Under-strength Reds handicapped
Deportivo 4 PFFC 0
If, like me you are a keen golfer, you will be aware of the handicap system in which each amateur golfer is given a number of strokes that they can subtract from their total at the end of their round to see if they 'beat' the par of the course. My handicap is 13 and on a golf course with a par 72, I need to shoot 85 or less to gain a sense of satisfaction at having played the course well, done justice to my own abilities. When playing a match against someone of a handicap of 21, I need to play the course in 9 fewer shots than them to win. Some say this is the magic of golf: its democracy, the idea that no matter how good or bad you are, you can compete on a fair level, in relative terms of course.
In football, there is no such system. Hence scorelines of 8-2 and even 36-0 can be seen, on occasion, throughout the history of football. Instead of introducing television evidence or a fifth official, perhaps the beautiful game could work at becoming the good, clean and fair game – to steal Slow Food's motto – that golf has been for centuries, and restore the faith of those who believe that football has become overtaken with geed, corruption and tattoos.
On a chill but dry – thank God for the dry – morning, just before kick-off, I silently thought that if our 9 men were a golfer, they'd have a handicap of about 20 against their opponents’ 15. This is the match report of a courageous 4-0 defeat turned 1-0 victory in the deluded golf-mad mind of this former skipper of PFFC.
The Reds teed off first, not so much with a golf bag full of Pings or Callaways but with a rag-tag set of clubs found in the shed that your grandfather meant to throw out years ago. Not even a full set mind you, more of a unique blend of old and new. In fact, two of the clubs in the bag belonged to father and son, Tom's 7 iron and Niblick the Cat merging two generations beautifully. Owen the Mashie hacked about in his inimitable manner and controlled his sometimes wayward slice. He was joined in defence by the versatile 5 wood Ally and the excellent rescue club Mario who kept hitting the sweet spot throughout all 18 holes (at 5 minutes per hole). Khan the 3 iron kept things solid in the rough on the right and the mid-irons, Will, Ömer and the aforementioned Tom desperately tried to knock it on to Felix who was trying to play 9 iron, pitching wedge, sand wedge, lob wedge and putter all at once. He performed valiantly but unfortunately was never placed on the green with a chance to sink a putt.
Deportivo played well without ever shining. They were solid but not stylish, a bit like Jim Furyk – rather ugly at times in fact, again a bit like Jim Furyk – but they were safe in the knowledge they were a full set of Titleists against a half set, a set that had seen good times and not a little success but which, with some key clubs left at home, was depleted and desperate to hold it together until the end of the round and the 19th hole came into view.
On the front nine however, the Reds held it together well and came in to the halfway house only 2 behind. This of course meant they were still ahead by three strokes according to the handicap system, Ally feeling delighted that finally golf had a role to play in the hitherto socialist ideals of the club he had been a member of for so many years. Perhaps, given time PFFC would come to embrace the policies of so many of the great golf clubs throughout the world: no women; no jeans allowed in the clubhouse; and so on. With the back nine still to play, there was still a chance.
Deportivo hit a wonderful drive, some 300 yards straight down the middle and converted the approach shot for birdie: 3-0 up, but PFFC still had a chance to claim the moral victory by beating their handicap. Niblick the Cat was playing the round of his life, sinking 40-yard putts and getting his four-ball partner out of trouble by sending his ball round the white trees whenever in trouble. His son Tom was courageous, playing through bouts of asthma – any of the ‘sick-notes’ feeling guilty now? – and lasting the full 18 holes admirably well.
Deportivo then holed a monstrous 30-yard pitch shot that made the scoreline 4-0, but the Reds were still up by a single shot. Deportivo kept peppering the flag but the ball would not drop and eventually the last hole was halved and the round was completed. Yes Deportivo had won by 4 shots but the moral victory, the handicap champions were the red men of PFFC who had finished the round winning by one heroic stroke.
The unfortunate truth is that football isn't a handicap sport, nor a fair one played by gentlemen in tweed whose only worries are about how much to tip the caddy at the end of the round. The scoreline was a brutal 4-0 defeat, but to those 9 clubs in PFFC’s bag who battled it out over the full 19 holes without support, it felt like a victory, because of the way every one of those 9 played as a team and fought for one another.
It may have felt like a victory, but it wasn’t one, and let's not let ourselves again get into a situation in which we're glad of getting beat by 'only' four goals to nil because of a lack of numbers.
Next week, once more against Deportivo, it's the Masters and everybody is playing off scratch so no excuses.
PFFC (4,3,1): Rob; Khan, Mario, Ally, Owen; Ömer, Will, Tom; Felix.