Rolling back the years: Sidcup Occasionals vs. OAs
By Ian Anderson
Enjoyed as much by the spectators as the players...
On Saturday the 9th April, the Occasionals assembled to face an Old Alleynians 3rd XV. Much to the concern of the Sidcup side, the opposition seemed very young and fresh in comparison to the hosts mainly post-35 status. Kudos to Alex Els, known to most as “Woo-Wah”, for managing to get the likes of the Leamon brothers, The Evans cousins, Danny Bowditch, Mark Whitford, Danny Mizen and several other “my gout / piles prevent me attending” types out onto the pitch. Mixed in with some youthful effervescent types from the academy and 3rd XV the scene was set for an entertaining encounter.
Sidcup must have lost the toss and were playing down stream towards the clubhouse; either this or the skipper decided to use the slight slope advantage whilst they had some air in their lungs. Mr Richard Evans (who for the rest of the report shall be known by the initials SD) demonstrated some early promise of talent with a beautifully lofted kick off into the Old A’s 22. After some general rugby toing-and-froing and aerial tennis, Sidcup were awarded an early penalty on the half way which SD kicked into touch (an easier target to hit than the gap between the posts). The backs, showing some early naivety, seemed keen to spin the ball wide from the lineout but a vastly experienced and vastly girthed pack were more interested in reliving their 1st XV days. Soon, a text book catch-and-drive on the 22 was travelling at pace, scattering the Old A’s pack in their wake before Danny Bowditch dived over the line to score. SD almost manfully stepped up to take the conversion from out wide, but bereft of both a kicking tee and accurate boot the shot fell short. 2 minutes in and the home side were 5-0 ahead.
From the kick off, Old A’s were on the attack and two things became apparent; firstly that Els and James Evans had lost none of their tackling prowess and were not going to give up an inch of ground lightly. Secondly, even at 45 years of age, Martin Leamon stills squeaks a lot. After a short period of pressure just outside the Sidcup 22, the home side seized upon some loose possession and SD once again sent a whopping kick (no offense to Steve Amura intended) deep into Old A’s territory. Sidcup worked some fairly flowing passages of play (but not too flowing so the front five didn’t have to run too far) and found themselves with a lineout 15 metres away from the visitors line. The backs now realising that they would not receive the ball from such a position, watched on as the pack executed another excellent catch and drive with skipper Woo-Wah grounding the ball over the line. SD decided to attempt a drop kick conversion which we are guessing was unsuccessful (the spectators were busy drinking port and being witty at this stage). 10 minutes gone and the score was 10 – 0 to hosts.
Old A’s kicked off straight at the posts with the ball alighting on the Sidcup 22 and amongst the confusion, the first of several misdemeanours occurred resulting in penalties to Old A’s: offside, not releasing the tackler and not rolling away. All of these seem quite harsh in hindsight as once you reach a certain age, getting back up from a lying position requires a hell of a lot of effort. In the spirit of a true friendly, Old A’s ran all 4 penalties and each time were met with some staunch Sidcup defence, excellently marshalled by the ever-squeaking Leamons (Dickie was now in on the act too). Steve Burke (looking as though he was just back from some Bear Grylls island experience) put in a thumping tackle allowing Sidcup to regain possession and allowing Rich Roddis to launch a counter attack from his own 22. Alas, the move soon broke down as SD received the ball out wide and decided to pass to a tree rather than a team mate. Old A’s were back on the attack but not for long as Sidcup once again showed stout defence and again hoofed the ball deep into Old A’s territory with a great follow up chase from Els and Evans keeping the visitors under pressure. Under pressure, Old A’s were judged to infringed at a ruck resulting in a penalty to the home side. SD again showed aplomb with the touch kick and Sidcup regrouped for another lineout catch-and-drive. Evidently, this time it was just Dan Mizen walking backwards that splattered the visitors defence and Bowditch again dived to the floor for the try. SD made it 3/3 misses to keep up his record. 15 – 0 to the men in white.
Old A’s were now coming to the conclusion that they may as well start spreading the ball about a bit in order to tire out the home side’s rather awe-inspiring pack. From the restart, the visitors adopted this game plan but wave after a wave of attack was thwarted. The midfield of Burke & Evans put in tackle after tackle, Roddis and Hancox ushered the wings into touch and even fly half Martin Leamon produced a vigorous shoulder hug to slow attackers down. Fullback Cuomo, blind as a bat as he is, ran up and down behind the back line looking enthusiastic. From one ebullient tackle, the ball spilled to Roddis who weaved his way through numerous would-be tackles before offloading to SD who put in an almighty 22 to 22 clearance kick.
Sidcup starting piling on the pressure again: firstly, No 8 Whitford broke from the base of the scrum and made good ground before throwing a woeful inside pass to the Man in the Moon. Next, fine work from the backrow set up a great opportunity to score down the blind only for SD to suffer a severe case of Futterbingers and drop the ball. Dan Mizen (defying medical science and laws of gravity and motion) went on a defence-scattering 15 metre run, before using the cunning ploy of collapsing to the ground with his buttocks on show to the defence and causing them to retreat backwards in fear. Old A’s manage to hold firm and clear up the ball back up the pitch.
By now, the game is taken its toll; Skipper woo-Way is off with a blood injury and No. 8 Whitford has pulled his calf. Fortunately, former 1st XV head physio/Witch Doctor Paul Graham has been given time off from being Serge Blanco’s stunt double and is on hand to dish out port and bandage the wounded. Pauls influence on the game cannot go unstated, but more of that later. Matt Floyd (3rd team skipper and Tsar) and Simon Evans take to the fray, somewhat to the relief of Lemmy as he is no longer the oldest man on the pitch… but certainly the squeakiest.
