Sunday, February 12, 2006

Winning Team

Gloucester 34 – Leicester 16

After the torpid frustration of the London Irish loss, this proved the perfect antidote to murky mid-season blues and a firm response to those dejected detractors (me included) who doubted that today’s set of players possessed pride and passion in the shirt and the colours. This was a splendid, Technicolor happening, vivid colours, sharp as a razor, clashing and etching a thrilling screenplay before the gathered. Floodlights add so much to the Kingsholm theatre; tackles appear keener, breaks more rapid, contacts, collisions and interactions more telling and potent. This was a great occasion and I had forgotten how ardently great occasions at the remarkable old stadium make the blood pump through the veins, focus the mind on nothing, nothing but victory and reaffirm one’s firm affection for the old city club.

Friday meant more than a fine result against traditional rivals. The sense of a steely collective standing shoulder to shoulder and demanding nothing less than victory proved tangible and irresistible; the Gloucester fifteen were desperate to win and the levels of concentration, single-mindedness and desire ebbed within the squad and permeated the spectators. It was electric and exciting and transcended mere entertainment. It mattered.

Unlikely heroes sprang forth. Jon Goodridge, for this punter often a gaunt, complex, almost haunted figure, banished demons and produced one of those moments that harvest footballing immortality for the individual athlete. His run from 22 to the shadow of Leicester sticks was brave, shrewdly intelligent, breathtaking and sublimely agile, swift and confident. The lad produced art. Not a hand was placed on him until too late and, importantly, the resulting score was telling, a psychological blow to a confident and streetwise visiting team. The exultation was immense, the buzz and thrill colossal. It was a vast, vast moment.

The rest of the game didn’t disappoint either. From hope emerged expectation and from expectation sneaked a lurking fear that the big names from the Midlands could conspire to deny the braves. The resolve paid dividends and all players contributed immensely. The proud skipper Boer, led with power and purpose and the forwards responded with a passionate doggedness to give not one inch and to fight for every scrap. All were heroes from the pillars in the front row to the more expressive back rowers, Forrester and Merrimen, who grafted like Fowkes or Fords to eke out every last inch and second of territory and possession. Behind the pack were nuggets too. The uber-competitive Amor harried and carried all evening, Mercier attacked with poise and kicked with precision and guile, the wings were busy, the warhorse Fanolua was the warhorse Fanolua and Rudi Keil, the South African newcomer to the colours, oozed class and self-belief. And we’ll be speaking of Goodridge for decades after that run.

As I mentioned earlier, Friday was more than a good result. For me, it restored a good deal of faith in the old team and in the old stadium. This was a passionate hour or two and reminded me of why I turn out for less stirring fare and why I shall always support the city. A great result. A great occasion. A great club.

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