Middlesex County Football League – FC Assyria v Interwood FC
Wednesday, 29th May 2013, 7pm
Northolt Rugby Club
Entrance free, Programme £1.50
Distance 15 miles, Attendance 26
It’s over. The dark months cometh. As I stare forlornly into the distance counting down to the League Cup draw*, like the grim-reaper my wife stands the shadows, waving the honey-do list.
After a very poor 90 minutes and an extra time penalty, high profile football has once again reached its climax with a fanfare of pyrotechnics and colour-coded confetti.
Since Wigan made The FA Cup Final great again – the game that should have ended this season – we’ve had nineteen dead-rubber premier league matches, and one which sadly confirmed Wigan’s relegation. There were two one-sided play-off finals, two play-off semi-finals – one of which was shit-hot, whilst the other just involved shit – and the ensuing pitiful final. A Europa League Final (can we please have the UEFA Cup back Monsieur Platini?) offered the winning team a second chance not to diminish their wealth too much and, to top it all England was “honoured” to host two Champions League Finals (and the European Cup too?) one of which had such appalling marketing that the BBC have yet to publish the score online.
None one of these twenty-eight games is more important than The FA Cup Final yet most (sincere apologies to the women’s game) tragically get more air time and publicity. With no action to describe once they are spent, the media moves on apace with a period of almost comical speculation on the coming season. These are the dark months; the fact-less media-driven n0-quote-opinionated-poppycock that rarely comes to pass.
The greatest pity is that should the hacks open their mainstream eyes, they’d find football stories a-plenty. The women’s league is up and running and full of scandal following the diabolical treatment of Doncaster Belles, the “Non-FIFA” football matches and tournaments abound and, for a short while the joy of Non-League thankfully continues.
Avoiding the pointless friendly between England and Eire, tonight’s big match up came courtesy of the final London league game of the season; a Step 7 Middlesex County fixture.
In last season’s final match, the sun shone bright and, the action didn’t disappoint as FC Romania won an entertaining seven goal thriller at home to Willesden Constantine and, finished second in the league. This season another kingdom, Assyria, host last season’s champions Interwood. Naturally you’d like a blow-by-blow account of these two clubs histories but, given the enormity of the home team’s cultural background I’m not sure there’s the time or space.
Interwood seem to have a traditional background. Formed in East London in the 1970s – fielding Messrs Gibson, Hurlock, and Sealey – the club has gone from strength to strength. Fulfilling their motto, “Always Believe” Interwood have amassed silverware through a wide range of successful youth and adult teams and, boast an enviable alumni. Without being fish FC Assyria are a totally different kettle.
FC Assyria are not just a football team; they’re a whole community with a proud heritage, and traditions, and probably fantastic food that their grandmother still cooks better than anyone else. Proving that groundhopping is wonderfully educational (an excuse I’ll doubtless never tire of) I have conducted a spot of research on the subject. In summary, Assyria (see map) was a once great kingdom whose Aramaic speaking people have – though some fairly tragic events – been exiled to the four corners. Fast forward a few thousand years and you find descendants of those displaced peoples now contesting the International Assyrian Cup. The competing teams from all over the world include FC Assyria; a team set up in West London in the 1960s to represent the Assyrian Society of United Kingdom.
Whilst they have no history of major footballing success, last season they lifted the Middlesex County Junior Cup and, were promoted having won Division 1 West. They have aspirations to progress further however, this first season in the Premier League has seen them nestle safely in mid-table.
Like Swansea v Fulham without the media attention, tonight’s game was also a bit of a dead-rubber. If the visitors won they’d jump above Sporting Hackney into 3rd and, if the Assyrians lost by enough, goal difference could lift Singh Sabha Slough above them but, that really was it. Neither could get promoted or relegated. Getting back in the car afterwards it seemed fairly apparent that most of the players were blissfully oblivious of this, or didn’t care.
Kicking off fifteen minutes later than the hour earlier I was told (yes that is right), the two teams went at it and each other with hammer and tongs. The first half wasn’t overly physical but, it was a man’s game and a total contrast to the sedate traffic I sat in through Kew and Ealing. Navigating the back roads through another old stomping ground, I’d sliced through the train lines and rush hour traffic which irregularly and often divide this area of the capital and, arrived just after kick off.
“Don’t worry you haven’t missed much” politely stated an unfeasibly tall substitute by a step ladder. Atop the ladder was an equally cordial young man who – having offered me his grand stand – spent the game shouting instructions in two languages (I’ll have to just guess the other was Aramaic).
In front were two technical areas; one amassed with chatting friends and Assyrian well wishers, in the other Danny Bailey strode with a lone substitute goal keeper. Lining the sides of the pitch, the carrier bag brigade had clearly forsaken the “joys” of watching England/Eire to turn out for this final league game.
The attendance I was informed was unprecedented; they’d run out of programmes, though thankfully not without holding one back for me. Seriously if you’re off to see this friendly community team, the chap behind the twitter feed is both welcoming and genial.
