SIXTH PLACE FOR KANTO IN THE MIST AND RAIN
28/10/2000 KANTO 1 - COCKROACHES 0
28/10/2000 KANTO 2 - FC VOLCANO 0
28/10/2000 KANTO 0 - HITACHI O-30 1
29/10/2000 KANTO 1 - PFC 0
29/10/2000 KANTO 0 - HITACHI U-30 2
Japan will be left in no doubt that when humour, passion and fiery teamwork combine to produce the KitaKanto performances of the Kawaguchi-ko Soccer Festival weekend, that the teams' vow to play sexy football and make friends was no word of a lie. They did just that.
Despite late nights on Friday, and a long and arduous journey at dawn on the Saturday morning, well negotiated by Jerry Colthup in his trusty team bus, Kanto exceeded their own high expectations against much more practised and well-versed teams than themselves by finishing in a very creditable sixth place out of the sixteen participating sides.
After a tailback on the expressway and being unable to find the check-in area, the team arrived at their minshuku (Japanese inn), got changed and took the minshuku bus up the mountainside to the tournament grounds. Two sand pitches, and two grass pitches awaited them, designed by former Brazilian star Zico as training facilities for the forthcoming 2002 World Cup.
The first day was for the preliminary group stages, with the winners of each group entering a knock-out stage on day two to decide the overall winners, the runners-up going onto a second day knockout tournament to decide places 5 to 8, and so on.
The first Kanto game was on the hard sand against the beautifully named Cockroaches. In a typical opening game, both sides seemed nervous at the start, and unable to find a breakthrough, but as the game progressed and Kanto realised that they weren't being totally outclassed, more and more chances were created, and halfway through the second half, Martin Hill bundled the ball over the line to open the scoring after some neat passing from front man James Knight and some hard work by the effervescent Brian Malone. The 'Roaches method of playing the long ball and shooting from distance posed only minor threats to the Kanto goal, and despite Kanto looking the more likely to score again, some remarkable goalkeeping and resolute defending kept them at bay, and the game finished up with a scoreline of 1-0.
A short walk up to grass pitches and a quick lunch break later, and Kanto were in action again against FC Volcano. If the first game was a tense and rusty performance, this was when Kanto came alive. Both sides created chances, but Kanto had the better possession and were playing some magnificent passing football, with all eight players regularly involved. In an early bout of crunching tackles, Neil Willis was shown a yellow card, more for a combined team attitude than for the actual challenge, and Kanto looked formidable. The first goal was scored by Jerry Colthup, who using his pace and skill to cause havoc on the left wing after some good defending and through ball by Alex Yardley fired in a cross cum shot at the near post which the goalkeeper failed to hold and it sneaked inside the post. The second half was as good as Kanto have played, and although only one more goal was added, by Brian Malone following a six man move from the back, the same player was unlucky not to have scored a hat-trick as was Colthup and James Knight, playing as the lone striker. 2-0, but the vocal and aggressive Kanto were beginning to turn the screw.
The weather, which had been cloudy and grey, gradually turned colder, and the two games, the long journey and the general tiredness felt by all combined to make the last game in the group, against Hitachi Over 30s, also with a 100% record, a trying game. Both goalkeeper Mike Coleman and Colthup had cramp, and Alan Hill had just returned from his official stint as a linesman. And it started raining. If the FC Volcano game was the pinnacle of Kanto football, the knowledge that victory was imperative against Hitachi to progress into the championship rounds of the tournament, by virtue of Hitachi's better goal difference, was to prove the nadir. Or at least the first half.
Kanto were facing a well organised, effective side, and for the first time throughout the day, goalkeeper Coleman was one of the busiest Kanto players, making several vital saves to ensure parity at the break, although on performance alone, Hitachi deserved to be leading. The energy Kanto had displayed prior to this had gone, and the slippery surface was causing problems to the passing game which they had used to great effect an hour earlier. The second half was equally as frustrating. The weather continued to deteriorate and Hitachi, knowing that a draw would take them through as group champions, swelled their defence to negate any chances Kanto might create. Kanto started to play football again, but with Knight surrounded by defenders, Colthup and Martin Hill being closed down early on the wings, and Brian Malone being forced further back from his attacking midfield position, the onus was on Yardley, Willis and Alan Hill at the back to find the perfect ball through. With control so difficult, and chances so few, the game was heading for a stalemate when Coleman failed to hold on to a long range Hitachi shot and the forwards followed in to effectively end Kanto's chances of being group winners. There was still time for both Knight and Malone to have shots on target, but Hitachi had played solidly, and Kanto were left to be group runners-up.
A hot bath, a hearty Japanese meal, a couple of beers, a torrent of abuse from the minshuku owners' children, and an impromptu game of futon volleyball later, and the rock'n'roll, barnstorming, wild life of top sportsmen became apparant. Everybody was asleep by 9.30.
By 9.30 the following morning, Kanto should have been ready to take to the field in their B group knockout game against PFC, but a late realisation that prior to that it was again Kanto's turn to be linesmen, and the team was left in disarray having only just finished breakfast. Half the team went up to the ground, half the team packed up the kit which was strewn in two separate rooms, and so when kickoff time approached, only a couple of players had touched a ball. Colthup, with a numberless shirt on his back also wore some unorthodox shorts, and amidst the hilarity and humour of a 'Carry On' film, the beleaguered troops tried to steady themselves for a game which compared to the shambolic preparation for it, was a shining spectacle.
