Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Success of sorts sprouts in Brussels!

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend was hard by those of us who travelled over to Brussels to take part in the 3rd Cyril Mangin Tournament, organised by the supporters' of Union Saint Gilloise.

We exceeded all of our (limited) expectations, when we finished a creditable fourth out of ten sides. I don't think it would be unfair of me to say that we would have been favourites for the 'wooden spoon', if it were not for the arrival of our honourary Belgian Pink 'n' Blue contingent from Namur, the trio being Nicolas Lucas & his brother Francois; as well as Stephane Tournay. A bit thank you to the three of them for their assistance! They certainly brought down the average age of the squad, with Francois being the youngest, & the only one of our number born in the eighties! Our average age for this trip being around 38!

Back row(left to right): Mick O'Shaughnessy (manager), Mishi Morath, Matt Hammond, Mark Hutton (player/co-manager), Lawrence Marsh, Phil Baker.
Front row(left to right): Darren Nicolas, Stephane Tournay (guest from UR Namur), Nicolas Lucas (honourary 'Rabbler'), Andy Tucker, Francois Lucas (guest from the Paris Saint Germain Supporters' Club Belgium Branch).

A few arrived in Brussels on the Friday evening, & went straight into party mode.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man...unless your name is Darren! He made a point of checking where the 'meet up' was for the Saturday morning, but still turned up over half an hour late! You'd think he'd have learnt after Helsinki!

The competition was re-jigged on the day, as a result of two teams dropping out. So we now had four group matches of fifteen minutes each way; with a placing match, depending on where we finished in our group, against the corresponding placed side in the other group. Somewhat spookily our final placing was that of our changing room number!

One strange rule was a penalty shoot out, best of three, at the end of each match, to count for a 'bonus point' if the game was drawn, but held after each encounter!

Luckily the competition was running slightly late, so Darren had used his 'get out of jail free' card, after delaying us, & we had time to get changed at leisure for our first match.
This was against the much fitter & younger Italian fans of Serie C1 outfit Pergocrema. Despite this we battled superbly, & held them to a superb 0-0 draw. The 'bonus point' came into play, but we lost the shoot-out in 'sudden death' after Darren Nicolas missed his attempt, & dropped to the floor in a scene reminiscent of Paul Griffin, after he scored an oggie past Matt Hammond last summer in Tallin, against Jalgpallihaigla!

We don't need a 'team bonding hug', like the Italians, as we all know we love each other! ;-)

Here's some of the penalties...

Who says the camera doesn't lie? This looks a lot closer than it was! ;-)

Our next clash was a real 'hiding to nothing' match, against a team of locals, called Cameroon, all from the West African country, but now settled in Belgium. Such was their 'competitiveness' they even had pre-match warm ups!
So it came as no surprise when the Cameroonian Lions took the lead, but Francois Lucas slotted the ball past their mountain of a keeper, not an easy feat with the smaller size of the goals, to equalise. But Cameroon restored their lead, as we needed to step up a gear, & be that little bit sharper against stronger opposition, which we didn't look capable of. Their third came after a corner, & a superb strike left Matt with no chance as the ball flew into the bottom corner. Which doesn't sound so bad, until you realise that the aforesaid strike came from the boot of our very own Darren Nicolas! But we were not about to give up, and continued to give our all in the RIGHT direction! The next goal was, in my view, our best of the day. Francoise Lucas, out wide, crossed the ball over to Lawrence Marsh on the right, who them played an exquisite pass to the feet of Andy Tucker, who made no mistake in hitting the back of the net.
A battling performance, the scoreline was somewhat undeserved after the Cameroonians bagged one more. From the penalty spot, after one was awarded harshly against Francois, more a case of ball to hand, rather than deliberate.
We lost the meaningless penalty shoot out 3-1, but you couldn't blame the 'English disease' for this, as it was our Namur based trio who took them!

Our first victory came in our next match, against the supporters' of Belgian First Division club Cercle Brugge. Playing some of our more 'ability challenged' players we fluffed a couple of chances, which stronger players might have scored. with both Mark Hutton & Mishi Morath going close, before Francois Lucas nipped in and rounded the keeper, to put 'The Rabblers' one up. Despite being generally on top we allowed Cercle to equalise, with-I'm sure-more than one playing quietly thinking 'oh dear, here we go again!' But this wasn't a Hamlet side to give up, and goals from Francois Lucas & Lawrence Marsh put us into a commanding lead, & despite the last goal being a Cercle one it was the Dulwich boys who won by the odd goal in five! The shoot out wasn't entirely taken seriously, as there was nothing on the outcome, so the Gaffer Mick O'Shaughnessy chose Mark Hutton, Mishi Morath & keeper Matt Hammond to take them, sparing Darrens blushes. The shoot out finished one apiece, with Mattie getting ours!

Sorry there's no snaps from this match, but I played in it!

