Match Report - 09 Mar 2013, Old Wykehamist Football Club 1st XI beat Old Harrovians
The History Boys: Wykehamists Stun Harrow to Reach First Cup Final in 50 Years
Old Harrovians 0 - 4 Old Wykehamists
Team (4-3-3): Duncan; Day, Readhead, Wakiwaka, Skinner; Merriot, Marsh, Masefield; Donald, Irvine-Fortesque, Sutton
Subs: Vernon, Kiley (c), Prichard
Goals: Donald (25), Merriot (60) Irvine Fortesque (75, 85)
Man of the Match: Readhead
1961 was a long time ago. Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister; fees at Winchester were six shillings ha’penny a term; Gordon Baker was only 23 years old. But it was way back then, back in black and white, that Old Wykehamist Football Club last graced the final of the Arthur Dunn Cup, the UK’s premier knock-out competition for footballers with Latin GCSEs and two middle names.
Now, 52 years of hurt later, the soccer sorcerers of South Hampshire are once more contesting the most coveted cup in well-spoken sport. On 20 April 2013, Imperial College Sports Ground, Teddington will be transformed into a roiling cauldron of passion when the plucky Wykehamists take on the galacticos of Charterhouse. Don’t miss your chance to be part of history.
In recent years the Carthusian juggernaut has found the ADC as easy as ABC, racking up five wins since the millennium. What’s more they are sitting pretty at the top of the Arthurian League Premier Division, 15 places above the embattled Wykehamists a division below. And yet nervous whispers are audible above the bleating on the sheep-rich pastures of Surrey: this Winchester team could cause an upset. So why this apprehension? Why are Carthusians from Pontypridd to Parma checking out YouTube videos of Sam Donald? Why are these Arthurian knights up all night googling “Mad Dog Merriott corner threat”? Because, gentle reader, OWs stuffed Harrow 4-0 in the semis in a performance that was at once grittier than a seaside sandwich and slicker than a Skinner smile.
Harrow must have fancied their chances. Heavy rain and misplaced hospitality had meant the fixture was switched from sodden Doggers to northwest London. The arch of Wembley loomed through the morning mist as the teams lined up, with the Wykehamists appearing in an unusual silver-grey strip – kindly lent to them by their overly polite blue-clad hosts to avoid a clash. It was clear from the off that Harrow’s grizzled dogs of war were aware of the ancient tactical truth that the ball is round and therefore must go around: this was a classy footballing side. The opening exchanges seemed to confirm their authority and Wykehamist nerves asMerriott worried the massed supporters with a few possession-shedding pirouettes just outside the Winchester box.
But it soon becameclear that OH were lacking a decent DM – there was no Middlesex Makelele on hand to shore up the midfield and dribble-duo Marsh and Masefield had ample space to run into. Captain Kiley and assistant Prichard (who is now linked with the vacant Reading job), both keeping their powder dry for the final on the touchline, had set up the team to be explosive on the break, with the pace of Donald and Sutton a menace throughout. Balance was the order of the day in the 4-4-3 line-up, with the gazelle-like elegance of the right (Skinner, Donald) countered by the cussed competitiveness of the left (Day, Sutton); both flanks toiled eagerly to serve super-spearhead Irvine-Fortescue. In defence the silent but deadly duo of Wakiwaka and Redhead relied on telepathy to surprising effect – keeping the backline steady and stout-hearted all afternoon and employing gravity-defying leaps to win countless headers.
The game was becoming cagey when, to the surprise of everyone except a huge loud blond man in a camper van (perhaps a lost Dutch backpacker with Tourettes?), OWFC burst into the lead. Gifted space inside the Harrow half, Mr Nigel Day FRCS showed why he is no mere doctor with a chirurgical throughball that curled inside the centre-back; for all its incision, though, it looked like a stray scalpel stroke until Donald ghosted into the box, deftly controlled at high speed, rounded the ‘keeper and slotted home.
A brief ascendancy ensued: like a less obnoxious Nigel Farrage, Skinner was finding ample space on the right wing and it was his byline burst and perfect cross that set up Irvine-Fortescueto to direct a header against the post after 40 minutes.
