Former Whitelines editor and current Ski Sunday presenter Ed Leigh has been working on a new project – namely, a football tournament. This was not your average Sunday stroll down Hackney Marshes; he invited seven international teams (including several of the world’s best snowboarders) to the surfing mecca of Hossegor in France, for a gruelling week of flying tackles, Waddle-esque penalties and grazed knees. Word is that this could be the first installment of an annual event which will soon overtake the World Cup in both scale and prestige.
Want to know if Nicolas Müller and Freddie Kalbermatten are as handy with the old pigskin as they are their boards? Read on.
(WARNING: Ed appears to have written this stream of consciousness style - think James Joyce meets school match report. Best to grab a cup of tea and settle in for extra time...)
VIDEO AT THE BOTTOM!
Right, here's a run down of the week...
We turned up with a squad of Southwell in nets, Stenti achoring the back and then an unlikely midfield of the left footers Marcus and my brother Al and me the sole Righty with Bezza and Gend up front. Subs bench had Jenny J, never played before but keen as mustard, learned fast though and even laid me off a sitter against the French in the semis which I spannered wide and Laura's mate Craig. Lovely bloke but just didn't have a touch or the fitness so he didn't see much of the pitch. Then Stenti asked if we needed another and bought along a Devon mate of his who lives close to Laax called Dave Blackburn. Lovely guy, same build as Hamish, bit less bulky but magic on the ball, great footballing brain and very smooth. So that was the squad.
First day saw slight rain and a good cloud cover keeping the temperature down, perfect for us as we were up against France, then the locals and finishing with the amalgamated teams of Austria and Germany that became Tirol United. The French Captain Florent De Maria from Method is very, very handy and we were expecting big things from them. I started as sub as I wanted to see what we had on the table to work with and watch everyones game. It was magnificent, I got a real kick out of seeing everyone do exactly what we'd talked about and smashing the French of the field. Stenti bossed the back and the last midfielder always sat with him to guard the counter. Gend was on fire weaving his way through the defence and making a real nuisance of himself. First half saw us go two nil up very quickly through Gends marksmanship. Having seen enough I subbed on and the added pace caught the French off guard and linking with Marcus I broke down the left for a two on one with the keeper which I unselfishly laid off for Bez to slot home under pressure from the keeper. Gend nabbed the fourth for his hatrick and a very satisfying 4-0 result.
The locals fell next and the least talented squad in the tournament didn't give us anything to worry about, everyone enjoying a very casual 5-0 victory, especially Stenti who elbowed someone in the face for the first claret of the tournament. Two very convincing victories had every other team dubbing us the team to beat. Tirol Utd had also proven themselves on the pitch though with two very polished and organised performances against the Swiss and the Locals, who in a similar vein to us flattered them.
So the last fixture of the day saw us take on Gogo Gossner, Lisa Filzmozer, Peter Sandner and the rest of the Tirol mixtures in a battle that had everyone watching. From the kick off we were all over them and while they were looking for the counter it never came. Everyone was bossing their opposing numbers and getting the measure of the 3G surface with some excellent passing. The first goal came from a low drilled cross from Al on the right that Bezza stepped up to on the back post for a lovely tap in. Gend then continued his day of magic with a lucky fluff from Gogo in nets to put him top of the Golden boot tally on 7. Unfortunately we didn't quite show them a clean set of heels though and we conceded our first goal of the tournament through too much pushing and not enough tracking back. Even worse however was their attempt to nobble Bezza with their biggest player piling through her planted foot and rooting all her ankle ligaments. She didn't let on at the time but it was bad enough that she took herself to hospital later that day and wouldn't see the pitch until Friday when I had to strap her up so that she literally couldn't move her foot.
So Mondays table saw us finish three points clear on 9, with Innsbruck and France on 6, the Swiss and Spanish on 3 and the Locals on 0.
