Vandals 10 Aspull 2nd XV 12
The Woodlands ushered in another calendar year of rugby with just the one home game but what a mouth-watering prospect it was; never mind the pretty boys six pack brigade in the first XV who were snatching a late win at Macclesfield to keep their unbeaten run in RFU National League 2 North going, there was only one place to be and that was watching the Vandals against Aspull in the mighty Halbro North West Leagues Division 4 (North).
Given that there were no other home matches the first task for EPD (Elite Performance Director) Sean Townsend was to try and negotiate (plead) with his brother GPD (Grass Performance Director) Patrick that the Vandals be allowed to play on one of the smaller pitches. Patrick was having none of it, ‘the most senior team at home plays on the main pitch’ he said, ‘and besides which Dad wants to watch from his seat just outside the clubhouse.’
Next task for the EPD was to assemble a squad from the many who were desperate to run the excesses of the festive period out of their systems. At first glance it looked like he was emulating Welsh pit village teams of ages gone or it was a bring your kid to work day as there were no fewer than 3 Dads and 4 sons making up 7 of the squad but the ensemble cast was actually a clever mix of old heads, young aspiring talent and those floundering about in between the two age brackets and looking to avoid having to go shopping in the January sales. Damian King and Richard Todd shared prop duties, Chris Cardwell was at hooker, Ali Atkinson and skipper Ben James were in the second row and Dave Porter at eight was flanked by Damian’s lads Robert & Jack in the back row. Ethan Harvey was in the 9 shirt, old fella Phil ‘Swivel Hips’ Swindells was at stand off with his younger (and much taller) lad Frazer at full back and in between them were Paul Green and Gary ‘The Knotweed Killer’ Andrews in the centres and teenager Nathan Bagshaw and definitely not a teenager Clive ‘Cecil’ Holland on the wings. The bench consisted of Toddy’s lad Adam and another teenager Harry Royle, Mike Hewitson, Tom ‘Godders’ Godfrey, Hakan ‘Hak Attack’ Ilhan and the EPD himself.
On a chilly but dry and still day Aspull kicked off towards the clubhouse and there was immediate drama as Chris Cardwell took a heavy knock leading him to be led from the field to gather his thoughts, fortunately that was never going to take too long and the tough little hombre was soon back in the fray chucking himself headfirst into the contact area like a crazed concussion addict. The first three penalties went against Fylde as they struggled to get into the game and Aspull almost opened the scoring with a chip and chase into the in-goal area only for a desperate last ditch toe-poke by a Fylde defender to save the day. Paul Green belted the resulting 22 drop out long and Frazer Swindells chased well only to miss his man in the tackle, luckily for him his diminutive Dad Phil followed up to spare his blushes with a classic both arms around the ankles tackle reminiscent of Prince Obolensky that you only ever usually see in 1930’s Pathe news reels footage given that huge stay on your feet upper body boshing is the norm nowadays.
Fylde secured some go forward possession and the close quarters pick and drive was working well, one memorable combination saw the two younger Kings swap neat passes before bringing Dad into the action as the third link. Damian was illegally picked up and driven bald-bonce first into the turf giving Paul Green a chance of the first points, it was a difficult kick and it went wide leaving the stalemate in place. Aspull for their part had some speedy backs with decent hands and were causing problems when they spun the ball wide. On 27 minutes two big miss passes put their winger clear and his 50 yard dash for the line was only halted by a tremendous cover tackle by Green, not the first or last time he would rescue the Vandals from a probable score for the visitors.
Something had to give eventually on a huge pitch with lots of open space to defend and it did so on 32 minutes. It takes 4 kings to make a good hand in poker and Aspull had the fourth King in their centre Darryl who was nippy, strong and dangerous all day. As the ball was spun along the line he cut back against the grain twice then a third time leaving defenders flat footed and scorched in under the posts for a fine individual try, easily converted by Geoff Gavin for a 7-0 lead for the visitors.
The Vandals were stung into action and two minutes later after a high tackle on Swindells Junior Green kicked for touch near the Aspull line. A solid catch and drive was set up and the rolling maul was unstoppable with Dave Porter last man up and given the score. Another tricky kick sailed wide and it was 7-5 to Aspull. There was one more good scoring opportunity for Aspull only for Green and Porter to snuff the danger out and bring the half to a close.
The half time break gave the Vandals time to re-group and delve into the most unique of medical bags the likes of which would never be seen in a first team changing room. There were fruit shoots and haribo for the teenagers whilst the men of a certain age could choose from Jumbo cans of WD40 to lubricate rusty arthritic joints, eye drops for their glaucoma or cataracts, horse liniment for aching muscles and more bandages than an Egyptian mummy would be seen dead in. Wisely they chose to steer clear of those mysterious unbranded little blue pills someone must have dropped in there by mistake or god knows what would have happened half way through the second half.
What was worrying about the half time team talk was that there was definite evidence of tactics being discussed; frankly this is a disgrace at the Vandals level of rugby. In an effort to change the axis of the attack Iain ‘Artful Dodger’ Hollingsworth came on at stand off with Swindells Senior moving to scrum half. The masterstroke and undoubtedly wisest tactic of the EPD, however, was to keep his tracksuit on and stand on the non-playing side of the touchline for every one of the 80 minutes.
