Shanghai Marlins 2 – 0 Cowboys (Shanghai Marlins are Champions!
The last gameweek of the season arrived. It was D-Day for Shanghai Marlins who knew that a win against a strong Cowboys side would guarantee their first ever league title.
Their only rivals, ERS, sat one-point behind them with a tricky tie at Century Park against Shanghai 2000 – the only team the Marlins hasn’t defeated this season.
Jinqiao was awash with blue as over 20 Marlins players turned up to support their side. Wives, girlfriends, in-laws, children and dogs were also in attendance on what was hoped to be an historic day.
The lure of drinking with the French was somehow enough to persuade Cowboys to field their strongest team – something they failed to do twice against ERS. But not to be perturbed (Dale’s word for the day), Shanghai Marlins prepared themselves as best they could and were more than willing to take on whatever was put in front of them.
As the players warmed-up, there was no doubting the game’s importance. A sense of anxiety could be felt and understandably so. These players were preparing for their best opportunity of a maiden title in anything up to six years.
Steve Fishwick’s team talk was clear and simple – unlike anything Banksy says. Steve emphasised that it was just another game, that the team had their best squad for the upcoming challenge and that he was positively bricking it. The revelations of the Gaffer’s Sunday morning bowel movements seemed to calm the atmosphere as Banksy rallied the troops for one final battle.
The opening period of the game saw Cowboys have the majority of possession. But they were given little time on the ball as the boys in blue harried and chased down every dribble and pass. Even Gui was busting a bollock or two as he led from the front and by example.
Despite the possession, Cowboys were lacking an incisive pass in the final third. The solid backline of the Marlins was enough to nullify their attacks, especially with Dale ‘100%’ Johnson in commanding form. His quick reflexes and outstretched arm proved crucial as the Chinese forward tried to bundle his way through.
The best chances however, fell to the Marlins and in particular, Gui Leclerq. He was played through from the angle after some good team pressing, but despite taking his time, he under hit his attempted lob, allowing the confident keeper to gratefully gather the ball.
Moments later, another opportunity fell the Frenchman’s way as the keeper was caught under Calf Crooks’ long throw. The attempted punch dropped to Gui who connected cleanly but was unable to keep down his volley from 15-yards.
Those chances were a let off for Cowboys but it wasn’t long until they were punished, and how! The ever-running James picked up the ball on the right flank. He took one look before crossing deep to McGoo on the left-hand side. The White Feather took one touch, lined up the bouncing ball and struck a perfect dipping volley into the far corner, sending the supporters and team on the sidelines into as much jubilation as he did the previous week against Gremio. It was a stunning goal worthy of such an occasion.
Having got the all-important opening goal, the Marlins were able to relax a little more as they doubled their advantage within ten minutes of breaking the deadlock. This time McGoo was the provider as he took a freekick from the right wing. With Cowboys’ keeper so keen to collect balls into his box, The White Feather opted for a deep cross to the far post where Gui had made his run. But just when it looked like it would be inches too high, he leapt and hung in the air like Michael Jordan/ Calf Crooks before somehow getting his head over the ball and directing it past the flapping keeper into the roof of the net. It was a quite brilliant header and Shanghai Marlins suddenly had a two-goal cushion.
The remaining 15 minutes before half-time saw Shanghai Marlins hold onto their lead. They stifled any threat posed by Cowboys, largely thanks to the commitment and effort displayed by the Marlins’ players, including the wingers who didn’t shy away from their defensive duties.
At half-time, Steve brought the team in via some shouting and clapping by Captain Banksy. He was delighted with the scoreline but wanted a little more composure with the ball. Too often, the Marlins were relinquishing possession, causing them to run even further. Fortunately, they had a big enough squad that could be utilised to ensure the tempo and intensity didn’t drop.
A few changes were made, fresh legs were brought on and the Marlins were back out on the field knowing that they were 45 minutes from the title.
Early into the second half, Gui was mightily close to demoralising Cowboys as he attempted another lob following Fedja’s great throughball. It dropped just wide of the goal but it was a sign that the Marlins weren’t going to drop their levels any time soon.
Cowboys to their credit however, did pick up theirs. They had a strong team, full of composed footballers but they just couldn’t find a way past the solid unit in front of Dale. It was a unit superbly marshaled by Loic, alongside The Rock (formerly known as the Fulcrum) with Le No-Nonsense Bon (and a notable classy header back to Dale) and Davey Watson at full-back, it was a bank of four that simply put, gave away nothing. It was also a bank of four that was ably assisted by Captain Banksy and Calf Crooks. They provided another gauntlet for the Chinese to pass with the pair constantly slamming the Doar (Will’s surname, play on words…tick) shut!
