Sunday, 26 May 2019

Cascadia 6 v 3 Chagos Islands

Saturday 25th May 2019
CONIFA International Friendly
Church Road, Whyteleafe
Admission: £8.00
Programme: £1.00
Attendance: 179

Despite reaching late May and league seasons, for the most part, have been done and dusted for the best part of a month now, there are still games to be found to eke out the season a little more before my summer recess. Always keen to take in unusual fixtures, this was a game I would very much look forward to taking in once it was announced, between two members of the CONIFA organisation.

I had visited Church Road earlier this season, last November, although there was enough different about today's visit to make it worth the trip for a revisit to the ground alone. Whereas then I drove, this time I would be letting the train take the strain, with the ground just a ten minute walk away from Whyteleafe train station. November's visit was also on a midweek evening, with persistent heavy rain ensuring a good soaking whenever exposed to the elements, whereas today was a warm, sunny day, enabling visitors to fully appreciate a very pleasant setting, surrounded by trees, and with steep hills close by in the background. Perhaps it was due to the warm weather that the smell of rubber from the 3G pitch was pronounced today. A commemorative ticket was issued on admission, which was a very nice touch, and an 8 page programme was available, in full colour and covering the basics in terms of welcome messages, introductions to both teams and expected squad listings.

Cascadia is quite a new organisation representing a region on the west coast of North America, comprising the US States of Washington and Oregon, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. They played their first ever fixture at last summer's CONIFA World Football Cup as a wild card entry, and they did quite well, claiming sixth place out of 16 in the final standings,winning three of their fixtures and losing their last on penalties. The six fixtures played at the 2018 World Football Cup are the only fixtures Cascadia have played before today, although they have a home fixture against Darfur to look forward to in July, to be played in Washington. Today would be the fourth time I have watched the Chagos Islands, most recently just a month ago, when they triumphed 2-3 against International Surrey Football at Merstham. According to the current CONIFA rankings alone, Cascadia would be big favourites to win today, in tenth place whereas Chagos Islands down in 36th place. But it is difficult to read too much into those rankings, as they are only updated twice a year, most recently last October, and the Chagos Islands may benefit from being a close knit outfit, and perhaps buoyed by the excellent news that the UN is cranking up the pressure on the United Kingdom to relinquish control of the Chagos Islands and allow second and third generation Chagossians the opportunity to return to their spiritual homeland, having been forbidden from even visiting, let alone live on, the archipelago since 1973.

On a warm, sunny afternoon, this match started quite evenly, until Cascadia opened the scoring on 22 minutes, Callum Powell running onto a ball played forward before striking the ball low across the keeper and into the bottom right corner. Less than two minutes later and Cascadia doubled their lead, when Chase Boone tucked the ball home after Max Oldham's deflected shot was parried by the keeper. But Chagos Islands pulled a goal back on 34 minutes with a good goal, a low curling shot struck from the edge of the area by Hanslie Sagaie which went in just inside the post, which the keeper may have slightly misjudged. But right on the stroke of half time, Cascadia restored their two goal lead, Angelo Calfo powerfully heading home at the far post from a corner. Immediately following the kick-off, the referee blew his whistle for half time.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart, it seemed like game over as Cascadia scored their fourth, Oldham kept on dribbling forward before eventually poking the ball past the keeper. But just a minute later, the Chagossians were awarded a penalty when their player was pushed over as he was running to the right edge of the penalty area. Mervyn Bunjun slammed the ball into the left side of the goal. And they would go on to have their best spell of the match, but could not quite pull another goal back, and on 76 minutes, Cascadia scored their fifth. A Chagos attack broke down, leading to a quick counter attack, with Kyle Lemon playing in Luke Powell and ran towards goal before lashing a shot past the keeper and into the far corner. And on 81 minutes, Cascadia scored their sixth, Boone scoring his second, converting a low cross with the ball squirming through the keeper. But on 89 minutes, the Chagossians were gifted a goal, when the Cascadia keeper unnecessarily tried to dribble the ball away from Andrew Heroseau, and his eventual attempted clearance ricocheted off of Heroseau's boot and the ball bounced into the empty net. Cascadia had time to come close to scoring another following another quick counter attack, a shot going just wide of the far post. But the scoreline was convincing enough as it was.

This was a most entertaining afternoon, with the game full of attacking intent, played in a very good spirit and in gloriously warm and sunny conditions, with a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere around the ground. Cascadia certainly deserved the victory, but it was good to see a lively performance by the Chagossians rewarded with three goals. Their next game comes Sunday, when they travel to Yorkshire to take on the Parishes of Jersey.

