Old Tiffs 1-1 Old Actonians

To call the Vets’ start to last season ‘slow’ would be an insult to slow-starting teams. A series of massive defeats in the early matches meant a 4-1 home defeat in late October was toasted merrily by the Tiffs in the clubhouse, chuffed to have kept the goals conceded column down to a mere four for the first time.

One point accumulated by Christmas, the vets improved in the second half but still finished bottom. The question going into this season’s opening fixture against Old Actonians was, would we see the competitive Tiffs that finished last season, or the incompetent Tiffs of a year ago?

The answer – based on the first fixture at least – was that the team have improved, and should be capable of competing with most teams in the division. Acton brought a good side to Grist’s – strong, experienced defenders who devoured everything in the air, a lively midfield keen to break into the box when the opportunity arose, and some pace up front.

The first half ebbed and flowed, with Acton seeing more of the ball and threatening to make chances without actually doing so. The Tiffs central midfield battled manfully but were occasionally finding themselves outnumbered.

Then, Tiffs made the break, a one-two on the half way line and suddenly opportunity beckoned. A ball out right, a low cross and a well worked goal for the vets.

Alas, Acton were quickly back in it, a corner swung in, a couple of rebounds and suddenly the ball was stabbed into the net – 1-1.

Acton switched their attacking personnel in the second half but Tiffs had the pace and reading of the game at the back to contain the threat.

It was tight – and very competitive – and Tiffs could have won it but for a highly controversial moment in the last ten minutes. A period of pressure on the Acton goal culminated in a shot arrowing towards the net, only to be stopped, at the last, by an outfield player’s hand.

All hell broke loose as the unsighted ref waved play on and the oppo charged upfield and prepared to launch an attack. The ref, under a hail of protests, halted the game for a short period. What had he missed? Accounts later varied – the most colourful had the Acton midfielder in question sprinting across the goal line and diving, Gordon Banks versus Pelé style, to tip the ball away. Others said the player just stuck out a hand.

Either way, the air was turned blue with the words ‘effing cheat’ being bandied around plenty. Things took a turn for the surreal when the ref accused the Tiffs skipper of racism – an allegation which seemed to stem from a previous match report which referred to a player being Irish.

If any of the opposition are reading this now, let’s get this straight – we love our Irish cousins and have a few at our own club. No offence meant, to be sure.

As the game ended, the owner of the offending hand offered it to every Tiffs player in the usual sporting fashion, and apologised for the handball. Some remained less than happy. Still, a point for each team means both sides are up and running. Much better than last season.