Saturday, December 31, 2011

Torquay United 0 Oxford United 0

It seems fitting that Saturday's welcome non-event at Torquay concluded 2011 seeing that it was at Plainmoor that the year was ignited. With literally nothing to write about from the game, it seems the perfect opportunity to use that trusted device the American sitcoms use from time to time. Yup, let's review the year with a few flashbacks.

Man of the year: Michael Duberry
Over a 12 month period, there is one player who stands imperious over others. It is amazing that only now people are talking about Ryan Clarke as a potential transfer target for clubs at a higher level. James Constable rightly takes on the role of talisman at the club, but barely a game goes by Clarke making a match winning, or saving, save, some of which are world class. To date, he's saved 57% of the penalties he's faced, which is remarkable when you consider that on average only 18% of penalties are saved by the goalkeeper.

But, despite being at the club for only about 5 months - two where he's been injured - no other player has had a greater impact on the club than Michael Duberry. Despite Clarke's brilliance, last year conceding goals was our forte. Duberry has come in and instantly shored up a leaky back four.

But more than that, he's 36, he's played at a much higher level, he's been subjected to the ugly side of football and yet he remains enthusiastic, positive and committed. An intelligent and thoughtful player. It would be so easy to get carried away with his relative celebrity, but you cannot be anything but impressed by his performances both on and off the pitch.

Game of the year: Miracle of Plainmoor
The Swindon game seems the obvious candidate for the game of 2011. It extinguished a 38-year barren run of results at the County Ground. They tried to unsettle our star striker only for the star striker to ram their bullshit right back down their throats. The pantomime villian of the piece got his comeuppance. It even got my write-up about the game some coverage on the Guardian website.

But, the Swindon game was almost too perfect. It was pure theatre, there was a performance with a happy ending - it was almost too scripted.

So, for masochists like me, the game of the year was the aforementioned Miracle of Plainmoor in January. It wasn't just the 4-3 away win, it was more about the subtext. There wasn't a stage or a performance, it was a mundane nothingy fixture. And that's what makes it such a magnificent story.

With the December calendar decimated by snow, we returned to action after nearly a month without a game with a lingering fear that we were about to have a post-snow collapse similar to the one we had 12 months earlier. But, we beat Macclesfield and it seemed that we'd retained our form.

Then, the world collapsed around our ears at home to Southend. An apopleptic Chris Wilder made 8 changes to the starting line-up for the away trip to Torquay a few days later. This included Jack Midson, who was returning from the WILDERness to lead the line at the expense of James Constable. But was Wilder's anger about to get the better of him?

We raced to a 2-0, then 3-1 lead, before entering injury time all square. Then, Midson skipped through and snuck home the winner and complete his hat-trick. Moments later, Steve MacLean stood on the ball in celebration - the picture of the year.

Tour of the year: US tour 
OK, not exactly a lot of competition in this category, but the US tour this summer was brilliant. Timed to coincide with that point in the summer when you actually think you should start trying to work out the point of cricket, the tour of the US happened and it was like going back to the days of Roy of the Rovers.

With games kicking off at 11pm at night, no TV coverage and just the radio connecting you to the games, it felt like they were being played on the moon. A big adventure.

Twitter also came into its own, whether it was following the players onto the plane or the chairman chastising Dean Smalley's finishing via the club's official feed. A PR masterstroke.

Feature of the year: Kassam All Star XI
Perhaps the most startling thing about the Kassam All Star XI series is that I actually finished something I started. Celebrating, if such a thing is possible, a decade at the Three Sides of Hell, the Kassam All Star XI recognised the best the stadium has seen:

Turley, Ricketts, Crosby, Creighton, Robinson, Clist, Bulman, Whitehead, Constable, Mooney, Brooks

Goal of the year: Peter Leven v Port Vale
Every goal that we've ever scored has been greeted with a phrase akin 'WHATAGOAL!'. It always takes me by suprise when the ball hits the back of the net. You'd think I'd have learnt by now, but I'm a bit of a simpleton like that.

But, when Peter Leven intercepted a short pass ten yards inside our own half and looked towards goal, I couldn't have been the only person who chastised him for launching it towards goal. The next 3 seconds produced, maybe, the greatest goal ever seen at the stadium.

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