and Sam G would play at full back.
The break in the weekend rain saw the supporters of Wirral and Saints turn out in their droves, far surpassing anything the first team have ever drawn and, once again, prompting the club’s committee to forget ‘raising the roof’ and instead planning to ‘build a grandstand.’ Bramley Moore would be the template for a new stadium.
As 11 o’clock approached, our match referee, Mr D Sixsmith, called the captains over and a coin was tossed. The noise of the crowd rose to a deafening crescendo as the teams lined up and kick-off was delayed while Fishy Chandler tied his son’s boot laces up. When everybody was ready, with a blast on Mr Sixsmith’s whistle, Saints kicked off into a stiff breeze.
Wirral received the ball and started an advance up the pitch. Good progress was made into the Saints’ half before a knock-on handed Saints the put-in at a scrum and it was then Saints’ turn to advance into Wirral territory before a knock-on handed the ball back to Wirral. And so this is how it was for the first quarter of the game as both sides built promising positions only to knock on or throw a forward pass. Play ebbed and flowed back and forth and cross the pitch. Both teams were tackling like demons and playing for their team-mates like their lives depended on it.
Wirral’s Laurie S and Evan R would make surging runs into opposition territory only for them to get tackled and Saints counter-rucking would see them emerge with the ball. Then they would charge through the gain line and be stopped by the likes of Wirral’s Josh C, Peter B and Isaac N and then supporting defenders would steal the ball back from Saints.
The tension on the touchline among both sets of supporters and coaches was palpable and all discussions of Brexit and the price of haddock in Neston market were put on hold as finger nails were chewed down to the wrists.
The first score came at the mid-point of the first half when a great passing move involving Evan R, Peter B and Ollie P saw the home side advance into the visitor’s 22 and an infringement at the breakdown saw Wirral awarded a penalty in front of the posts. In a break with tradition, Evan R called for the kicking tee and he slotted the kick to claim the three points. In what was shaping up to be a tight game every point would be precious.
The restart was gathered by Wirral who then knocked-on and the Saints scrum quickly became a penalty and the visitors were able to gain useful territory from the kick for a line-out. The home defence faced many phases and only resolute defence and desperate tackling kept the visitors out. Finally a knock-on gave Wirral a scrum on their one five meter line and Peter B was able to lump the ball up field- anywhere would do.
Wirral managed to gain possession and fine work by Ben S and Christy C, who was creating havoc all over the pitch at the breakdown and tackling everything that breathed on the pitch regardless of whether they had the ball or which team they played for, aided by Isaac S were able to advance the ball forward into the Saints’ 22. Wirral were awarded a penalty for a high tackle and Christy set off into the Saints players who tackled him automatically without letting him go ten meters- this was ‘chaos ball’ all over again. The resultant penalty saw a quick tap and pass to Laurie S who smashed into the Saints’ defence like a freight train hitting a group of beach huts. Carnage- body parts everywhere- it was like a scene from the Grand National. The Saints defence managed to stand firm when many would have folded. Now it was Wirral’s turn to attack the try line in search of a score.
Both teams were putting in a shift and it was blood and thunder stuff with no quarter given nor expected. I was starting to think that these ramblings should be titled after the Nirvana song ‘Smells like Team Spirit.’ (Clever that, don’t you think?) Then, after going in at the side of a ruck, a visiting player showed a bit too much ‘teen spirit’ and got himself a yellow card for some extras. Evan R called for the kicking tea to slot another penalty from right in front of the posts.
The restart was safely gathered and Wirral managed to hold on to the ball before a handling error enabled an exhausted Mr Sixsmith to blow his whistle to bring the first half to a close. Time for a lie down with a cup of tea and a jammy dodger, he thought.
Half time score:- Wirral - 6 Anselmians - 0.
As the players came off the pitch, Coach Screech Seddon prepared to give one of his tub-thumping, ball-breaking, paint-stripping half-time team-talks. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pitch the Saints coaches prepared to give similar speeches to their players. On the touchline, both sets of supporters were left exhausted from the relentless ferocity and tension of the first half. To some on the touchline, only watching Everton was more stressful.
With Coach Seddon’s words of wisdom still fresh in their heads- “control the ball and get a quick score” was the message- the Wirral players returned to the pitch for the second half. With a blast of a refreshed Mr Sixsmith’s whistle, Peter B launched the kick into the wind. It started off going ten meters forward but by the time the wind had finished with it, the ball had gone back ten metres and not forward ten. The home crowd groaned. The away crowd cheered.