Lemmy (Martin, still squeaking like a chipmunk of acid) starts to test the opposition defence with some great back moves and lines of running. Old A’s give away a penalty and Lemmy puts in a surprisingly powerful touch kick which of course doesn’t make touch but with another prolific chase from Els and Evans Sidcup are back in the Old A’s 22. Soon after, Lemmy Mc Squeak-Squeak finds Burke with a beauty of a pass and the centre crashes through the heart of the Old A’s defence. The ball is quickly recycled to Dave Jones (Slouch) who sprints over from 20 yards out to score. Who knows or cares what happened with the conversion. Old A’s may have scored at some stage but of the half but who knows? The score is roughly 20 – something.
Half time arrives and the game is taking its toll on the players and the beer/wine/port is having an effort on my handwriting. A few went off and some other people went on. There were lots of people so it was nice for them to join in. If memory serves me rightly, MIzen departs to “coach” the 1st XV, props Bowditch and Jones make way for the even older Steve Highmore and the youthful Andy Hind jnr, Steve Hancox willingly makes way for the youthful James Langston, a very hungover Chris Orford joins the back row alongside a very enthusiastic for his age Simon Evans. Dean Cuomo is escorted from the pitch by a guide dog allowing academy fullback Stephen Orford to step in and bring some pace to the pitch and Mike Davis fits in somewhere. Old A’s are now down to 14 players and Hanky nobly agrees to play for them.
From the restart, Old A’s lofted the ball to Stevie Highmore who demonstrated the dexterity of a juggling sea-lion before knocking the ball all much to the entertainment of the touch line support. After a period of toe-to-toe action, Sidcup regain possession and speedster Roddis demonstrates a ridiculous turn of pace to score down the blind side. Lemmy steps up and slots the conversion from under the posts. 27 – 0 (or 5) to the hosts.
After their success in picking out Highmore from the restart, Old A’s fall into the same routine of kicking the ball deep to the Sidcup pack where Ben Stock, son of former 1st V wit, raconteur and lead vocalist Martin “Marmite” Stock. Ben almost matches his father in height but in rugby terms is a bit of a disappointment to his father as he can jump, catch, run and does not have long chats with referees about laws of the laws of the game and why are all refs are stupid.
Ben takes a great catch and sets off up the field with various bodies in support, some faster than others. The home side are making rapid ground before centre Burke drops “a sitter”, possibly to give everyone a rest after 40 metres of progress. The game ebbs and flows and the younger generation get used to playing alongside each other and after some ten minutes Orford’s hangover gets the better of him and some body part gives up on him. Still, at least he didn’t injure any of his team mates. Chris is replaced by the incredibly dapper Saville Row Guru that is Joe “Mind the hands” Holsgrove, making his first rugby appearance for several years. Shortly after, Louis Crust takes to the field as well and his father stops bending everyone’s ear. At some stage, Old A’s get on the score board. No one can remember quite how but safe to say SD was at fault somewhere. Possibly 27 – 12 at this stage.
The game carries and the badinage on the side line gets more and more entertaining as players decide if they want to return to pitch or continue consuming port. Roddis is buzzing about the pitch and side line entertaining the crowd, Highmore goes on a couple of short sprints into the opposition pack before deciding he has done enough and makes way for Sidcup debutant Jurell. Steve Brown is in the action defying his age and generally a lot of running around is going on. Sam Carter (Academy back row) takes to the pitch decrease the average age of the side by some 20 years. Holsgrove suffers an injury and Els receives a standing ovation as he returns to the pitch (there were no seats available) but shortly after is “yellow carded” for some typical openside crime or other.
It is at this stage that our honourable physio warrants another mention. According to Monsieur Graham Sidcup only have 13 players on the pitch and a sub is quickly sent on to rectify this error (bearing in mind that the home side should have 14 at this stage with Els swigging port on the side line). After a few more minutes play, proving he could be a worthy successor to Rachel Riley, M. Graham notes that there are now 15 bodies on the pitch and wets himself at how helpful he can be. More port is consumed on the side line. As we enter the last ten minutes of the game, with the younger generation coping manfully with the opposition, the subs discuss who should return to the pitch for the final whistle. Though there is much enthusiasm to return, the desire to involve all in the game is apparent. However, the following is noted;
1. it is a miracle getting the Leamon brothers on the pitch so they merit playing a full game (and tell the world about it afterwards whilst proclaiming “never again”.
2. Danny Bowditch was content standing on the side line having scored two tries and needs to go back on to either score a hatrick and a jug (large beer container) or be accused of “jug-avoidance” and be fined heavily – usually the aforementioned jug.
3. There is no port on the pitch and far too much running around.
Thus, Bowditch returns for the last 10 minutes in the centre and runs around in a confused manner. The Leamons are orchestrating a fine attacking performance and Sidcup are keeping the visitors in their own half. In the dying moments of the game, a fine team effort bring Sidcup within 5 metres of the line and Dicky Leamon throws his customary dummy from third phase and barges over a couple of defenders to score near the posts. His elder brother slots the conversion. 34 – 12 to Sidcup.
Tired, emotional and with the game won, Sidcup concede another try to Old A’s and the game drew to a close with the final score roughly 34 – 17. The score line is closer than the first half dominance would have suggested but the game has been a marvellous experience for all involved; from the legends of yore through to the academy players participating on the pitch and the massed ranks of friends, family, wives and girlfriends and offspring who can along to support. Senior rugby can be a life-consuming experience and the idea of social rugby at any age can seem bizarre, but to see so many involved and enjoying themselves is a reminder that, more than anything else, the game is played for fun.