As the entire Marlins side dug deep – much like Mike Jones looking for criminal evidence on Facebook – Cowboys pressed for a goal that could spark a comeback and at least trigger Steve’s sphincter into some sort of uncontrollable action. But that goal just wouldn’t arrive.
There were outstanding performances across the pitch from the Marlins’ side. Dale’s distribution was so good that he topped the passing charts with 100% Johnson passes completed, while The Bearded Magician worked so tirelessly that he got injured several times before making miraculous recoveries that allowed him to re-enter the field and passionately declare some shirt pulling as “outrageous!” Jamie Lally – who made his long-awaited comeback from injury – and Pete Roberts both put in great shifts, while Pete Harrod became the new Makelele and appeared to be wearing Claude’s shorts too. Fedj had to come off with concussion (honest), which allowed Gerrard to provide another lung busting performance and Ale was busy sweating off some Pisco on the left. Unfortunately, not everyone could get on but they all played their part in supporting their fellow teammates from the sidelines and proving how great a team the Marlins truly is.
As Captain Banksy constantly reminded everyone that he lacks any sense of time, the clearances became less concerned with accuracy but more so with distance. Just ask Gerrard who is adamant he did a really super-duper big kick of around 80-yards from corner to corner.
Eventually, Banksy’s badgering of Kevin the referee was enough to see him blow the whistle and officially crown Shanghai Marlins champions of the Shanghai Premier League! Sheer joy and relief cascaded on those in blue as more than a season’s hard work, dedication and commitment finally paid off.
To celebrate, they gathered into a hurdle and soaked each other with beer and dolphin champagne (I assume). English Pete had never been so drunk or smelt so much like Dave and Dale before.
In all seriousness though, these are very much worthy champions. They are a team of mates. A band of brothers. A group of players that will always have each other’s back. They thrive in adversity and flourish in battle. The league never lies and they are deservedly acknowledged as the best team in the SPL. Congratulations Shanghai Marlins!
*PLEASE NOTE: ERS did defeat Shanghai 2000 but it didn’t matter…not one iota!!!!!!!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was associated with the Marlins either this season or previously. Those who have left Shanghai (and ultimately this great team) such as; Graham Thompsett, James Puckett, Lee Mcluckie, Luke Kelly, Tom Housden, Stefan Mikic, Johnny Dicken, Alex Hull, Hamish Ritchie, Luke Jones et al. all contributed to this season’s title win. Without them, Steve and Banksy wouldn’t have been able to build this side to where we find ourselves today.
Of course, Steve and Banksy have exceeded their responsibilities as Manager and Captain since day one and I’m sure the rest of the team will allow me to speak on their behalf (because it’s not complicated by a dodgy scouse accent) when I say a huge a thank you for their efforts. We all look forward to building further on this season’s success and defending our title next year.
Unfortunately, we will have to do that without Calf Crooks who has been nothing short of a bulldozer this season with consistent performances throughout. He will be sorely missed both on and off the pitch as he’s actually an alright guy for a yank! We seem to do pretty well when it comes to separating the decent ones from the bellends. Good luck with your future endeavors back in Chicago and be sure to continue heading beams and ceilings in restaurants like Sunday night.
Finally, I’d like to cast your memories – which most of you seem intent on drinking away – to when we last played Cowboys earlier in the season. As you all know, we lost 1-0 to a controversial penalty awarded just before half-time. We also lost two players to brain-fart red cards as Zhao and then Zhu got a little too physical with the referee. That was the last game they would ever play for Shanghai Marlins and at half-time, Gui told them how selfish and stupid they had been by ruining the team’s and in particular, Steve’s best chance of winning the league. Despite heroic efforts by the nine that remained with their brains intact (well eight plus Dale), we lost 1-0 and were chasing the league from then on.
But whilst it is hard to forget that game, regardless of the number of Ultimate Long Islands or ceiling headers you might have had since, I (the teetotal one) can recall what our very own captain, Jon Banks, said afterwards. He emphasised that we didn’t need those two players who got stupidly sent off, ignored the meaning of the word team and let everyone down. That it will mean so much more when we win the league with our mates come the end of the season. Well lads, I think Banksy was right (for once). It did mean so much more and it was an absolute pleasure to share the victory with you all.
Of course, I can’t finish on Banksy being right about something because I have writer’s rights here. I’ve copied a paragraph I wrote after the luckless loss to ERS…
Djimi Traore has a Champions League medal. Man City scored two goals in the final minutes of the final game to win the league. Greece won Euro 2004. Bebe cost over £7m. Qatar are due to host a winter World Cup. Sven-Goran Eriksson keeps getting jobs. What I’m saying is don’t lose hope, stranger things have happened in football and this league is particularly tight this season.
I bloody told you so! Pete Rosselli