Arthur Ashe once said that true heroism is remarkably sober. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost. This sentiment more than most captures the essence of Långholmen FC spirit. Against all the odds, on the foreign fields of Åkersberga, this spirit came alive, and dramatically defeated champions IFK Österåker 1-2 in the first round of the 2012 Stockholm Cup.
The long drive out to cow country was spent huddled around Wales’ agonising defeat to France in the RWC semi-final. The twelve players pulling on the stripes for the afternoon vowed to show the same brave commitment against a supremely confident Österåker side – a team that will strut about in division 3 next season after running away with the Div 4 North title.
Many commentators had already written off the Stripes; a number of last minute withdrawals and the absence key players gave the 1st XI a rather unfamiliar look. This gave a welcome opportunity to the title winning LFC Reserve team to step up and prove their credentials at the higher level – an opportunity grasped with both hands (and feet).
Defensive discipline was the name of the game for LFC, Manager Stuart Lascelles rolled back the years with a cultured performance at the heart of a 4:5:1 formation. But truth be told, the first 20 minutes of the game were by far the worst for Långholmen; overzealous and thus stretched by the slow-slow-quick passing game of their slimy opponents.
Österåker threatened, and eventually broke the deadlock after fifteen minutes with a textbook move executed with consummate precision. The spritely #7 latched onto a ball inside the fullback, and his pinpoint cross was deflected in at the near post. A shaky start and the travelling fans (one man and his son) could have been forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a long old afternoon.
But some frank words, and astute tactical management steadied the ship. The Stripes were happy to concede possession and defend deep, which confused their young adversaries into over playing. As stalwart Robbie Graham summed up afterwards “they were more interested in looking good, than playing football”.
The Stripes got a grip and started to put their foot in – this was a physical game; not only was it knockout cup football, but also because of the history between the teams from 2009. The ‘Alain Rolland’ reached for his pocket on numerous occasions in a feisty twenty-minute spell, booking four Stripes for colourful language, one for shoving and another for a leading elbow. But there was a sniff of something positive to take from the half. Leo was running the show on the left, Andy Mac had started to force himself on the game and you just know that Oscar always has a goal in him.
Trudging off at halftime, heated conversations with the ref suggested that Långholmen were less than happy with the official’s handling of the game. Truth be told, LFC needed to find another gear if they were going to be playing in the Stockholm cup next year.
The Stripes emerged unrecognisable from the first period. Their shape was perfectly balanced; disciplined in defence and potent on the counter attack. With only 35% possession they frustrated their opponents by working incredibly hard as a unit, closing down tirelessly, not giving their six-fingered foe any space to play at the business end of the pitch. Credit to the whole squad – everyone played their part. At one-nil you always believe you’ve got a chance, this was the time for big hearts, and nobody went missing – to a man the Långholmen team fronted up.
The pivotal moment arrived farcically on 60 minutes; O’Sullivan pounced on a loose ball in midfield, played a one-two with Ludde on the edge of the box and collapsed under a clumsy challenge. He thought it was a penalty. So did everyone else, except the ref who waved play on. Bizarrely one of the home defenders assumed a stoppage in play and calmly picked the ball up, conceding one of the most absurd handball penalties in history. After all that excitement O’Sullivan stepped up and calmly sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot. 1:1.
LFC pin-up Chris Allen deserves a special mention for a highly accomplished display in goal. His all round performance oozed confidence, which spread to the defensive unit in front of him. Both handling and kicking was immaculate and he made a string of difficult saves look easy. The pick of the bunch being a diving one-handed reaction save that was reminiscent of Gordon Banks in the 1970 world cup against Pele. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvqwhDUhkPA. This was followed by a comical red-faced rant at his faceless defenders and much clapping/spitting into gloves. Quality.
The stripes were inevitably reduced to 10 men with fifteen minutes to go. Ludde Johnson picking up a soft second yellow for blocking a quick free kick. Mcclelland also departed with a calf injury as the LFC patched up their midfield. But LFC had a foothold and as the game edged away it felt as if Österåker had settled for penalties.
The valiant stripes had other ideas: A lightening counter attack down the right found Vasile, his intelligent pass inside was nodded over the top by O’Sullivan to Oscar Hentmark in space, who composed himself and volleyed home at the near post to send the Stripes into ecstasy with 2 minutes remaining. Stunning.
Österåker threw everything forward in the dying seconds but the Stripes held firm. A huge cheer went up at the final whistle as Långholmen completed a memorable and hard fought victory. This might only be the first round of next season’s competition, but such was the sense of elation at the end it felt like LFC had just won the cup – The perfect way to round off another successful season. Onwards and upwards.
Allen (GK); Phillips (LB), Luca (D), Lascelles (D), Ahmed (RB), O’Sullivan © (CM), Graham (CM), Mcclelland (CM), Leo (LF), Hentmark (CF), Ludde (RF). Subs: Vasile (75)
MOTM – Chris Allen; We called Gordon Banks after the game and he admitted that your save was better than his.
Ref Watch – Brilliant because we won. 2/5.
Hope to see you at Dave Ely’s testimonial (30th October)