Wednesday was a scorcher, 27+degrees and we were playing two games across midday. Riding high on confidence though we went out to enjoy ourselves safe in the knowledge we had qualified, the only incentive for us was holding onto the top spot to guarantee us the 4th place qualifiers in the semis. Without Stenti's mate Dave and Bezza we knew there was a lot of work to do but were confident that the Swiss and Spanish shouldn't give us too many problems. How wrong could we be. The Swiss were first and Mueller had got his troops in order after their drubbings on Monday. An all star crew of Kalbermatten, Mueller, De Marchi, Flore Marxer, Maurer, Boyens and Pitschi turned out and we got schooled, main issues were fitness and too many people trying to get forward. De Marchi was set on man marking Gend out of the game which he did very effectively and as we pushed for goals we left ourselves hideously exposed to counters. Stenti did his best to boss the back but a few surfs too many told on his energy and he was caught hanging on to coat tails on a couple of breaks breaks, probably as much my fault though for pushing on too far and leaving him exposed though. That said both of their goals were our mistakes as opposed to their genius. One highlight though was a beautiful looping shot that Al sent over the keeper from 20 yards, sadly it wasn't enough and we went down 2-1.
Elsewhere everyone else was struggling, which meant we were still top of the table going into the last round of games. We faced Spain, who sat in 5th and desperately needed a win to stay in the running for a place in the semis. France in 4th were desperate for us to regain form and sink them. Both Switzerland and Tirol were sitting comfortably clear in 2nd and 3rd.
The Spanish while skillful weren't that organised, sadly though we hadn't learned from our mistakes against the Swiss and the heat also played a part as we ran out of steam. Maybe the fact that we were safe stopped everyone killing themselves, but we hadn't learned and again got caught on the break, two goals down we were running on empty and without Bezza to play off up front we suffered as Jenny struggled to find space and control the ball. Marcus found the back of the net with a lovely strike, but we got pulled forward again and conceded a third before the whistle blew.
A trudging draw between the French and Tirol secured France the 4th spot and held the Tirol in 2nd much to our surprise, meaning we would face the French in the semis, while the Tirol would face Switzerland.
Friday rolled round and it was the first time we would play in the evening. All day we paced and talked tactics as the nerves grew. Eventually we rolled up to the pitch and there were the same nervous faces their. Bezza who had been nurturing her ankle all week had managed to fall down some nightclub steps the night before but swore she could still play. On top of this Alex had no skin on his right knee, Southwell had had his knackered ankles strapped to within an inch of their lives all week, Marcus had a twinging groin, my left knee was strapped and Gendle pulled his thigh in the warm up. The only fit person was Stenti's mate Dave who had returned in place of Stenti who had departed for a family weekend on Thursday (you can imagine the stick). Despite this we had been taught a valuable lesson by the Swiss and Spanish and with a much cooler evening we felt we stood a chance.
First the French. We watched as they blasted out the Marseillaise and then hit them with a stirring sing along of God Save The Queen. With our blood pumping and cries of encouragement from the crowd we kicked off. 32 seconds later after lovely pin point move set Gendle free to shoot, Bezza hobbled to the far post and got a foot to the off target shot and managed to tap it in at the far post. We had said all day that we only had one game to focus on and we'd had the dream start. Next it was Marcus's turn and as we shut down every move from the french we constructed a five pass move that saw Marcus drill a low shot into the bottom left corner. Soon the Frenchies desperation was showing and L'Arrogs saw the first Red of the torunament for a very late tackle on Gendle who had skinned him and was clean through. Against six men, two goals up we tactically pulled Bezza off in anticipation of the final. Jenny with less pressure had a great game and set me up with a perfect ball with only the keeper to beat, sadly I lashed it wide to a chorus of hoots and whistles from the crowd. The French rallied but Dave and I took on Stenti's role and together we shut down everything they had. It should have been 4 but we were more than happy with 2 to take us into the final.
The Tirol went down 2-0 to a much revamped Swiss side that had seen the addition of a Honduran youth international (wouldn't have got passed Mondy), an American in Hannah Beaman and the errant Norwegian captain Marius Otterstad. Injuries to Pitschi and De Marchi had ruled them out of the final but they were still a much stronger, fitter and fresher side on paper.
