DRSG Committee Member and Charity Hero Rob Johnson gives us a Match Review of his experience in the Charity Legends Game:
On 23rd May I was given the glorious opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition to play on the Keepmoat pitch – what follows is my account of a surreal but brilliant experience.
After a classic athletes night of preparation (7 pints and a pizza) the night before, I woke up early on the morning of the game to butterflies in my stomach and dreams of scoring in my mind. I was cautiously optimistic despite my head still being a bit fuzzy from the night before and I set off to meet my fellow players at the Earl of Doncaster. On the way I received a text: ‘Right wing. Second half’ I shuddered at the prospect of having to play midfield on such a massive pitch as I glimpsed my beer gut in the reflection of a car window but I was pleased to be playing in the second half rather than having to come off at half time.
I arrived at the Earl and was relieved to see my anxiety and nervousness mirrored on the faces of my teammates as we waited for the coach to take us to the Keepmoat. News filtered through that Darius Vassell had dropped out to be replaced by Mark Draper which made all of us breathe a sigh of relief – particularly the defenders.
When we arrived at the ground we were filmed coming off the coach and friends and family were on hand to give us a cheer as we emerged from the coach, all of us were trying to play it cool but I spectacularly failed at not grinning like a lunatic at the ludicrousness of the situation.
Entering the home dressing room for the first time to see my kit hung up with ‘Johnson 17’ on the back was a huge thrill obviously despite my slight annoyance at been given number 17… I imagined some of the arses that have sat on the bench I was sitting on and all the great players who had strolled victorious into that same room as well as the countless shit players who had trudged in after a defeat and the nerves really started to kick in.
We walked around the pitch in our suits for a bit evoking memories of Liverpool’s ridiculous white suits from the 1995 FA cup final before changing into our training tops for a warm up. Before I knew it we were walking out in our kits and shaking hands with the legends as kick off hurtled ever closer. I literally couldn’t believe how bloody massive Dave Beasant was, my penis shrank inside my body as we shook hands and I was also struck by how much Darren Anderton looked exactly the same as in his Euro 96 heyday.
The game kicked off and despite our co manager Danny Schofield (ex Huddersfield Town) telling us to take our time and enjoy it, the charity side looked nervous in the first few minutes. Former Arsenal striker Perry Groves must have offended our left back Andy Mankin at some point as he felled him in the box three times in the first half, with referee Andy Butler awarding a penalty for one of them which Rob Pick duly dispatched for 1-0. Darren Anderton smashed home a second from 25 yards which led to my first Anderton inspired semi on of the day and before long the Legends were 3-0 up. The upside of this for me was that the pressure was lessened for those of us playing in the second half as the game seemed to be lost already.
From nowhere though a Ryan Becks inspired come back began, starting with a pretty hilarious mix up between Beasant and his defence (don’t tell him I said that) and ending with Adam Myers levelling the game at 3-3 just before half time with a composed finish from Tom Ambler sandwiched in between. The second half team looked at each other with grim faces as the realization kicked in… it matters a lot more now. Shit.
The second half begun with the charity team swapping all 11 players which meant that I started on the right wing. Everyone had said it was important that your first touch be a positive one and my first pass went without a hitch, it was to someone stood 3 yards away but still a strong start. My second touch was to someone clearly stood offside. My third touch was a shanked cross as was my fourth – a cross so mis-hit it actually looked like a shot. I came worryingly close to curling up in a ball and violently weeping at this point but Danny Schofield took me aside and basically just told me to calm down and I regained focus.
From there the match was a blur of goals, sideways passes (shout out to Mark Wilson) and one glorious crossfield ball from me that led to one of Karl Harrison’s two goals which I spoke about at great length to anyone who would listen for the rest of the night.
My first abiding memory is of feeling sick with the effort of trying to track Lee Hendrie, looking up at the score board with horror at the realization that only four minutes of the second half had passed. The Legends regained the lead of course, but the charity team fought valiantly and we pegged them back a couple of times before fitness and the outrageous ability of Darren Anderton, Julio Arca and Lee Hendrie started to show. At one point I had a ten yard head start for the ball against a 43 year old Darren Anderton and he just glided past me and stole it away. He looked so handsome as he did it as well. What a guy.
So the game wrapped up with a Dolly Parton approved score line of 9-5 to the Legends team but I will always have THAT 30 yard pass, the knowledge that I merked Phil Babb and hearing my mates chanting ‘you fat bastard’ from the stands.