Last Saturday, Henley Men’s 1st XI welcomed South Berks HC to Jubilee Park, in what turned out to be a breathtaking encounter in front of a capacity crowd. Ahead of the match, a whiff (bordering on a stench) of excitement could be smelt in the unseasonably mild Henley-on-Thames air, given this was the first time all season that the team went into a league match with a full 1st Team squad available.
With Matt Riches (released from Anthony Joshua’s pleasure basement for the day) and Benji Hetherington (unable to get a tee time at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Course) both on the team sheet, Coach Joyce’s second biggest decision of the day (the first being how much to bet on Wales getting thrashed in the rugby later that day on PaddyPower) was to decide which of the two to play at centre midfield and which at right back. With money seemingly exchanging hands, Coach Joyce opted for Hetherington starting at right back, presumably to keep him nice and close to his BFF Geoff Joseph, who Joyce positioned in his customary right half (of the dugout) position. Joseph had an important task on hand for the first 10 minutes of the match however, which was to keep Henley Captain Sam Heaver away from the Haribo Star Mix, after Heaver became the first captain at Henley for 96 years to not start a league match whilst wearing the armband. At least both he and Joseph had a tangfastic fizzy ring to keep themselves entertained for the opening exchanges.
On the pitch, Henley started the match strongly, dominating possession and territory. Abingdon’s finest and ex-teenage sensation Jonny Taylor displaying some wonderful skills with his custom-made keyring hockey stick on the left wing, ghosting past his opposite man like a Dementor mocking a Muggleborn. Meanwhile on the opposite flank, Luke ‘the doc’ Gupta was causing similar issues, performing his trademark ‘post-up/spin/lift’ routine, crafted in Brazilian favelas as a small boy with his imaginary friend Pedro. At the top end of the pitch Chris Green, A.K.A, the GOAT, was regularly finding himself in space, linking up with fellow goal-scoring legend Ed Foster with consummate ease.
With all things seemingly leading to an opening goal for Henley, remarkably it was the away side who took the lead after 15 minutes through the most counter attack goal in the history of counter-attacks, which came about from every Henley playing being parked in the South Berks’ D. When questioned after the match if this gung-ho approach to hockey was wise, Coach Joyce responded: “In retrospect it wasn’t an ideal scenario leaving our goalkeeper Cam to deal with a 6 on 1 counter attack, but in the instructional video on Instagram it didn’t lead to a conceded goal, so I think the blame has to lie with Cam there. It’s a key part of his development as a goalkeeper and he will be better for the experience”.
Despite further domination and chances created throughout the first half, Henley were unable to force an equaliser before the half time break, so the sides went into the changing rooms for halftime oranges and more fizzy rings with the scoreline 0-1 to the away side.
Instead of the usual halftime team talk, coach Joyce instead adopted an unorthodox technique of asking the defensive trio of Pete Roseff (brother of Ellie), Danny Sutherland (brother of Kiefer) and Kyle Soulsby (brother of soul) to create a haiku to read aloud to the group. The fruits of their labour being the following:
The ball flies swiftly
Feet dance on the astro field
No other words were spoken during that halftime period. Just silence. Contemplation.
Understandably, following the beauty of the aforementioned haiku, the home side were pumped up for the second half, determined to turn the game around. The home crowd followed suit. A wall of noise. The atmosphere…electric. The comeback… was ON!
The boys in amber piled forward in the opening exchanges of the second chukka, forcing numerous penalty corners which were all kept out by the away side’s goal keeper. Geoff Joseph coming closest with an attempted rebound chance after a Foster drag-flick was parried into the danger zone and ripe for the taking. Sadly the chance came and went, with the home crowd wondering once again if it was not meant to be for Henley.
However with 12 minutes left on the clock, Henley made one of their numerous dangerous attacks count. Dr Gupta was released down the right wing by Sutherland, who in turn found Taylor in the South Berks’ D. Despite the attention of all 10 outfield players, the ex-Abingdon teenage sensation managed to smuggle the ball to Henley top-scorer Ed Foster who was free and one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The result never in doubt, 1-1 with all to play for in the final stages.
Understandably discombobulated, the away side resulted to attempting to slow the game down and commit a series of nasty looking fouls on Henley players, resulting in sin bins and a numerical advantage for Henley. Despite the occasional penalty corner attempt for South Berks, it was Henley who looked the most threatening and likely to snatch the victory in the dying stages. And so it happened. Up stepped Robert ‘the Marauder’ Mortimer (illegitimate brother of Louis Spence).
A flowing 11-man move involving exactly 100 passes, resulted in the ball being played through to Taylor in space. Taylor cleverly engaged his stick extension setting allowing for further reach and squeezed the ball to the onrushing Mortimer. The rest was magical. Mortimer took the ball into his stride, took 3 or 4 paces inside the South Berks’ D, then another one just to make sure he was in a valid place to score, then unleashed a shot which the away side’s goalkeeper had no answer (or at least, an incorrect answer). The ball nestled into the bottom corner of the goal. The home crowd went wild. The Henley players went wild. Mortimer was mobbed by the group. Limbs everywhere. Passion personified. Danny Sutherland heard mumbling at the bottom of the pile of men… “HOT!”.
Final score 2-1 to Henley in a must-win game. Henley will hope to continue with a further three points this coming Saturday at home to Oxford Hawks. If they don’t win, they will likely claim a 5-0 walkover as every other in team in league has seemingly done.