Sunday, 2nd November 2014
Philosophy FC  – S. Optimists  – NXI 
A match that at one point looked like it would be overshadowed by squad limitations and grim weather blossomed into “one of the best 3SF matches in recent memory”, as NXI lost and ultimately regained the lead to remain at the top of the league.
The omens for NXI were not good. The lack of depth in their squad had been cruelly exposed as two players succumbed to injury and their top-scorer, Laurence ‘Goals’ Galpin, was out of town, leaving only two regular Irregulars on the team sheet as the first Sunday of November rolled around. With the weather seemingly finally realising autumn had arrived, it looked like the league leaders faced a decidedly gloomy afternoon.
However, as the rain relented and NXI secured a couple of last minute loan signings, it looked like a small sliver of fortune still favoured the team in orange.
The build-up to the match was also notable as Strategic Optimists finally unveiled their new strip. Created via a process that involved a lot of paint and seemingly little regard for order, each shirt is unique and the pride of the SO players was only matched by the admiration of players from other teams.
The makeshift NXI team made an impressive start to the match, with Deptford 3FC loanee Mark Dyson and 3SF debutant Khairil Hodgson both scoring against pre-season favourites Philosophy FC. Following a series of close chances for all three teams, Philosophy got themselves on the score sheet courtesy of a goal from Michael McCann against Strategic Optimists, leaving the score at the end of the first rotation 2-1-0 in favour of NXI.
Leading in a 3SF match is always something of a poisoned chalice, and so it proved for NXI. Under concerted pressure, NXI displayed some characteristically resilient defending to deny both opposition teams for much of the second rotation, aided by no small amount of luck as the frame of their goal was struck three times. Eventually though they would concede two very similar goals that highlighted one of the key challenges in defending a lead against two teams. As NXI players got caught between closing the ball down and tracking the run of another player, twice they chose the former and twice the ball was played behind them for the unmarked McCann to complete his hattrick. NXI struck back with a breakaway goal against Philosophy, finished by Owen Proctor-Jackson following some good interplay between himself and Hodgson, but ended the rotation conceding what would prove to be SO’s only goal of the match, but a goal which completed their poaching of the lead as they ended the second rotation on the right side of a 3-1-3 scoreline.
The start of the final third saw a fully formalised alliance between the two trailing teams, as NXI and Philosophy eschewed any opportunity to attack each other and instead lay siege to the SO goal. More resilient defending – this time from SO – was rewarded with more goals conceded, as McCann and Proctor-Jackson both added to their tallies for the day. This levelled the scores at 3-3-3, and despite a suggestion from some of the Philosophy players that it was now “every team for themselves” the red-orange alliance held long enough for McCann to score his fifth goal of the day against a deflated SO side.
It was now truly a shoot-out between players who moments ago had been teammates as NXI and Philosophy traded blows with SO offering willing support whenever the opportunity arose. It is fair to say that some blows struck harder than others, and Dyson demonstrated his commitment to his adopted team by suffering a ‘gentleman’s injury’ in order to prevent one particularly vicious strike. As full-time and a winning draw beckoned, NXI broke forward once again with Hodgson and Proctor-Jackson. As Proctor-Jackson brought the ball forward, Hodgson made a smart diagonal run from right to left, dragging the Philosophy defence with him and creating the space for Proctor-Jackson to sprint into the Philosophy penalty area and put the ball past the advancing ‘keeper, completing his own hattrick.
Although there was still time for Philosophy to launch a final campaign against the NXI goal in an attempt to salvage something from the day it would ultimately prove unsuccessful. The match ended 4-4-3, NXI securing their second win of the season and staying top of the league.
As the sun fell behind the surrounding buildings, players from all sides came together to shake hands and enthusiastically dissect a match that had been yet another fine example of the unique characteristics of the three-sided game.