A Look Back 6 Years (Part 1):Different shaped ball adds to weekend

Tidying up and transferring some articles from my old blog site to new, I found a couple that related to my son’s insistance on turning to the oval-shaped ball and how it has changed my sporting life – For old time’s sake, I thought I’d add the articles to this new site. I enjoyed reading back, key moments in my life that made me feel a very proud Dad, hope you  enjoy it too…

26th March 2012

When I first started writing Chesham United Travels as a teenager who thrived on drunken away days and terrace banter (the only thing that has changed is that it doesn’t happen very often now!) it may be that I made the odd reference to egg-chasing…

…However, with my passion for Chesham United having somehow steered both my kids away from the idea of playing football, my weekends have now become a packed balancing act between football and rugby. With my feelings towards the game with the egg-shaped ball having been changed, this weekend just passed provided a superb double dose of sporting enjoyment. Be warned, in true diary style fashion, this latest chapter takes a slight diversion into the world of mini’s tag rugby.

Despite a 6-0 away win for Chesham United, Saturday night celebrations were subdued with an early start scheduled for Sunday to travel to Marlow for a rugby festival with Camelot Under 8’s. Apologies now if I go off on a bit of a tangent from the football for a bit, but it was such an enjoyable day, made more so by my decision to stand aside as Chairman of Chesham United and give a bit more priority to my family.

When my youngest son, Ben, decided he wanted to follow a lot of his classmates and join Camelot Rugby Club in Hemel Hempstead Mrs Calder was not too keen on the prospect of standing out on the touchline through the cold winters, but, I promised that, if he really got into it,  I would always look to put his rugby commitments ahead of what I might want to do watching Chesham United. Fortunately, most the time there are no clashes (I missed the away trip to Storubridge to attend a festival – tournament – near Twickenham earlier in the season, but other than that it tends to be Friday night’s and Sunday mornings (though I will also be missing Barwell away to attend another festival, in Bournemouth – however I have been assured that this is an enjoyable trip with the odd gallon of beer thrown in!).

Without boring you too much, the festival involved two parallel tournaments for A teams and B teams. Camelot have three teams in this age group with my Ben, a relatively late recruit to the set-up, playing in what you would call the C team – the Chargers. Ben used to play Footy 4 Fun with a local group but absolutely hated the fact that it was not taken serious, kids were allowed to mess around and winning didn’t matter, it was the taking part; at rugby it is almost the opposite – you don’t mess around, it is very serious stuff and winning is very important. The result is a staggeringly (overall) well disciplined bunch of 7 and 8 year olds.

Ben is Captain of the Chargers and loves the role,  his fitness has improved no end since joining less than 12 months ago, but he still has my build and is not as swift on his feet for tag rugby as some of the kids, but nonetheless he has picked the game up really well, picked up some pace, totally understands the game and slotted in with his team to such an extent that I am really starting to feel that pride that parents get – who would have ever thought it would be over my son playing bloody rugby!!

Anyway, for the Marlow tounament the Camelot A’s (Knights) were left behind instead opting to put the B’s (Wizards) into the A team tournament and the Chargers into the B’s tournament – for the Chargers this was their first tournament entry as their own identity, and the hope was they would get out of their Pool of 6 teams to qualify for another match and the chance of a trophy. Winning a couple of games would most likely achieve that.

As the teams took to the field for their first match I suddenly realised that I was sensing that same pre-match tension I get watching a Chesham football match, only slightly worse because my son was out there…and that is without even contemplating the fact that the first game was against High Wycombe! (to those Chesham fans that can remember when Wycombe Wanderers were genuine local rivals).

Although all the games are played in the right sporting spirit, applauding tries for the opposition and all that, you can always sense the will to win on the sidelines, that need to point out injustices to the officials and that need to rasie awareness of areas where the referee might be able to improve his performance. I must admit, sometimes I have to remind myself that I am at an Under 8’s tag rugby match and my Saturday afternoon “instructions” to the referee are not as welcome – however much I feel the urge.

The High Wycombe coach was what you might call a “shouty” kind of a fella, striking fear through the heart of the team with his high blood pressured approach to management – thankfully St John’s Ambulance were on site! It was a tight opening match with never more than a point between the two sides. The two clubs had met for some friendly fixtures only a few weeks back at Boxmoor, across the three Camelot sides the two Wycombe teams that visited were comfortably beaten and the memory of this certainly lived in the mind of the Wycombe coach during the half-time team chats – “You’re acting as though you are scared of them because it is Hemel Hempstead” he was heard to holler “They’re only kids like you!

