There’s always a certain back to school feeling that accompanies the first game of the season, an excitement to get started again but a sense of melancholy as the summer draws to a close. New starts come with new questions as you shake hands and remember all the old faces. Has Chris Neels grown a few inches, are those grey hairs in Hugo’s beard, where’s Owain and who are all these new fellas in the front row?
To answer these pressing questions, we had to travel to the edge of the known universe, Dollis Hill, to play the aptly named Kilburn Cosmos. Despite the long journey it was like coming a home. A lovely little public park bathed in glorious sunshine, you might not read about in ‘Time Out’ or ‘The Londonist’ but I am happy to recommend Gladstone Park to anyone in North West London on a summer’s day.
With it being the start of the season, everyone was there on time, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Even Izzy and Morgan, two frequent truants, were there ready and raring, Morgan to play; Izzy to go through a 20 pack of Bensons and a few beers.
A typically lengthy Ev call to arms preceded kick off, ‘yes boys, London Leagues boys, physicality boyyysss’ and with a blow from the refs whistle the new season was off.
What followed was a fairly harem scarem encounter. Kilburn provided ample evidence that the days of Finsbury Park playing teams where trying to guess who played what position based on their body shape was a fruitless endeavour were long behind us. The early exchanges were markedly tight, Finsbury were able to dominate when we ratcheted up through the gears and there were encouraging signs that we had the edge physically. However, any progress was stalled by our timeless ability to give away penalties at almost any moment and we duly ended up 3pts down.
With it established we weren’t going to get a walk over here on the high veldt of Kilburn, Finsbury Park cranked it up. The backs managed to manoeuvre us into the final third and after some draining carries up the middle from the pack, Old Man River Hugo Murray, in his new role at 9, passed through a gap untroubled to dot down under the posts. This gave the usually erratic Ed Morden an opportunity for a confidence boosting kick right in front of the posts which he slotted to begin a, surprisingly, faultless afternoon from the tee.
Kilburn came back with renewed vigour taking advantage of a poor exit from Park to take us one way then the other before we allowed their fly half to waltz sideways across the pitch and take advantage of a weak blindside. The Cosmos kicker had borrowed Morden’s boots and missed leaving us with an 8-7 deficit and the tough words from the clubs resident Mr Motivator echoing in our ear, I will leave them unnamed for fear of drawing his ire on Saturday.
Shortly after the restart we managed to pin the Cosmos back in there final third with James Bailey scurrying up the wing before being hit into touch. Any momentary relief for Kilburn disappeared as Dan Brett came rampaging through a well-constructed maul, tearing the ball away from there scrumhalf in agricultural fashion. With the ball a mere 2 yards from the white wash the Park pack preceded to mess around with it before eventually succumbing to Chris’ urgings and giving the fly half the ball. He poked a cross kick for debutant Charlie Nicholson to barrel, over, around and through three Cosmos defenders to reach the ball first and give us a 14-8 lead. The aforementioned Mr Motivator then ripped into a few members of the pack with a vitriolic tirade for our descent into white line fever. How that must have concerned Kilburn under the posts, who at that point must have thought they were facing a team utterly relentless in pursuit of excellence.
Immediately from kick off Fraser diced through the defence giving us go forward ball just inside Kilburn’s half. With a move that would have made absent coach Chapman’s heart swell with pride, Finsbury went coast to coast with Dan Thomas giving a glorious offload to yours truly who managed to execute a scissors with new boy Harri after butchering an easy 3 on 1 to eventually put the Welshman over and save myself blushes, 21-8 and it seemed that we were in position to pull away.
We did not pull away.
After some tête-à-tête in the middle of the park, Kilburn won a lineout just inside our half. Off the top ball gave their humongous lock a chance to melt my shoulder, by the time we’d manage to haul him down our defence was in disarray. Kilburn pulled out a cross kick of their own for their winger to win the race to the corner with an acrobatic finish. 21-13 and any half time pats on the back well and truly shelved.
‘back to zero boyyssss…focus boysss…. intensity boyssssss’
And with those timeless clichés, the second half began. Ev backed up his own words by dropping a hideous lollypop right off the kick off to give Kilburn a quick easy try from the resulting scrum to push them within a pt. Under the posts Felix, a young man who has studied at those well-known schools of hard knocks, Eton followed by Oxford, reminded us ‘we are in a street fight now.’
Well you know what they say about fights and bringing a gun to them.
After some inconsequential messing around in the middle of the pitch, Park had a scrum, the ball squirted off the back and Chris ‘Smoking Gunz’ Green scooped up the loose ball. Off he went down the blindside evading the first defender and we were away. He eventually got the ball to Harri who powered through three defenders to dot down for his 2nd of the game. With a cushion established the game began to roll towards its denouement.
Morgan had a typically barrelling run to score under the posts off a well timed pass from Chris and Kilburn came back to cut the margin to 8 to make it a slightly more uncomfortable final 10 than Park deserved.
The win was sealed with Ed Morden completing his 100% day with a penalty nudged over from short range after Chris had been completely flattened from a perfectly legal shot.
38-27 the game finished. Felix was awarded player of the match for a faultless display with the darts, and an all action approach around the pitch that will have Fred Bromley sweating, anxiously checking when Oxford's first lectures begin and sending out cries for help with new haircuts.
Ev got DofD because talking for 10 minutes about upping your game and playing with more focus, then dropping a complete dolly of a catch is objectively good old-fashioned slap stick humour!
Class back in session, on to Old Merchant Taylors!