“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It was, once again, time for the Senior Boys' House Hockey. It was time to stand up and be counted. Who would stare greatness in the face and dare to grasp it?
After the success of last year's tournament Mr Emsley opted to stick with the format which had kindled such an epic climax, albeit with a twist. We would again finish with a grand final, however in the round-robin section a bonus point would be awarded for a team that could score four or more goals. Defences and goalkeepers be warned, there would be no let up this year, no show-boating or killing the game off. If on display the jugular would be sought. As the rain drove down on the astro the sense of occasion was palpable. The refereeing committee undertook a strict pitch inspection and the hallowed turf was deemed playable. And what play we would witness.
What would a tournament be without controversy? Before the first ball had been struck there were cries of belligerence from Sam Brooks, who claimed that Mr Rogers, famously of Batcombe, should not be allowed to umpire the Batcombe match. Assistant umpire Lucas Miles handed Brooks a formal warning.
The openers saw a cagey affair at the Farm End, as Wanstrow overcame Downhead in a match that served to highlight the weight of pressure that such a tournament puts on its participants, as neither side really hit their straps. At the Shed End however, both Cranmore and Batcombe had decided that defending was optional, and neither side would take the option up. It was a match that would live long in the memory of those who witnessed it. The birds stopped in the sky to take it in. The match ebbed and flowed like the mighty Mississippi: first Batcombe took the lead, then Cranmore, inches were given and miles were taken. With seconds remaining Cranmore led 4-3, but Batcombe had a short corner and with it, sight of a score draw and a bonus point. The strike glanced the backboard but, crucially, the wrong side. Cranmore were victorious and took a bonus point with them. “We won't get carried away, we have 2 tough games still to play” responded Louis Saunders when asked about the magnitude of the victory. Steady as she goes.
Wanstrow were made to rue their early missed chances in the following game against Cranmore, who turned in a polished performance and had surely booked their place in the grand final. Leo Matthews looked to have wrapped up the golden stick already with his sixth goal in just two games. Meanwhile at the Farm End there would be the customary late drama. In the build up to the match Shotaro Ida of Downhead claimed “we will look to keep it tight at the back and then nick one on the break”. For long periods it looked like the plan had worked. Batcombe laid siege to the Downhead goal but the bus was parked, the wall was up and the spirit was strong. With the seconds ticking away and the match firmly deadlocked, Batcombe needed a hero. Step forward Joe Wooler who scored a goal that set up a winner-takes-all clash with Wanstrow.
In the final round of group games Cranmore made sweeping changes in anticipation of the final. Many would lambaste the rotation policy but Cranmore cared not. Downhead managed their first goal of the tournament sparking wild celebrations that reverberated all the way to the Crane wing. However it was not enough to stop the juggernaut that Cranmore had become. They were by now a well-oiled winning machine and came back to win with the ruthlessness of prospective champions. At the Shed End the match between Batcombe and Wanstrow was essentially a semi final. Freddie James decided to take the match into his own hands and scored the fastest hat-trick in house hockey history to bring his beloved Batcombe to the final. “Forget my three goals, all that matters is the victory for the team” said James after the match.
“We have the experience, but they have the exuberance and bravery of youth” commented Batcombe's Arthur Green in the build up to the great occasion. Which would win out? Cranmore chose to play the final at the Farm End, the scene of Batcombe's great victory a year previous. The mind games were in full flow. “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more” cried captain Aloysius Gash in a stirring pre match speech. It had the desired effect as Batcombe took an early lead. Cranmore would not be rocked however and duly responded with an equaliser. The tension rose. The astro had become a theatre, a crucible, a coliseum. And then disaster struck. Cranmore scored three goals in mercilessly quick succession and Batcombe were shell-shocked. Mr Coombes gave a rousing half-time team talk but the damage was done. The boys in gold held firm, shrugging off the pressure of the weight of thousands of Cranmorians for whom victory would bring such joy, and brought home the trophy. Batcombe were magnanimous in defeat, but Cranmore were deserved winners. “We were not afraid of greatness” noted Archie Mackenzie in the post match. That they were not, and the great Cranmore side of 2017 will justly go down in house match history.