The history of football is littered with teams who have started a season in blistering form and tailed off into a damp squib. The Newcastle Entertainers team of Kevin Keegan in 1995/1996 is one example as is QPR in 2022/2023 (we were top in September don’t you know). The same can not be said of Old Tiffs 2022/2023 who started the season in appalling fashion but made it 5 wins in a row as their season came to an end on what can only be described as a howler of a pitch in deepest, darkest Chessington.

This was a Super Vets friendly game against Claygate as Old Tiffs management used the dark arts of “only players over 50” to their advantage. I am sure there were discussions around “if we take Sniffer’s extra 10 years and give them to Jed, that’s ok right?” Which resulted in a strong squad of 15 taking the turf on an overcast Saturday in May. It’s not very often you use cones to mark out the pitch in any level of football, but this was different and anybody who was going to argue the case for the ball being in or out of play would need Dave Smith Defence Lawyer representation to win the argument.

But play we did and Old Tiffs lined up in their new favoured formation of 3-5-2 with Scotty and Toby deployed in the roles of wing backs. Anybody who has played Football Manager on the PC will know that this is a position that requires 20 (maximum) in the stamina category and boy did these boys put in a shift. The pitch was heavy, the grass long but that didn’t stop the boys in purple playing some great passing football through the midfield in search of an opening goal.

The line was lead superbly by Del and Banoub, and the back three of RJ, Josh and Sniffer marshalled their front line into submission which allowed the middle 5 to do their thing.  And do it they did with aplomb! The passing and movement was a sight to behold and even Pythagoras would have been overjoyed with the triangles being created and the slick movement of the ball. Chances came and went, a half chance to Orsmond which went wide, a header by Del but you could feel it was only a matter of time before the net burst. And burst it did on 20 minutes, when a corner from the left was headed down and there was Del to place home the opening goal, more than Old Tiffs deserved.

But one was never going to be enough against a team who were handy up front and which needed Jayson in goal to have his wits about him and his handling on point.  And one did become two in no time at all. Remember I said the wing backs needed to to have stamina 20, well today, Toby was on 25! Jed was his usual industrious self in the centre of the park and his ability to win the ball and create was in full evidence. The ball broke down the left again and Toby somehow danced in unnoticed by the team in red to score. It would never win goal of the season but it was more than Old Tiffs deserved.

The rest of the half petered out as a litany of changes gave the guys on the touch line some minutes on the pitch to show everybody that the depth in this squad of purple is vast.

More changes at half time gave a whole new front line of Shaun and Pete as Del and Banoub rested their weary legs. Shaun continually gave an outlet down the left hand side for the away team to try and exploit and find the killer third goal.  It was from one such move that released Shaun down the line and he swung in a delicious cross for Orsmond to dive full length but not quite get enough on it to send it goalbound.

At the other end things must have been getting boring for Jayson in goal. With not much to do for vast swathes of the game, he decided to try and control a ball out of the air but ended up cleaning out the one dangerous player that Claygate had up front. Was it inside the area, was it outside? Nobody knew because the council had forgotten to paint the lines the previous day, and Jayson got away with one and the resulting free kick sailed high and wide.

But it was a wake up call for Old Tiffs, we needed that third killer goal to have a comfortable final 30 minutes. And when it did come it was a cracker (if I do say so myself). Old Tiffs were not having much luck going through the middle so it was again down to the wide men to provide, this time from the right. Not content with just a goal to his name, Toby swung in a banger of a cross from the right and Orsmond stole in between Del and a defender to guide his header into the bottom corner. Game over!

More changes and a shuffling of the front two brought Banoub back into the frame. At this point Toby has 1 goal and 1 assist to his name. A great day’s work in anybodys book. But he was not finished yet. With the ball played into Banoub’s feet on the edge of the area and his back to goal, Toby decided to deliver a Glasgow Handshake and remove said goal poacher from the game. It wasn’t quite a Terry Butcher moment, but the sight of blood meant an enforced change again to the front line.

Maybe it was the sight of blood, or just the easiness of the game, but the boys in purple took their eyes off the ball for 10 minutes. The only time we lost our shape and a few missed challenges meant a scrappy goal for Claygate and then a one on one between Jayson and the guy he had taken out only 10 minutes earlier. Maybe it was the memory of being cleanly taken out that got to the striker because he rushed his shot and it sailed over. 3-2 would have made for an interesting final 20 minutes, but in all truth Tiffs regained their composure and their shape and played out the remainder of the game in relative ease.

It wasn’t a game for the ages. It certainly wont be remembered fondly for the beautiful setting and lavish changing rooms, but this was a day that those who were there in purple will remember as the day of cones, wingbacks, head-buts and questionable over 50s players. That’s 2 for 2 for Josh in his new found management role. The next time a Premier League team requires saving from relaxation, they would do well in remembering the old warrior from Tiffs who turned around a season in the last few games to show some respectability.

As the season draws to a close we can only guess at “what if” Old Tiffs had started the season in the rich vein of form that they finished it with. Form they say is temporary, class is permanent!