For a while now, refugees from the war ravaged middle eastern country of Syria have been resettled around the globe giving them a respite from the suffering and the chance to start a new life. Clearly they’ve been through a lot. But that didn’t stop us offering them a friendly football match here in Bridgwater at the new Northgate school astroturf pitch, Westover. The Syrians jumped at the chance to play and to mix with the local community and Bridgwater ‘meticulously’ drew up a team from all walks of life.
The game was sponsored by Mayor of Bridgwater Cllr Diogo Rodrigues, himself transported from his Madeiran place of birth at a very early age and forced to work in Portuguese restaurants ever since and the team was captained by Town Council Leader and Westover Councillor Brian Smedley, still longing for the blue, white and yellow remembered hills of Leeds, from where he was exiled. By his mum.
The Bridgwater Team
In goal for the ‘Bridgwater Irregulars’ was former Mayor, Train Driver and Drill Sergeant, Bill ‘the cat’ Monteith, whose dives throughout the game flattened many a Syrian attack. And attacker.
Out on the wing, and sometimes off it, Town Clerk and Bridgwater Town legend Alan Hurford, making a special appearance gambling on whether his imminent retirement or his likely coronary would come first.
An attacking Centre Half was provided by the Bridgwater business community in the shape of top industrialist Matt ‘quite a good footballer’ Weston, whose constant and determined presence on the ball and on the Syrians dominated the midfield and broke up numerous opposition attacks.
At the back the partnership of gardening enthusiast Richard Weaving, making his first (non) professional game in 3 years since an eye operation totally blinded him and a particularly misjudged tackle blinded 3 opponents, alongside Bridgwater Polish film-maker Michal Puzinski who’s constant flying and leaping back line positioning saw the Syrian strike force almost permanently thwarted by a bouncing Pole, bodychecking then controlling the ball to make a clearance upfield.
The skilful powerhouse of the Bridgwater team came in the form of Media Consultant James Lloyd and Mercury reporter Steven Salter, constantly challenging for balls midfield, dispossessing the Syrians then bringing the game forward to the strike force waiting in the penalty area – oddly on sun beds and deckchairs.
Inside forward Glen ‘bit of a trot’ Cane permanently threatened the Syrians. I mean the Syrian defence. No I was right first time. After a while it became clear that engaging him in a conversation about the dialectics of revolutionary socialism and the Marighela tactics of the Tupamaros guerrillas in Uruguay, was the best way to distract him.
But up front it was a combination of young and old that made the difference. Centre forward Smedley had the experience – well, after 80 minutes on the pitch he’d worked out where the ball was and after putting his glasses back on, how to kick it, combined with 14 year old schoolboy Josh Hickling, to worry the Syrians something rotten. About the audacity of their opposition.
The Syrian team was average age 32 and average skill base – pretty damn good. Yousef, Ahmed 1, Ahmed 2, Marwan, Tamam, Abdulla, Kassim, Basel, Ali, Omar, Hassan, Raed and Mohamed , wearing a blue and white kit loaned by Bridgwater Town, were ‘up for it’ and had been practising since the day they were born. It’s unfortunate that none of the Bridgwater team could speak any Arabic or we would have been able to understand the many loud exclamations of encouragement uttered by the Syrians throughout the game, doubtless commenting on our ball skills, fairness of play and wonderfully taken goals.
We’re off..and it’s 1.0
The game was kicked off by Mayor Diogo. Who passed it straight to the Syrians. Clearly taking fair play that bit too far. So we hoisted him off the pitch in case he did it again. But very quickly the Syrians got the ball in the net. One world, One Love One Nil.
The fightback was on and it was the tireless work of Weaving and Puzinski in defence calming down the Syrian attack and then the skillfull and determined Salter, Lloyd and Weston (sounds like a songwriting team) (or a brand of revolver) bringing the ball forward and getting it into the area . It was clear that Bridgwater would soon get the ball over the line. If only Smedley could make contact with it.
Giving up on that idea, Salter brought the ball through on his own and powered a deflected shot into the Syrian goal levelling the score.
The Syrians were disappointed and came back with a vengeance compelling ‘the Pussy’ , I mean ‘the Cat’ into making several diving saves. Fortunately Weaving and Puzinski were able to control the game in defence long enough for him to be able to eventually get to his feet again.
Referee Tim Mander, in snowcoat and thermals, due to the horribly inclement weather of hailstones, wind and mild drizzle, brought the first half to an end but in the Second half the Syrians had a few plans to trick him. Bringing on a substitute who was just wearing his normal clothes and not the kit provided totally confused Cane who mistook him for the referee and immediately started arguing with him about the failure of the Soviet Union to intervene in support of the Communists in the Greek civil war of 1948, again taking him out of the strike line. Then they cunningly brought their keeper outfield and put a defender in goal while keeping his outfield blue strip on….such clever tactics we surely haven’t seen since General Custer said ‘right looks like a quite day down there, lets take a look’.
But in fact the Syrians just confused themselves and lost touch of who was actually in goal ,outfield, or just their mate trying to get a game. The Bridgwaterers ploughed forward and were quickly rewarded by a stunning goal from young Josh Hickling, assisted by Smedley (by keeping well out of the play).
The Syrians were in pieces but Bridgwater kept on. Balls thundered past their posts from Lloyd, Weston, Cane and even Weaving. Well, that last one thundered past the Admirals Landing. And finally , and it’s probably not an understatement to say, the best goal of the last 3 years, came from the flying feet of Smedley when, by almost a miracle, foot and ball connected to beat the keeper and impact the back of the Syrian net.
3.1 but the Syrians were back on the attack and the pressure was on. All the Bridgwater team got back. Several minutes later Smedley and Cane managed to reach the centre circle. Where they stopped for a chat about the Italian revolutionary Gramschi and his influence on early 20th century Marxist thinking.
Meanwhile the Syrians got one back with an amazing strike from one of them leaving ‘the cat’ flailing around on his goal basket.
But there was no time for any more as Tim Mander quietly accepted the shiny £2 coin slipped into his hand and blew the whistle.
The final score was 3.2.
But the outcome was a fun day of international friendship, comradely and sporting chumminess and a warm welcome in the hail sodden astroturfs of Westover for our brothers and sisters from their land across the sea. Where we hope to be invited to play the return match.
Photos courtesy of Dave Keighron, Li Gibson and Simon Hann