May 22nd – Shanghai Marlins 1-2 Lions

The Marlins arrived at Jinqiao with third-place still up for grabs as they took on league leaders, Lions.

A very muggy day made it as moist as the dance floor once Dale Johnson’s strolled through with half his shirt undone…he’s prone to spilling his drinks because he’s a clumsy twat.

There was a real family feel to the day with several kids (some of which were produced by Marlins players) turning up. Injured captain, Jon Banks, bought a pop-up tent, which inevitably took longer to put away than the 2 seconds to assemble. Even that proved an initial problem…

It was very much a makeshift squad of 13 with three new arrivals and Roland Broughton looking to sweat off his hangover. He could have done that just sitting on the sidelines with travel-lovers, Wilson Scott and Fabio Gillue instead of ‘marauding’ up and down the pitch from centre midfield.

The game was scrappy with few chances for either side. The Lions had to win to continue their pursuit of the title currently held by the Marlins but they struggled to breakdown the resolute defence, with Dan Griffiths and Loic Chudy proving hard to penetrate without at least a couple of Long Islands in them.

Lions took the lead via a tap-in with ten minutes of the half remaining. The French side capitalised on a loose pass to catch the backline out of position and beat Johnson in a two-on-one situation, something the goalkeeper often dreams about or watches online when his imagination is tired.

Despite the Marlins threatening from set pieces (as usual), they remained a goal behind at the break.

100% Johnson was replaced by Laurent in goal as agreed prior to kick-off, while James – another new player – replaced 14-year-old Steven for the second half.

Early in the half, Jamie Lally latched onto a knock on by Pete Rosselli before cutting across the defender and along the edge of the box. Unfortunately for the self-criticising Scouser, the keeper was able to gather his effort.

The boys in blue were more threatening in the second half but failed to end up on the right end of any goalmouth scramble. They also had numerous freekicks as the Chinese referee (his nationality is relevant) blew up more often than a jobs worth traffic warden dressed as a policeman with a love for the sound of his own whistle.

Lions should have doubled their lead but were thwarted by some intelligent defending and good goalkeeping. Although, neither of which had any influence on someone completely missing the ball with an open goal at his merci (French joke, lol).

Sensing a need to change things (because Lally had shouted at his shoulder too much), manager Steve, put Marlins’ greatest ever number 10, Dale Johnson, onto the field to change things up. This wasn’t a Steven Caulker up top in the last five minutes, or a Gary Doherty put it in the mixer move, this was a game changer (often the wrong way). This was the athletic alcoholic Johnson being given the freedom of the pitch to do what his heart desires and stamina will allow.

His first piece of action saw a pass that deceived more than a few. The man that sees Messi referred to as the Argentinian Johnson showed just why that actually, genuinely, sincerely happens. Mere mortals would play the simple ten-yard pass to Ash Reid, but only a misunderstood genius would loft the ball over him to find Broughton a further five-yards away from the opponent’s goal.

The French had eventually scored a second to all but seal the game despite the heroic efforts of this makeshift Marlins side. With just several minutes to go, the game felt as done as Cameron Jerome’s Premier League career.

But as quick as you could say, “Dave, your speed lines are phenomenally dreadful and I’m truly curious as to what thought process triggered such an approach to shaving those atrocities into near albino blonde hair,” Johnson turned up.

The man who inspired Jorge Campos, Jose Chilavert and Rogerio Ceni to be more than just the kid you chuck in goal because he can’t do bugger all on the pitch, picked up the loose ball on the edge of the box following a great run by young Aiden.

Johnson had a gauntlet of defenders to beat but he remembered they were predominantly French and therefore likely to roll over. And so they did, but only because of his snakehips and (accidental) dummies leading to desperate lunges.

Un, deaux, trois, quatre, they dropped like flies, and so did Johnson, nearly, as he somehow dragged himself towards the byline before sliding in ahead of the keeper to lift the ball over him and into the net.

It was a goal that inspired Maradona to score his famous World Cup strike against England, even though it happened 30-years ago.

The world suddenly realised that you don’t compare Johnson, you compare to Johnson. You might often be better than him at near enough everything, but there’s no stronger metaphor or simile in football.

If anything, it deserved to at least be worth two goals but the Chinese ref, jaw on floor, couldn’t gather himself to even consider the obvious adjustment to the rulebook.

Lions were roaring at the final whistle and they’re likely to go on and claim the title, but the real winner here was football. The sport Johnson created out of his backside when he had too much vindaloo. No one rested on the seventh day, they were too bloody busy watching Dale Johnson dance, stumble and shimmy his way to footballing folklore.