At noon on a fine early autumn day, 13 Rogues, 7 Cheam Clarets, one member of the press and two guest umpires who had kindly offered to help us out, Gary and Nick, gathered to contemplate how best to manage the game ahead. Word reached us that 4 Cheam Clarets had been ambushed by cones on the A3, and a 14th Rogue was expected at any moment.
The General gathered his forces and began his address by explaining that we had beaten the mighty Spencer last week with a Half Court Press, which we should use again. Your correspondent’s ears pricked up at the mention of Press, Hugh looked baffled as if his mind was on the General’s propreantepenultimate paragraph in last week’s report, a question as to whether Halfcourt was Tamara’s sister revealed the age of the questioner, Eddie’s mind was busy calculating at what point he would need to leave his goal to go to watch West Ham, and the rest awaited clarification. When our 14th man, Charles L, arrived with the other 50% of the crowd, Rhys, he enquired of that master tactician, Roger N, whether there were any new tactics. “Yes, you are meant to hang off and not tackle”, tricky for a full back to put into practice, suggested that some of the General’s intent may have been lost in translation.
The game started with Paul Norman, Phil Newton and Nigel Wright infiltrating the Cheam Clarets’ team (who were actually wearing white), the General decided to observe the Half Court Press from the side and so we started the game, nearly 15 minutes late, with 10 a side. The Rogues’ black 1 and claret 15 were outdone by the Clarets’ white 3, 32 and 40, with a yellow 17 in the crowd. The Clarets’ 3 was Phil’s white strip.
Phil was busy at the back and the Press moved its box to the Clarets’ end to see more of the action, as wave after wave of claret shirts bore down on the Clarets’ defence. Less than 10 minutes into the game, Tony Wheating neatly intercepted a rare Clarets’ break out on his reverse stick, and released Dennis Kerslake who found Ian Wallace in the circle. A strong flick opened the scoring.
With the Rogues pressing with what looked like several courts, and with most of our defence in the Clarets’ 22, Paul found himself bearing down on Eddie with only another white Claret for company. His potential scoring pass left eluded his colleague’s reverse stick to save his embarrassment. 15 minutes into the game, two more white Clarets appeared, Paul came off to rest his injured leg before putting on his claret shirt to play for the Rogues, and the General came on to make it 11 a side. Their injection of new talent energised the Clarets, and Eddie got into the action with a good save, whilst at the other end Peter Wilson was foiled by the goalie’s stick save. A period of pressure on our goal was twice relieved by our transferring the ball from left back to right back via Hugh in the centre of our circle, evidently known in hockey circles as Round the Back but new territory for Rogues. More encouraging shouts of Round the Back suggested that this tactic may have replaced the Half Court Press as our key weapon, although as a tactic it seems to have its limitations.
Eddie was in the action again, hunting down the most recently arrived Claret and hustling him out of the circle, and we began to wonder whether lending Phil to the Clarets had been a smart move, especially as Nigel was reaching levels of technical competence which we had not seen for quite some time. After a shot from our third short corner had hit a post, we kept up the siege and soon Dennis’s shot rebounded to Paul, by now a Rogue, who scored with a reverse stick slap to give us some breathing space with a 2-0 lead at half time. Two Round the Backs and a reverse stick slap, but still no sign of a Half Court Press – the Coventry think tank was already starting to ponder what new weapon to unveil for our next match.
We went 3-0 ahead early in the second half when Robin Blake found James Tullo well positioned on the intersection of the right circle line and the goal line, and his strike across the goal found Roger N lurking on the far post, who made no mistake from 10 inches, his best shooting distance. The 10th Claret arrived at the same time as another was injured, so Nigel and Phil continued as Clarets. Cheam finally won a corner, for which 7 of their 11 remained in their own half, as they deployed an injector, an injectee, a striker and one other at the top of the circle. This did not prove enough as the Rogues read this tactic to perfection, and soon the 11th Claret arrived at much the same time as Eddie headed off to Upton Park. Hugh spurned his helmet, thinking that his Olympic Bandana was sufficient cranial protection, and played helmetless in a black top as a kicking back. Gary looked puzzled but wisely left us to play on, probably in breach of several rules but happy in our own world.
Phil came off to let the 11th Claret on. A final period of domination followed as Phil was no longer there to clear Claret lines, and after several melees a foot on the line gave Peter the chance to score our 4th and final goal from a penalty stroke.
Nigel retired after 20 minutes of the half clutching his hamstring, leaving the Clarets Rogueless, and Nick wisely brought proceedings to an end 10 minutes early after a message had reached him that the curry would spoil if we delayed. However, the simultaneous award of a Clarets corner at the final whistle brought a change of tactics as 8 Clarets gathered at the top of the circle, 6 more than had done so for their other corner. The disadvantage of this tactic is that when the strike came there was little else in our circle except Claret feet, off four of which the ball ricocheted in quick succession to end the on-field action.
This was a dominant performance in a slightly surreal atmosphere in which all 14 Rogues played a full part, mostly unscripted. The Hammers beat the Saints 4-1, so Eddie’s day was 8-1 ahead.
There was no sign of a Half Court Press in the bar, either, but there was plenty of curry to whet the appetite for our next two games, both away at Indian Gymkhana after a week off.