Cobras Off to the Races
By Julian Jones
SHC Cobras 1 – 0 Epsom Men’s 5s
POM: Simon Sladden
As the punters gathered for the Epsom Derby, Grazing Rhino inspected the course and announced the going as good to firm, while Captain Hamper McCririck inspected the runners and riders in paddock, working out our odds.
The day had a strange feeling about it with “Scribe” Duffy arriving first, to avoid match report duties this week, sporting a plaster on his nose, having impaled himself on his pen after nodding off as he was putting the finishing touches to last week’s magnum opus. Simon Sladden got the memo about Derby dress etiquette and arrived in full pilot’s uniform, perhaps overdoing it a bit as it wasn’t Ladies Day.
McCririck gave us the running order, white board and chess pieces in hand (we are all pawns to him), and pointed out the 2-1 ‘Favourite’ in the opposition’s midfield. Thankfully they had a rank outsider up front at 33-1.
After starters orders, it was quickly clear that Epsom were the toughest test the Cobras have faced since the Mambas. The first few furlongs were a case of our structure holding firm and then we were able to assert our creativity on the game. We moved the ball well through the backs and the midfield and the two Ollies combined with composure to get the ball over the finish line.
It could have been very different though. Alex fell foul of Steward Fitch in the first few seconds – for talking – not at the steward directly, just generally commentating on proceedings through his own personal tannoy. Fitchy gave him his first and final warning, which did end the race commentary, but Alex still nearly got sent to the knackers’ yard for wading into a player with his hooves. Fitchy’s eyes flashed and his hand twitched menacingly over his holster, but Alex lived to race on.
The skipper took over grump duties, warranting a post-match stewards’ enquiry (in the tea tent) for excessive use of the whip on MotM-to-be Pilot Simon for his tackling of three of the opposition and then threading a beautiful through ball, but just a little too fast for the skipper.
The ROC had the bit between his teeth at the head of the field although he was connecting with the opposition’s keeper more than the ball. His tenacity for a connection became a little too close when he ended up lying on top of the keeper and whispered sweet nothings in his ear.
Half time saw an unusual substitution as chief steward Ian took over from Fitchy and the strangeness of the day continued as the Cobras still played with good control and calm.
The Rhino – odds on to score first with the bookies – did something unprecedented, rousing suspicions of spot fixing amongst the betting punters – for the first time ever the Rhino didn’t try and shoot when in the D and instead slipped a pass to the ROC, who was so surprised he completely missed the ball.
The biggest moment of the race happened at the infamous Beecher’s Brook. Alex again was centre of the action. He was felled by the ‘Favourite’ just as he was in full flight at the P spot. Up in arms, the two of us on the bench made such a kerfuffle that panic set in when Steward Matt stopped time and gesticulated in our direction. We thought for a second that he was coming over to send us back to the paddock, but instead he called over the chief steward to discuss the incident. The enquiry led to a penalty corner and post-race analysis attributed the decision to the fact Alex was impeded while trying to shoot. William made the set piece variation look deliberate (unusual for Cobras) and almost put the result beyond doubt.
Gregor joined ROC and the Rhino falling at the fences. His attempts to get more quick 1-2s going has led to him pulling something nearly every week, which he says never happened when he was young and single. Meanwhile, an incensed Rhino claimed a personal moral victory, despite his suspect finishing, by managing to get the ‘Favourite’ a final warning by Steward Matt.
In the end we won by a nose and nobody was made into pet food. No photo finish was required as our poor keeper Fynn Tinker didn’t even get a ball within 20 yards of his goal, making him long for the Saturday’s playing for Mongooses. MotM was tricky as it was a great all-round performance and there were nominations throughout the field, but in the end, Simon Sladden snuck home after some great play in the midfield and anyway, he was best dressed for the Derby.