10 years ago BEFC won their first league title with the ‘Invincibles’ of TML4. On April 22nd 2017 BEFC headed down to Yokohama to face JETRO, knowing a victory would bring BEFC the TML14 league title and bring long awaited glory back to the club!
The path to glory was set out to be a match for the ages, but not only the game itself but the build up surrounding it.
JETRO’s record against BEFC wasn’t to their favour, being on the receiving end of a 4-1 defeat in the cup, followed by a 4 - 0 defeat in the league. However in their last match they had defeated the only other team to beat BEFC ~ Musketeers 3 - 1. With the second best defence in the division and on the back of a strong win they were an opposition to take seriously. Also with BEFC reeling from a defeat the week before to Dutch FC, the shock result had disturbed and unsettled the team. For in the TML previous results indicate nothing, especially considering BEFC’s first match against Dutch FC ended in a record 9 - 1 victory.
It felt that if BEFC were going to be champions they were going to have to prove it beyond any shadow of a doubt. And the football gods had decided that if there was a shadow of doubt to overcome they’d start with a bloody great big one! Already without a regular goalkeeper and Kentaro Takahashi had drafted in teen prospect Sei Katori for his debut with the club. Even with a classy pedigree shown playing for BEFC once in a Machida friendly, integrating a new keeper into team isn’t something needed in a high stakes match.
Then starting centerbacks Ewan Walton and James Pounder were struck down with a mysterious illness forcing them to pull out and a 15 man squad was swiftly dropped to 13 on the day.
With both designated center backs out and regular stalwart Cael Husband’s rare vacation clashing with the fixture, it left Captain Ben Palmer as the only other designated centerback partnered up with Donald Freeke in the all important position which could have been said cost them the last match.
In fact that last match had caused some upheaval in which BEFC’s teamplay which had become unglued and with the absence of regulars Noki Tanabe and Go Oomichi, BEFC made a subtle change in player position with left back Nils Simon coming into Defensive Midfield largely on special request from the often overworked Timothy Witvliet.
BEFC had remembered something they knew at the start of the season --- when they get angry they play badly. At the beginning of the season they had concentrated on staying calm and working hard for each other and maybe in their recent success this was forgotten. After the previous game's defeat it was time to remember that while for some players getting pumped up helps them, yelling and shouting at each other has a negative impact.
The match started brightly with BEFC looking to pass the ball around smoothly and settle into the game, pressurising JETRO with intensity. It was at this point left back Kaz Fushimi perhaps chose his timing to inform Captain Palmer that he actually had a muscle injury and wasn’t sure if he’d last the match. However he’d test it out now and see how it goes. Perhaps such a good start to the game would put aside concerns in expecting anything else to go wrong….
It wasn’t long before 10 minute in, some superb interplay down the left side opened up score sheet with Kentaro Takahashi finishing off a four man move to get the Red Machine rolling. Everyone was keeping calm and enjoying the mojo return to the team’s play. Despite all the adversity, changes and dropouts, it wouldn’t matter. Well not quite, because it just seemed to prove it wasn’t enough adversity! If BEFC were going to do this it needed to be harder!
Coming on a little earlier than planned for Jorge Marenco, who was the victim of a nasty toe stamp, Baptiste Ballet was playing well. It seemed some good communication in the build up with his captain was being put in place, until ironically the subject of that communication went entirely out of the window. 20 minutes in Ballet justified his teammates' concern for his temperament and the reason he had been subbed off in the previous match.
In a 50/50 dash for a loose ball, Ballet to his credit got there a fraction of a second first, getting more of the ball and winning the challenge. However with both players fully committed to it, Ballet took the brunt of the impact flipping over the JETRO player and they both ended up on the floor. A tense silence spread around the pitch and looks of fear crept over Ballet’s teammates as his face turned into a scowl, glared at the opposition and lashed out a Rooney-style kick of rage into the shocked players side. There was no argument to be had as the referee had a very easy decision to pull out a straight red and send Ballet off for an early shower.
Taking stock, BEFC tried a few muffled yells of encouragement against the seeming concerted effort by some abstract forces to prevent victory and the title. Playing with 10 men wasn’t something BEFC had any experience doing and now facd the prospect of 60 minutes against a team armed with a bench full of subs. Well conversely if the theme was teamwork, now was the the time to prove it. And that’s what BEFC did. Rather than view it as a curse to stop them winning the league they saw it as a challenge to show why they deserved it! Dropping into a 4-4-1, BEFC did what they happen to be very very good at…. Defence.
Now normally it’s because of the defence that BEFC play high and offensive. The defence permit the freedom for the attacking players to focus on goals. However in this situation it was time to play defence and even with 10 men JETRO could find no chink in the armour or avenue to get sight on goal. It wasn’t by luck last season BEFC had gone 6 games with conceding a goal.
As JETRO pushed men forward to take advantage of the extra man they opened themselves up to counter attack and allowed league top scorer Kentaro Takahashi to show everyone why. With another JETRO player robbed of the ball BEFC spread a release pass to Takahashi who was minded by only one defender. Taking him on the turn Takahashi got wide down the right channel and on the edge of the box. Looking up to spy the goalie coming off his line it was time for his goal of the season as he launch a rocket across the goal into the top left corner. Leaving the keeper with no chance the rest of the field stopped and lightly gave applause in wonderment. If you have to up your game when the odds get thrown against you that is one hell of a way to show it!!
