Saturday saw me at QK Southampton. Formerly known as Queens Keep, after the office block which housed the Inland Revenue whose sports and social club the team belonged to, the club changed its name in the year 2000 a reflection, like many works sides of loosening ties and a desire to seek a new future. For just over a decade QK FC have played at the Lordshill Recreation Ground on Redbridge lane, a modest home of a few portakabins, a shipping container and two-dugouts (see Hopping Around Hampshire for some wonderful photos of the ground in the snow) which is currently a covered spectator area and set of floodlights short of the clubs long-term Wessex league ambitions. Interestingly – to me at least – their home is also a stones-throw from Bargain Farm where my Grandma was born, so it’s quite possible that the pitch was once a field ploughed by my great-grandfather…
As impossible as it is to read another persons mind it was not hard to tell what was occupying the Queens Keep Goalkeeper’s thoughts. Redemption. It had been an eventful, some would say disastrous, opening twenty minutes for the tall, spindly, youth between the sticks. First there was his drop-kick which was charged down by an opposing forward, leading to a hasty hoofing of the loose ball into touch. Next came a shot, a fairly routine one, of the type which sees goalkeepers clutch the ball to tightly to their chest turning their body into a giant softball glove.
This time though the ball rebounded off the ‘keepers palms with a waiting forward seizing the chance to slide it into the corner of the net. One of his defenders must have said something as the keeper stormed toward the bench, removing one glove shouting that he wanted to be taken off leading to some among the small crowd to question his sanity. Finally, just a few minutes later, another forward barreled through chasing a bouncing long ball with the vigour of a puppy chasing a tennis ball. The ‘keeper looked gripped by indecision as his legs held him tight in no-mans land. The forwards boot connected to send the ball looping up and into the net.
Now he was facing a penalty. Another goal would give Headley United an almost unassailable lead. A save would not only keep QK in the game, but would more importantly go some way to redeeming those earlier errors. The ball is kicked, the ‘keeper guesses right. Low and to his left, but it’s hit with too much power. 3-0. The chance gone.
At half-time the ‘keeper is the last into the portakabin which serves as the home dressing room (though the teams actually get changed in a pavilion some distance away for the ground) The door closes and the shouting and swearing begins. By contrast, just a few metres away, in the away dressing room the Headley United manager is calmly issuing instructions for the second half. His tone is even as he implores his team not to let up and to put QK to the sword.
Which approach was the most effective was apparent as soon as the teams returned to the field. The QK players, save for a couple, looked dejected. They waited for the game to resume in silence whilst the Headley players whooped, hollered and clapped their hands together excitedly. Using the width of the pitch well they fulfilled their managers instructions by adding a further two goals, before yet another breakthrough threatened to tun the game into a rout. Hit hard with the outside of a foot the ball swings towards the near post. A certain goal. Suddenly the ‘keepers left arm shoots out. Saved. The handful of spectators, as one, applaud – for the first time in the whole game. Then again, another breakthrough. Two-on-one. The odds firmly stacked against him when the ball is dispatched toward goal. He stretches out his leg. The ball bounces into the air. With the goal mouth looming large somehow it twists over the bar with the audacity of an Olympic pole-vaulter. The crowd applaud again. It may have no impact on the game, but it’s redemption.
An injury towards the end of the game which reduces Headley to 10 men, results in QK stealing a late, late consolation, to leave the final score 5-1. The Headley ‘keeper who has, when called upon, produced a series of fine acrobatic saves is left furious – So close to a perfect clean sheet only to have it snatched away at almost the last minute.