The second half started as the first with Fylde giving away the first couple of penalties and inviting pressure on themselves but then relieving it with solid defence, the first 10 minutes being played out between the two 22 metre areas and no real scoring opportunities occurring. The young referee was doing his best to keep the game flowing although why he was needed at all was open to question as there were often 30 other referees on the pitch and about the same number on the sidelines. The importance of the match was underlined by the more than welcome appearance of an official assistant referee as well with former Vandal Mr Sean McGlue a fine sight in full flow on the touchline. No statistician can tell you just how long Sean has been a referee although there are rumours that he was the merry whistle-blower the day William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball and ran with it.
As the half wore on and Aspull maintained their slender lead the EPD began to empty the bench searching for the key to unlock their defensive door. On 50 minutes Adam Todd came on for his debut having just turned 17 making it the first time he had played in the same team as his Dad, cue much whooping from his mum Helen and the other Pink Ladies, the Vandalettes, showing tactical awareness and organization skills themselves in being colour co-ordinated on the day. Tom Godfrey also entered the battle and Dave Porter and Nathan Bagshaw took a well-earned rest.
On the hour mark Aspull were able to suck the Fylde defenders in with a couple of drives then spin the ball wide at pace again allowing the nemesis for the day Darryl King to race in for a second try wide out. The conversion was missed which meant that at 12-5 down a converted try would see Fylde draw level. The EPD responded by giving another teenager young Harry Royle his debut, young he may be but what a solid and well built unit he is, clearly he must be putting more hours in using the home gym than his Dad John!
On 66 minutes there was another high tackle on the younger Swindells, the referee played a good advantage and Paul Green made a fabulous 60-yard break, which led to a Fylde penalty. Green’s kick to touch 20 yards out gave Fylde a good platform but the lineout throw went astray. Aspull’s clearance kick came down with snow on it but was fielded smartly by Hollingsworth leading to another breakdown penalty and another attacking lineout this time10 yards out. The catch and drive was rolling forward and looking for all money a try when it collapsed and it was Fylde who were penalised. Aspull took a quick tap and kicked deep but once again Paul Green raced back to save the day and Aspull were penalised once more. Fylde worked their way up field again and on 75 minutes forced another lineout close to the Aspull line. This was their most likely scoring weapon all day and this time they got it right, a good throw by Cardwell, a great take by Richard Todd and the pack in perfect harmony as they smuggled the rampaging water buffalo Tom Godfrey over. Green’s third kick at goal was again not an easy one and it slipped wide once more meaning Aspull still had their noses in front at 12-10.
Mike Hewitson came on for Jack King and the Vandals threw everything they had at Aspull for the last 5 minutes. Green made a lovely 40 yard weaving touchline break only to be tackled into touch and then when Aspull kicked out of defence Adam Todd chased back and in one movement went to ground, gathered the loose ball and flipped it up to Frazer Swindells, great stuff from Adam, clearly he must get his agility and ball handling skills from his mother. Frazer hared off at pace, the ball was re-cycled and there was one last chance to spin it wide and try to get that winning score, sadly one of the forwards who shall remain nameless (but it was Godders) got in the way of the intended pass, the ball was spilled and the bartender at The Last Chance Saloon put the cork in the whisky bottle and closed it’s doors on the Vandals as time was called and the final whistle blew.
Understandably perhaps after a three week break and no doubt much guzzling of food and quaffing of ale in that period the performance was a bit disjointed on the day but the effort was whole-hearted and Vandals ran a good Aspull team as close as can be. The contest up front was a good one and pretty even, Aspull had a slight edge in the backs. Everyone gave their all but the official nod and reporter’s vote for man of the match was Paul Green. True he missed his three kicks at goal in a tight game but they were all tough ones and he probably saved at least 10 points on his own with his cover tackles, made several outstanding breaks and his howitzer of a boot made yards a plenty when they were most needed. Well done to all the young teenagers they will benefit from learning their trade with the gnarly old heads and it was great to see 3 Dads and their 4 lads in the squad showing just what the Vandals is all about, a stepping stone to senior rugby for youngsters and a step just short of the knackers yard for those loveable old fools who just don’t know when to pack in. The EPD was sporting a woollen hat with the number 84 on it, he tried to claim it was his average try count per season, we all know it’s the age at which he will finally give in picking himself for the Vandals.
Frazer Swindells, Nathan Bagshaw, Paul Green, Gary Andrews, Clive Holland, Phil Swindells, Ethan Harvey, Dave Porter, Jack King, Robert King, Ali Atkinson, Ben James (Captain), Richard Todd, Chris Cardwell, Damian King, Adam Todd, Harry Royle, Mike Hewitson, Tom Godfrey, Hakan Ilhan
EPD/Replacement/Chief (& only) Selector/All Round Despot: Sean Townsend
Guest Reporter: Scoop Pullitzer (aka Simon Taylor)
Photographer: Sarah Swindells
Cheerleaders: The Vandalettes