But alumni of the school that produced Winston Churchill, Lord Byron and James Blunt know that a few horrific setbacks don’t mean calamity: Harrow’s patient approach soon started to look threatening. Grey-haired goal-guardian Duncan was vital, flinging himself sharply to his right to stop a certain goal. Nevertheless, the Bolton blocker would be the first to admit that, like a lonely teenager with his own broadband connection, he was palming away too much. OWFC were lucky indeed when the Harrovian striker snatched at a rebound and blasted over the bar.
Soon a hammer blow was landed on Winchester hopes and on Marsh’s face: a clash of heads put an end to the mercurial midfielder’s involvement and ushered human dynamo David Prichard on to the pitch. Despite his upbeat arrival, OWFC were relieved when talismanic man in black Guy Walker whistled out the half.
A pattern was established early in the second period: Harrow had the lion’s share of possession, but Winchester had the lion hearts. The Londoners were temperate and accurate in their passing, but they were consistently unable to trouble the phalanx of silver-clad Hampshire hoplites: time and again they were forced to cross from deep thanks to the exceptional organisation of the back four and the terrier-like tackling of Merriott and Prichard. Human salmon Redhead edged it as man of the match with his fearless defence of the penalty box.
The pressure was relieved at the 60 minute mark: Donald gathered the ball at the halfway line, strapped on his turbo-boosters and scorched past his defender. The lumbering leftback just about had the wherewithal to trip him. In retrospect, this was a game-turning error: from 35 yards out Masefield delivered an exocet into the box, evading the keeper and the curiously disinterested Harrow defence. Merriott – the first in a long queue at the far post – stooped to conquer, propelling the pigskin into the net from six yards with his luxuriously bearded head.
But it was only after the third goal that the Wykehamist supporters started really to believe. In contrast to the languorous tango of a Masefield or a Marsh, a Prichard dribble has the velocity, inevitability and sense of direction of a meteorite bursting into the troposphere over picturesque downtown Chelyabinsk. At 70 minutes one such burst brought him into sight of goal at a tight angle: his close-range shot was weak, but so was the ‘keeper’s grip; Prichard reacted fast and tapped the ball to the waiting Irvine-Fortescue, who couldn’t miss from four yards.
Now at last the Old Wykehamists started to play with some pomp, exploiting the space left by the tired and bemusedHarrovians. Kiley and Vernon trotted on to the arena like miniature gladiators; Donald gave way, Skinner went to ice his legs and win-at-all-costs all-rounder Sutton moved to leftback. Vernon soon made his presence felt: tough in the tackle near the halfway he soon found himself tearing into the box unopposed. But, as anyone with a passing acquaintance with the recent history of OWFC knows, Vernon is all give, give, give. He drew the keeper then rolled the ball square to Irvine-Fortescue, who well deserved his brace after sidefooting home from close range. (Credit too to the handsome and mysterious linesman, who was surely right to ignore protests and keep his flag down.)
The end neared. Euphoria thickened in the chill London air. Long-suffering Woks fans began to beam. Even the grandiloquent Gordon was at a loss for words. Nothing, however, could have been more eloquent than Walker’s final whistle: those three brief blasts spoke of a cup run of courage and class reaching its culmination; of a decade of graft and enterprise from this – yes, I’ll say it – golden generation finally coming good; of half a century of yearning transformed into jubilant anticipation.
The public outpouring of joy was immediate and extravagant. A petition was launched to rename the Winchester boarding houses in honour of the heroes. Who wouldn’t want to send their son to Vernon’s, or Kiley’s, or Skinner’s? Who would cavil at the thought of the Master in College becoming Master in Wakiwaka? No one, that’s who. But, despite 4,000 signatures, school authorities were quick to point out: no one has won anything yet.
Indeed, this is just the beginning: the real battle is in April, against the might of Charterhouse. It will be a mighty clash, a historic confrontation. To miss it without good reason would be to reveal your life as a tepid imitation of a real existence, an insipid sham. So check your diaries carefully, book your trains early and scream your lungs out for these brave men of Wykeham.
Old Harrovians 0 - 4 Old Wykehamist Football Club 1st XI ()