Video footage of the entire match can be viewed by clicking here.

Monday, 20 May 2019

US Saint Omer 0 v 1 SC Hazebrouck

Sunday 20th May 2019
Championnat Régional 1 (Hauts de France), Groupe B
Stade Gaston Bonnet, Saint-Omer
Admission: €5.00
Programme: None
Attendance: 400 (estimate)

I was mainly inspired to make a swift return visit to northern France today by the excellent deal currently being offered by P&O Ferries, for a car day trip from Dover to Calais, with 6 bottles of wine thrown in for £27. Not fancying a drive too far into France, I contented myself with a 30 mile drive inland, for this game in the sixth tier of French football, between two clubs right in the mix to win the league and claim the one automatic promotion berth available.

The Stade Gaston Bonnet is located just to the south west of the town centre, and is part of quite a large sporting complex consisting of various sporting pitches and other facilities, and to enter the football ground, it is necessary to buy a ticket from an outer window of the brick clubhouse building adjacent to the entrance gate. The clubhouse can be accessed immediately to the left of the entrance, with a small bar area and no seating available. To the right of the entrance, and straddling the half way line, is an all-seater stand, offering decent unobstructed views of the action, unless one sits close to the one side wall. There is just hard standing on brick type gravel around the rest of the pitch, which stretches some way back, with a slight incline back from a step. Looking opposite the stand, a steep bank provides the background to two thirds of the length, whilst behind the stand, the town's cathedral and town hall are both visible. A large but basic electronic scoreboard is situated in one corner. Not surprisingly in France, and particularly at this level, no programmes were produced, nor were team sheets made available, although the club has produced programmes in the past

With three games left to play, just two points separate the top three clubs, two of who would meet here today. Saint Omer led the table, having won 15 and drawn five of their 23 league games, whilst Hazebrouck were two points behind, in third place, having won 15 and drawn three of their 23 league games. So there was a lot to play for here, all the more so as the club in second place, Stade Portelois, one point behind Saint Omer and one point ahead of Hazebrouck, were at home to second bottom Gamaches AS today. When these two teams met in late March, Saint Omer won 0-1.

Unfortunately the weather was not particularly kind today, as light drizzle greeted my arrival in Calais and it would barely stop for the rest of the day. And perhaps unsurprisingly for a match with much at stake, the first half was a cagey affair, with the opening half hour in particular devoid of real goalscoring opportunities. St Omer then created three decent chances, a firm header from a cross going just wide on 36 minutes, a minute later following a quick break a shot from the edge of the area was reflected just wide, and from the resultant corner, a goal bound header was blocked by a defender. But the scoreline would remain goalless at the break.

After barely threatening in the first half, the visitors were much stronger after the break, and within a minute of the restart, a drilled low cross from the right just evaded a tap in at the far post. But on 49 minutes, Hazebrouck did take the lead, when a low cross from the right by Thomas Fontaine was deflected goalwards off defender Deforter, and wrong footed, the keeper Vandionant couldn't quite keep the ball out. St Omer certainly had their chances to rescue a point. On 61 minutes, a ball swirled in from the right dropped on the top of the crossbar, while they thought they had equalised on 73 minutes, when a free kick just outside the outer corner of the penalty area was dinked in and Hoguet powerfully headed the ball into the net, but the linesman had raised his flag for offside. It is fair to say the home team were not happy with the decision, and their coach got sent from the dugout for protesting too vociferously. On 82 minutes, St Omer saw a loose ball drilled from the edge of the area go just wide, whilst Hazebrouck came close to a second on 84 minutes, when their player danced through the St Omer midfield far too easily, and his eventual low shot hit the outside of the post. St Omer did try to throw everything at getting an equaliser, sending the keeper up for the last couple of set pieces, and six minutes of added on time certainly gave them hope, but it was not to be, and the disappointment amongst the St Omer players, staff and supporters certainly reflected the gravity of the defeat here in their quest for the title and the sole guaranteed promotion berth.

With Stade Portelois unsurprisingly winning their match today, they rise to the top of the table, and with two games left to play, the title is surely now theirs to lose, although they do close the season with two away games. Hazebrouck rose to second, a point adrift, and a point ahead of St Omer, who have gone from looking favourites at the start of this game, now look rank outsiders to win the division.