And how would Takahashi be able to present the Takahashi Standard Pressure Goal of the Season Award if it was his goal that would win it!?
With JETRO deflated and BEFC buoyed by going 2 - 0 they still had to prospect of holding out until the final whistle, still with the biggest danger of running out of steam in the later stages. JETRO had already twigged onto this and subbed on two pacey strikers to try and cause problems. However BEFC’s concerted defensive shutout continued and feeling more secure BEFC were in no rush to turn over the ball, keeping the ball in defence for slower build up play. This build up style was present before but with a few close shaves, which were not fully heeded. Passing around the back is fine, providing it is done quickly, because any mistake is very costly.
With the ball out on the right side, Takahiro Yoshida had played the ball back to Katori as they had been doing so far. However perhaps it was the renewed effort of JETRO or the second goal bringing comfort that caused Katori to wait just a little too long for his clearance which rebounded off the JETRO striker, over his head, and into the goal mouth spinning. The ball bounced into the goal mouth then back out and despite Katori claiming it didn’t cross the line the decision of a goal was clear to the referee. The bright light of a two goal lead before half time was cruelly snatched away, mocking the extreme team effort to hold off JETRO with a momentary lapse of too much Guardiola!
Putting this out of their mind, Captain Palmer used it as a good moment to expound the virtues of the often maligned ‘British Defending’ - also known as ‘If in doubt, kick it out’ or 'Let's not f**k about with 10 men'. While in normal circumstances silky build up play from defence is a practice worth doing, when you are 2-1 up and playing with 10 men for 60 minutes it is apt to remove all chances of doubt. Let JETRO do the running, and if they have to collect the ball deep in their half when we punt it clear all the better for them. Also strikers are much less enthusiastic for second ball with the prospect of a huge boot flying at them.
And that’s how it went! BEFC compressed, harried and choked JETRO of their efforts and slowly after each attack was repelled more space appeared for BEFC. Slowly JETRO were throwing more players forward, but when they were robbed of the ball BEFC were finding the space and energy to spring fast and dangerous counters with Takahashi often playing in Sakk and Fushimi (who for his own reasons transformed into a deep attacking wingback but finding swarths of space down the wing).
With the tide of adversity looking to turn back into BEFC’s favour and momentum growing, centerback Donald Freeke’s legs decided to take a part in the BEFC challenge by going down hard with cramp. Not used to playing full matches they definitely were not prepared for the rigours of a full defensive 10 man epic hold out. Hobbling off the pitch, and with no other players to cover as centerback man of the match Takahiro Yoshida moved inside as Mark Kuroda came on at right back.
Again, despite the adversity everyone continued to show their team strength and effort as more counter opportunities appeared. A great break that must have gone through Simon, Sakk, Witvliet, Takahashi, Fushimi ended back to Sakk on the edge of the box where he got to fire off a long range screamer into the net. Full of intensity Sakk let out the primal scream going down on his knees and fist pumping the air! This was the goal he had been trying to score all season!
BEFC were 3 - 1 up now but even with such a safety blanket of 2 goals they had enough experience to know how quickly the tide can turn, it needed another goal to kill it. But also the game looking to get away from JETRO had renewed their efforts with them choosing this time to bring in their fresh subs and repeatedly try to force the ball down BEFC’s right flank.
With still with no opening BEFC had began not only fast break but start working the attack and push forward. This however had left Kuroda open to targeting by their pace strikers as the back-line began high pressing again up the pitch. With Marco Alonso rested on the sidelines he was brought back on to increase the pressing danger on the right wing and bring Marenco back into defence at left back to shore it up and it started working.
If teamwork was a theme of the day, so were blazing long shots. BEFC have a number of players they know who can seriously power a long shot but for whatever reason hadn’t unleashed it fully yet in the TML. Takahashi, then Sakk had shown their pedigree and Timothy Witvliet gave an early taste of what was to come with a blazing strike from 25 yards that only stayed off started due to early outward swerve at the top right corner. Then in a similar attacking move he came across the top of the box onto a cut back to drive the ball low blasting it into the back of the net. 4-1 now and BEFC were humming. The mojo was back and despite of the crazy quirks of fate thrown against them the sheer belief and determination had them well in the ascendancy and JETRO looking down and dejected.
It was at this time Kaz Fushimi thought it an appropriate moment to inform Captain Palmer that actually his leg injury wasn’t doing very well and it would be a good time to come off. Considering at that point no one knew quite where Fushimi was playing, left back?, left wing striker? It was also an appropriate moment to bring Kuroda back on at left back to help see out the game and that he did with a series of strong tough tackles and quick release build up play.
With 5 minutes to go, Palmer nearly became the final casualty almost going down with cramp in both calves following a flying clearance from a cross into the box. However BEFC were not tested again as the forwards had pushed JETRO back into their own half forcing them to defend until the very welcome final whistle as BEFC became TML14 Division 2 Champions for the first time in 10 years!!
In a match of the ages BEFC beat JETRO 4 - 1 to become the league champions with two goals from Kentaro Takahashi then goals a piece from Alo Sakk and Timothy Witvliet.
Despite all the adversity and because of the adversity it made the victory even sweeter because if you wanted a match to remember, the match to win the league, having one as legendary as this match was the perfect way to win it, and win it as a team.