From the kick off of the final this showed. With three very dangerous threats in Kalbermatten, Mueller and the dancing Honduran we battled to contain them. In the first half we gave everything and created a few chances but our energy was ebbing away and we started to sit deeper and deeper to ensure we didn't concede. As we kicked off the second the onslaught began, while we kept a decent amount of possession Mueller and the Hondurans tireless hounding started to yield results as we made silly mistakes. Dave had a 50/50 ball with Kalbermatten who tried to use his head, it was just below chest height though so Dave used his foot. The predictable result was Freddie getting a boot in the face and the freekick was just outside the box. Mueller and Kalbermatten sat cagily waiting for the short pass but the Honduran had his eye on goal. His shot looped round the wall and dipped towards the top corner, then there was Southwell. The cast iron keeper was there and the ball ricocheted up and away from his fists. Sensing victory the Swiss piled on the pressure, everyone got stuck in and Southwell, Dave and I all made some great last minute challenges and put our bodies on the line to keep the ball out the net. We created a couple of moves one of which saw Gendle and Marcus lined up for a shot, Marcus could have laid it off and Gendle was screaming for it but he had seen an opening and took it. Sadly the shot was wide. The truth is we were shattered and all our moves were slow with no spark, I remember thinking that I couldn't see us getting a goal. Luckily It wasn't to be for the Swiss either, despite one ball going astray and rolling perillously close to the line we held out for the full 24 minutes and we went to 8 minutes of extra time.
I'm afraid that those eight minutes were a blur of heavy tackles and exhaustion that saw both teams feeling the strain. And as soon as the whistle blew I knew that we had now made our best chance of winning this.
Penalties was something we hadn't practised, 'you don't practice them, you just take them' chided Gendle in the previous Saturdays practice session. How wrong could he be....
We won the toss and Gend stepped up first and buried his low and hard into the corner, the Honduran quickly equalised.
Next went Bezza who slotted hers comfortably to the left beyond the keeper but the curl of the ball carried it onto the upright and it rebounded out. Kalbermatten like his backcountry 9's put his away with a minimum of fuss. 2-1
<<< Boys bedroom posters are made of this
Marcus stepped up next, drilling it low and hard to the keepers right. We looked on aghast as the diminutive Stefan Maurer outstretched tipped it around the post. Alessandro Boyens was next and later commented that he knew if he scored with this strike he knew it was all but over, luckily for us it was, the ball skied and we lived to fight another day. 2-1
Al was next and with his accuracy through the tournament I felt he could carry our redemption. We held our heads as the ball kept rising over the bar and Nicolas Mueller went to take place the ball. I felt the title slip away as he ran up to take his strike, surely he wasn't going to miss this? The ball pinged off low to Southwell's right, way out of his reach but kept going as it shaved the post. For the first time I thought if he can miss we can pull this back. 2-1
There was confusion over who was next and Dave hesitated and told me to go, Gend disagreed but I stepped up unfazed. Looked Maurer straight in the eyes knowing that I was going to drive the ball bottom left. I let rip a carbon copy of Muellers shot and walked away head in hands. Next for the Swiss was their solid defender Stephan, Southwell read the ball well and parried a rocket that was sent straight at him. 2-1
Now it was Daves turn and he made now mistake with low hard drive to Stefan Maurers left. Hannah Beaman stepped up for Swiss and her nerves got the better of her as she lifted the ball over the bar. 2-2
With only the keepers left to go it was a lottery but both Southwell with his gammy ankle and Maurer buried their shots to show the outfield boys how it was done. 3-3
Gend walked up and did exactly what he had done first time round with a lightning strike into the bottom right of the net.
The Honduran looking composed took a short run up and magically the ball started rising and didn't stop, it skimmed the top of the bar, but we were already in raptures.
It wasn't a pretty game and essentially it came down to luck, but we worked so hard and wanted it so badly that we deserved it, not least because everyone on the team was English and snowboards.
Then we all went and got massively pissed.
Who's in for next year?
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