An so onto our last group match was against a quick, youthful & talented Union Saint Gilloise supporters' side. But we were going to give them a game, and almost opened up the scoring, not once, but twice! The post rattled after a Francois free kick, & then Larry smashed a shot against the bar! The luck was not with us in this game, so far. And then USG opened the lead, with a shot in off the post, and they they doubled their lead. things got worse when Nicolas went off injured, replaced by Phil Baker. more than capable of doing a job, but hardly 'like for like!' Lawrence Marsh reduced the arrears, having capitalised on keeper hesitancy, by nipping in a shooting into the back of the net. But the Union Bhoys restored their lead, after an excellent long range shot, that left Matt with no chance, & giving credence to the rumour that they had some Belgian Second Division standard players in their ranks! Two goal behind again, if there were any bookmakers present the odds on 'The Rabblers' winning would have been long! But a powerful shot from Francois, down the left, gave us hope. After the break we continued to roll up our sleeves & never say die, & this attitude paid off as the fabulous Francois cut through the middle to unleash a shot that hit the back of the net unaided, despite an attempt from Stephane Tournay on the line to get a touch/help it over & claim the glory! With the clock ticking down it reall was game on! And it was that man Francois who was again involved in the move that gave 'The Rabblers' the lead for the first time! He powered down the right, shrugged off their challenges & crossed inch perfect to Lawrence Marsh in front of goal, for him to tap it into the net with clinical precision! USG then equalised, & it looked like a draw would be the outcome, Phil Baker going close with a chance from the left. The pressure mounted against us, Matt Hammond almost lobbed, but he managed to make his body bigger than it was & put them off! He saved a point blank shot next, as the pressure was on us. But the last goal of the match was at the other end, after Francois received the ball, teased their keeper before slotting the ball past him! USG pushed everyone forward, with Matt managing to stretch to a lovely fingertip save, with even their keeper coming out to pile on the pressure, to no avail, as we held out for a glorious victory! Honours were even in a meaningless two apiece penalty shoot out, with Darren being to scared to attempt one and give himself some sort of redemption!

This is one of Francois scoring.

Prompting a bit of a sulk from their keeper!

And so we had qualified for the 3rd/4th play-off slot. This was to be against a team made up of the host side, FC Forest, whose First Team play in the local Belgian leagues, a regional seventh level in their pyramid. For us it was a case of 'trying our best', & getting through the match, as both the Lucas brothers had dropped out injured. So, although we lost, we didn't let ourselves down by going down by three goals to one. The opening goal was a 'strange' tactically though. In seven a side they scored past Matt Hammond in goal. Which is fair enough, but what was weird was Darren Nicolas positioning himself on the line as a defender, instead of trying to close down the player who had the shot! A second followed for Forest, but Darren made up for his earlier footballing faux pas by playing a long ball through the middle to Andy Tucker, who claimed our last goal of the competition. With that we were rapidly running out of steam, & they had time for one more against us before the final whistle, & a joint team photo.

This was actually a fine save from Matt!

Time to relax now, with a few beers, & the presentations. Our Gaffer Mick went up on our behalf to recieve a bottle of USG wine, and some souvenir badges for us all.

Not long after he was asked to return for the shock of the tournament, from our point of vie'w. RFC Liege had just been awarded the Fair Play Trophy, when the winner of the 'Combatative Spirit' award was made, & the name of Dulwich Hamlet was announced!

Mick is planning to hang the painting up in the bar at Champion Hill, I believe.

Speaking personally, winning that award capped a lovely weekend away. There was a lump in my throat when it was announced, & I was truly proud when Mick went up to receive it.

Many, many thanks to Fabrizio Basano for inviting the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters' Team to Brussels, it was a pleasure & an honour to be there!

And a few non-footballing snaps...

The management discuss tactics before the first match, with Hutty wondering how mick gets away with not getting kitted up!

Darren enjoys the half time oranges, before realising there's no vodka with them!

Allez Namur! Nicolas dons the new Namur kit for next season, while Stephane wears a sexier Pink 'n' Blue number!

Phil at his in hand!

Is that really proper refreshment between games...tea?

Part of the tournament BBQ! It looks delicious, but by the time I'd remembered about it, it had all sold out! Doh!

Hutty making a bit of a tit of himself!

Well if the Ing-er-lund team can have WAGs at World Cups, why can't we in Brussels?
That's Danuta, Jane & Melanie.

Waiter service for Matt!

Oi girls! The half time oranges were supplied for the players, not you!

Matt comes joint first in the 'Fat Keeper' competition!

Somehow I don't think you're going to need that sun tan lotion, Andy!

Darren kipping again, after he slept in earlier!

Phil tries to (re)capture his 'yoof'! Once a chav always a chav, I suppose...

What is it with old people making fools of themselves?

Wakey, wakey Darren! some local bloke wants to practice his English on you!

The 'Booze Brothers'!

Have a look at the old scoreboard...

This is what we could've won!

Mick presents a Hamlet 1937 TOFFS shirt to Fabrizio, the tournament organiser.

Relaxing in an Irish pub, in the centre of town.

This,erm, 'establishment' just happened to be right next door to Matt & Phil's hotel!

Finally, the proud management duo with the team awards. A big thank you to them both for arranging the tour. Roll on Helsinki next month!