A fast competitive game was being played out before us. Interwood combining pretty skills – honed in their football academy – with determined tackles always looked the better team but, the Assyrians never looked overawed. Ultimately the stubbornness of the home team led to friction in the challenge and back-chat to the officials when decisions went “the wrong way”. Whilst the Assyrians weren’t angels, Interwood in particular excelled in this. The ref however seemed content to out shout everyone in earshot. “LISTEN FELLA. I gave you a bit of poetic licence with the first f**k off, but you’re not getting away with another.” he bellowed at one visiting forward.
the lesser spotted wrap around laces
As the game progressed, the rain held fast in the greyness above and, both teams (and the ref) tussled for dominance in what should have been a fairly relaxed end-of-season affair. Unfortunately the less order that was kept, the greater the tensions rose until breaking point was reached midway through the second period. Up first however was a major turning point right at the end of the first period.
I’d been admiring the sights and smells so absent from big stadia – bird calls and horse chestnut blossom – when Assyria broke down the left. Being forced out wide whilst looking like he only had a right foot left me with little doubt this was going nowhere when, out of the blue, a fierce left foot drive was hammered into the far corner. As another First Great Western train headed slowly south, a ripple of polite applause mixed with dejected swearing and a cry of “Georgie Isaac, well f**king done!” from the home bench.
Due to the failing light the break, and the conversations of pitch choice for next season, were cut short. Sadly this meant that any high-spirits had no chance to subside. Interwood subbed their keeper for “Michael” and, we were off again. It was at this point I wished I’d had a team sheet.
With no knowledge of the names bar the programme (correct me if I’m wrong), Interwood’s number 2 Shaun Lee had a fine shot well saved. The resulting corner saw Assyria’s number 5 – listed as Martin Benjamin or “Danny” as was yelled in congratulations – brilliantly block a shot on the line and another corner was headed on to the bar. This wouldn’t be the last scare Assyria would have. Interwood were having plenty of the ball but overzealous challenges and complaining made their game less appealing than the home side’s.
Tapping away at my phone I caught sight (very late) of the ball heading my way but, fortunately managed a once-in-a-lifetime deft trap (without dropping the phone) and pass back which left Bailey offering to sign me. Ignoring the acclaim, I turned my attention back to the pitch just in time to see the move of the match as Assyria number 3 (Peter Edenogie?) broke down the right and passed to number 6 (Jerrell Hammond?), whose tidy one-two with number 9 (Edward Baki?) afforded him a shot which was well saved.
Moments later as Baki (?) was brought down in the Interwood box, the arguing started in earnest. A red card was being demanded by one side whilst the other wanted the linesman (who had already moved into penalty position) spoken to. Whilst I’m not sure if it was just an excuse for him to keep talking, the chatty ref eventually went over to engage the linesman in parle. As offside was given against Baki (?) and yells rang out in all directions, the game restarted.
Good play was again demonstrated by both sides. Interwood’s number 6 – listed as Emanuele but instructed by Bailey as “Remy” – carried on missing good opportunities and, Ashoor Bakoos (?) in the home goal pulled off a fantastic double save but, the strains from the penalty farce were clearly stretched to breaking.
As the ball rolled into the Assyrian technical gathering, a ridiculous argument blew up between one sub and Interwood’s number 7, Aaron Beckles (?). Soon 20+ handbags were on display and the ref yelling opinions about all of them. Snapping away, I stared momentarily eastwards wondering if anyone was enjoying the game at Wembley this much.
Whatever happened then or after the final whistle – as posturing players exhibited what a couple of months down the gym can do and two home players dug out their handbags again – the fine diplomacy skills of others were called for. Before this was to happen, Emanuele and/or Remy scored an equaliser from a cross and the home team protested of offside from an interfering attacker (think Sammy Lee in 1981 but less interfering). For all the complaining throughout the game, this 1-1 draw was the fair outcome of an excellent evening’s entertainment, in what is for me fast becoming a fantastic league to watch (incidentally the friendly up the road was later described as “underwhelming”). Tonight’s hosts – the inventors of beer, as one attractive Assyrian tweeter has since informed me – were so welcoming and engaging in equal measures, its truly hard not to wish them well next season.
Unlike the global branding big teams, this premier league is a true reflection of the melting pot inhabitants of its county; wonderfully mixed with so many amazing people. If you embrace it, going to watch games in Middlesex is astonishingly educational.
For the last two seasons now – delaying the coming dark months – I have ended the league season on a multicultural Middlesex high that some could only dream of. I know I can never stop the close season but, Middlesex does seem to slow its arrival. Then and only then, come as they do, the “dark months”; those five weeks always drag like Five Years.
We’ve got five years, of jobs for our wives
We’ve got five years, ‘til fixture surprise
We’ve got five years, I’m bored such a lot
We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got
Apologies to David Bowie
(*17th June in case you’re wondering, the league fixtures appear two days later)