PFC hustled, moved well off the ball, and played more than their fair share of quality football in one of the matches of the tournament, as both teams looked to find a way to settle the game before a penalty shootout.
As it happened, Kanto, showing no signs at all of their stressful pre-match entertainment had settled well, and were playing very solidly, with all eight players combining to great effect. PFC put some decent through balls into the box, but Yardley, Willis, Alan Hill, and Martin Hill were dealing well with the PFC attacks and marking tightly, and Coleman was eager to come off his line to thwart any balls that crept through. The hustling Colthup down the left flank and the tireless Malone up the centre had PFC in trouble in the middle of the park, and Knight, struggling alone up front, was providing the PFC defence problems with his movement and deft touches. The alternating light drizzle and mist over the wet and sandy pitch posed no problem to either side, who despite the conditions looked eager and ready, and desperate to gain the upper hand. It was Kanto who did so nearing the end of the first half, when after some good work by Alan Hill and Martin Hill down the right, Knight, Malone and Colthup all had shots blocked and returned to them before Malone finally found the net, and sent Kanto in at half time with a one goal cushion.
The second half saw no changes in formation or tactics from either side, but PFC upped the tempo, and with some obscure decisions by the referee going their way, grabbed the lion's share of possession, although Kanto always looked dangerous on the break. The slippery surface was worsening, and periodically the visibility was low, but Kanto remained solid at the back with Yardley and Willis stifling the oncoming waves of PFC attacks, and the whole team combining from set pieces to block any attempts PFC had. The longer the half continued, the more Coleman was called into action, making a string of superb saves to keep the clean sheet, and the more vocal and frustrated Kanto became. The strength in adversity continued with the odd opportunity arising for Knight, Malone, Martin Hill and Colthup up front, but PFC had the momentum. It seemed Kanto had done enough to win the game, but with seconds left on the clock, Martin Hill clipped the heels of the PFC winger, and the referee pointed to the spot. By this point, every person around the whole ground had their eyes on the game, despite another match progressing on another pitch, and most of the neutrals were behind the English team. The referee delayed the kick to usher players from the almost invisible D, and hearts were in mouths as the PFC penalty taker hit his shot to the right of Coleman, but too close and too weakly to beat the Kanto 'keepers dive, and as Coleman launched the ball forward for the last time, the whistle signalled a momentous victory, and a game befitting a cup final.
The fifth and sixth place playoff game was an hour later, and as the emotion and elation from the PFC game died down, the rain came down, interspersed with ever-thickening fog, and Kanto retired to a restaurant in the town for some warmth and coffee. Kanto would play Hitachi Under 30s, who had an amazing record in the tournament, and had put six past the last team they had played. For the second time in two days, Kanto's fate was in the hands of the electrical company.
The game was barely underway when Hitachi laid siege to the Kanto goal, and it became apparent that Kanto were facing an uphill struggle, and for some unknown reason were not firing on all cylinders. Hitachi took the lead through a far post tap in after a dubious piece of team defending, and then minutes later, added a second after Willis was fooled by the skidding surface allowing the forward to tap home over the stranded Coleman from six yards out. The game was halted for a minute while Colthup received attention for a gashed head - the result of a metal roof panel he collided with when retrieving a stray ball off the pitch - and Kanto tried to settle into their rhythm again.
The second half was much better for the Englishmen. Alan Hill and Yardley were marking well on the wings, Willis and Malone began to acclimitise to the lack of space in the middle, and Martin Hill and Colthup were anxious to get round the back of the impeccable Hitachi defence. Knight, once more surrounded by white shirts, as Hitachi had pulled three or four back into defence pulled a shirt in his frustration, as Kanto failed to come to terms with the superior opposition, although containing them comfortably. Then Willis gave away a second penalty in as many games for an innocuous shoulder barge late in the second half, and it seemed as though Kanto would be buried. Luckily, the ball went high and wide, and gave Kanto the chance to make a final push, but as had been the case throughout the encounter, Hitachi held firm, and the English contingent at the Kawaguchi-ko Soccer Festival took sixth place.
A final team huddle saw a justifiably proud Kanto team end their tournament together, and after lunch and a quick change watched the final of the tournament. The Kanto Eight packed into a covered area behind the goal, and cheer and chant both teams equally in a one-sided affair, eventually won by a team called Juventus, although not the real one, before congratulating the participants and making their way back to the minshuku for a final team bath and beer, and the long journey back to Saitama Prefecture with however many beer cans and wit was left.
A thoroughly good weekend was over, and every player can be congratulated on their fine efforts, Jerry Colthup for driving and Alan Hill for the organising of it all, Kanto went there to play sexy football and make friends, and accomplished both with aplomb. If a couple more chances had gone in, it could have been so different, but then again - they didn't, and who would have wanted too much different?
As the players say in the pre-match huddle....."1....2....3....UpupaEpops!"
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