The play in the second half ebbed and flowed this way and that, forwards and backwards, left and right as both teams probed for a breakthrough. Five minutes into the second half and it was back to 15 vs 15 after the Saints yellow card-ee was allowed off the naughty boy’s step and back on to the field.
A Wirral attack drew a penalty for a high tackle and a quick tap saw Laurie S given the ball to charge into the packed defence like a charging bull elephant. The successful trip tackle resulted in another penalty and Peter B again took the quick tap to pass to Laurie S to smash into the massed ranks of visiting defenders. This took the home side to the visitor’s 5 metre line and it led to phase after phase of ruck after ruck as the home side pressed for the opening try. But a knock-on, when it seemed easier to score a try, led to a Saint’s put-in at the scrum and securing the ball enabled the visitors to lump the ball down field and clear the danger.
Sam G gathered up the ball on halfway and set off on the attack. He passed to a marauding Miles H, who had come off his wing, who offloaded to Isaac S who fed Ben S who found Josh C who took the ball into contact on the Saints 22 and in the resulting maul the ball disappeared for a few seconds. Then, out of the maul burst forth Jack C running full pelt, cleaving a hole through the Saints’ defence like Moses parting the waves of the Red Sea, as he made for the try line. Gethin Jenkins is the only prop to have ever covered this distance quicker- and he’s now retired. As he touched the ball down for a try between the posts, pandemonium broke out among the ranks of Wirral supporters and the coaches were jumping up and down like Jack-in-a-boxes who’ve just discovered crack cocaine. At least Tin Legs settled down quick enough to notice that Evan R was waiting for the kicking tee to add the conversion. Which he duly did.
Back on the touchline, Coach Seddon threw himself in the air in the hope that Mr Cottier would catch him- except he didn’t and Coach Seddon landed flat on his back. He must have been concussed, or something, because he then started sending out orders for beers and champagne all around. “Shouldn’t we wait for the final whistle?” suggested an old sage standing nearby.
Wirral secured the ball from the restart and set off in search of what would be the killer try as we were now well into the last quarter. They were awarded a penalty which Peter B dispatched into touch for the lineout and a good gain of yards. Then Wirral showed everybody how to lose a line-out and Saints were on the march. Despite good work by Curtis R and Max P, the advance continued towards the home 22. Then Saints got themselves a scrum and out of the back of it emerged the ball and a couple of deft passes later a Saints flyer was hurtling down the left wing to score in the corner.
Fortunately for Wirral, it was in the corner because this made the conversion that bit more difficult. Despite a brave effort it was missed. But Saints were back in the game and they had the bit between their teeth. The momentum had shifted and despair had been replaced by hope. On the touchline Lucy H leaped about like she’d had some of that left-over crack cocaine stuff. (not really.)
From the re-start, Saints collected the ball and set off down the pitch like men possessed. Some of the Wirral tackling was as amazing as it was desperate. The visitors got play down to inside the Wirral 5 metre line and a defender charged in at the side of a ruck while the referee was already playing advantage for an earlier infringement. A penalty try was awarded and there wasn’t even the hope of a missed conversion. Now it was a one point game.
Coach Seddon cancelled the orders for beer and champagne and instead ordered brown trousers all round for the home supporters and coaches. Mrs M-S and Mrs S were quickly on the phone ordering immediate deliveries of Tena Lady protective garments. They tried saying that they were arranging appointments at the hairdressers- yeh, that’s what they all say.
Peter B launched the restart as far into Saints’ territory as he could. Hopefully Wirral could see out the remaining five minutes playing the game in the Saints’ half. While everyone on the touchline was in desperate panic mode, the visitors set off on the attack again and things were looking bleak for the home side as Saints broke through the defensive line on the home 22. Only a supporting attacker taking out a would-be tackler, which handed a penalty to Wirral, saved the day. Touch was found and Wirral were able to get the play into the visitor’s half as the clock ticked down towards full time.
Soon after, a knock-on enabled Mr Sixsmith to blow his whistle and bring the game to a close. That was a tense one. Wirral had scraped home by a single point.
Final score:- Wirral - 13 Anselmians - 12.
Then it was time for the customary shaking of hands and hip hip hurray-ing and forming of tunnels to run through. As Wellington said after Waterloo it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” Unless you’re an Evertonian lamenting the recent derby game.
Wirral had got home by a point having been comfortable for the first three quarters of the match. But that’s sport, I suppose. ‘Don’t count your chickens until the fat lady sings’ is the moral of the story.
Since the Wirral coaches were taken to the Millennium Stadium to see Wales beat the South Africans, their charges at Wirral have remained unbeaten, winning two on the bounce. Need I say more?
Then it was time for everybody to retreat to the clubhouse for beer.