At the final whistle the Chargers had sneaked their nose ahead by one try, winning the match 8-7 and giving a huge confidence boost to the team. In recent weeks across training and practice matches the young Chargers had been improving week in and week out, the hard work was really starting to show as they gelled as a unit brilliantly in a tournament environment. Next up were the Marlow Wombats, and the game was no less tight, but at the break the Chargers were trailing 2-4; tagging at times temporarily letting them down to let one of the host side players have a clean run for a try. However, the second-half was inspired as they tagged and scored their way to a second successive 8-7 win. Enough to put them top of their group with two to play (although there were 6 teams in a league, each team only played 4 of them – something to do with the amount of time the kids are allowed to play in one tournament).

Match 3 was against a Henley side that had drawn both their matches, and yet again it was an incredibly tight, and tense, match as both teams matched each other for scoring and turnovers. At the break scores were level 3-3. The second period was end to end, and high scoring as both sides rattled in the tries, but The Chargers showed incredible nerve, skill and mental strength to run out winners by the odd point once again, this time 9-8. With only one game to go, only Wycombe could potentially catch them in the league and prevent The Chargers from topping the group and entering the Cup Final in their first tournament together as a team.

The final match against Marlow Tigers felt a little more relaxed from the sidelines, the boys were guaranteed a top two finish which in itself would be honourable, but despite falling behind early doors they showed a superb ability to overcome tiredness and record their fourth successive victory by a single try, 7-6 this time.

With it now being gone 1.00pm (most the boys had arrived at the club before 9.00am) and the sun beaming down persistently, the players were starting to look tired ahead of their final, and the long break before the final threatened to take away the confidence boosting momentum that had built up over the morning.

Before The Chargers played their final, the Wizards had a final of their own having reached the Plate final after finishing second in their pool with two wins, a draw and a defeat. Their final finished level and there was uncertainty as to what should happen in the event of a draw. The players came off the pitch, but were called back about thirty minutes later to play extra-time, eventually losing out on the rugby equivalent to the golden goal.

At 2.00pm The Chargers took to the field for their final against a very strong Windsor side that had also won all of their games in qualifying, rattling up considerably more tries and winning by greater margins. The pitch for the final was, bizarrely, one with a really quite steep slope from one end to the other – which surprisingly in the end seemed to favour the team going up the hill.

The Chargers started heading down the hill and got off to nothing short of a disastrous start. I was texting Mrs Calder every score in the same way as I would certain people a goal at football on the Saturday – I think she was more nervous than me. That feeling of excitement is different to that which you can experience at football – A Chesham United win is all about me and the pleasure I get from it; the driving home with a smile, enjoying a celebratory beer, analysing the game after the match, looking at the league table and dreaming… This is different. I wanted them to win so badly for the kids – I knew Ben would be so proud, I knew they would all be so chuffed if they had won, I didn’t want them to finish on a low and be despondent at the end of such a brilliant day…

…Unfortunately Windsor were a very strong side and soon found themselves 4-0 up before The Chargers could get near scoring. By the break it was 5-2. For the second-half they were going uphill in every sense of the word, but somehow, after such a long hot spring day, managed to put in an incredibly determined performance as the Windsor team became rattled…2-5 became 3-5…4-5…4-6 (by now Ben was like a child possessed – determination, frustration, anger, sense of injustice)…5-6…They were back within one try, having trailed by four early doors…5-7…6-7…6-8…7-8…Suddenly that anxiety and nervousness with which I have lived with on the football terraces all my life was transferred to a rugby field – made worse by the sight of my 8-year old son and his equally young team mates looking so focussed and determined (months of hard training and discipline paying off in five stunning second-half minutes)…8-8..They were back level… Full-time! Incredible.

It is difficult to explain that lump in the throat feeling you get at this stage as the boys gather to prepare for extra-time having exerted themselves so much, finding energy and resolve from deep within their young bodies and minds. I felt pride. Unbelievable pride.

Unfortunately this is reality and not a fantasy story, the match was lost 8-11 in extra -time amidst further controversy with a disallowed try after the Windsor coach spoke to the referee and Ben had to come off injured after taking a hit in the face, but that takes nothing away from the excellent performance on the day and the fact that they had passed all expectations in being presented with a Cup Final runners-up medal, having won their group with a 100% record.

It was a great day, on the back of Chesham United’s 6-0 win, and the glorious weather, it contributed towards an excellent, albeit busy, weekend.

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