On Friday 23rd July, Raging Fever FC made the familiar trip to Leeds to compete in the annual WorldNET tournament at Bodington Hall. Crucially, this season had seen a major change in the Fever squad structure. In the most shocking split since Oasis went their separate ways, Fever fielded teams in both the main and veteran competitions. However, unlike our friends from Manchester, the world sat up and took notice at the news of Fever manager John Matthews’ revolutionary idea. Would James Longshaw have a purpose on the football field without the supportive words of Rob Muskett? Who would take penalties for the youngsters now that the Matthews dictatorship had headed for a more arthritic environment? Would a pass ever be successfully completed now that Robb Milne’s ‘easy ball’ catchphrase had so cruelly been taken from us? As Fever’s under 30s headed into the unknown, there were serious doubts as to the credentials of the team without their senior colleagues (and Thom Airs, who was acting as the veteran’s celebrity youngster). As an unfamiliar Fever team, featuring two Scots, two Longshaw acquaintances (always a worrying statement) and a guest goalkeeper in the form of Kidderminster B’s ‘Ackers’, nobody knew quite what to expect. As the team met to watch Dan Pear’s England debut on Friday evening, the appearance of Longshaw’s cider stash left many with the opinion that a prompt arrival at the venue on Saturday morning would be a minor miracle in itself.
Dan Pear making his England debut vs Scotland
As expected, Dan Pear gave an excellent account of both himself and Raging Fever FC in the annual England vs Scotland fixture, playing the second half and winning a key challenge in the build-up to the winning England goal. Hopefully Dan will be the first of many Fever internationals, a figure that would surely be higher if the Welsh and German players weren’t subject to such callous disregard each year.
Following this proud start to the weekend, both Fever squads headed to the Three Horseshoes in Headingley for a pre-tournament beverage. As the drinks were consumed, the subplot to the weekend’s footballing activities began to develop at a frantic pace amongst the veteran players. As expected from such mature men, some even with well paid jobs and partners, the key phrase being thrown around the table was “I’m faster than you are”. Clearly, there would only be one way of solving this ferocious and vitally important debate. A race would be held following the conclusion of Saturday’s group phase. In the interests of keeping the reader’s interest, the video footage will be posted further into this report.
Fever line up to defend a Preston free-kick
Rather than allowing Fever’s makeshift team to gradually grow into the tournament, the draw had placed Fever alongside last year’s 2nd place finishers, Bradford, a Welling side that had heavily defeated a Fever side earlier in the season and an unknown quantity in the form of Ipswich A. Although the sight of caretaker manager James Longshaw emerging from his room in boxers, shortly accompanied by the smell of Yates’ finest brew didn’t fill anybody with confidence, a full squad was present (if not entirely correct) for Longshaw’s slurred team talk after breakfast. By the time kick off in the opening fixture arrived, the men in yellow vaguely resembled a football team. Unfortunately, Bradford turned out to be an accurate representation of an excellent football team and a very tough test first up. Despite this, Fever nearly caused a shock in the opening minutes with a passage of play that provoked great debate between Longshaw and the rest of the squad. In the interests of fairness, both accounts shall be provided. After a slick passing move (after the ball bobbled around uncontrollably ricocheting off the flailing limbs of both sides) the ball fell to Longshaw who calmly rolled the ball out of his feet with just the keeper to beat (the ball fell to Longshaw who tried desperately to dig the ball out from under his feet as the keeper advanced). Neither side could believe their eyes as the Fever striker opened up his body to curl the ball towards the goal with great finesse (as the Fever striker’s foot turned into a sand wedge and the ball looped towards the planes heading in to land at Leeds airport) and cries of anguish were released as the ball bounced clear from the underside of the bar (cries of amazement were released as gravity worked miracles to bring the ball, putting the irregular movement of the Jabulani to shame, down onto the bar). Whichever account you believe (it was the latter), Fever had started well and Jimmy Hickman was inches away from getting on the end of a Dan Pear long throw, a weapon that would be used throughout the tournament. Unfortunately, this was as good as things got and Fever struggled to keep hold of the ball or involve any of the front men in the play henceforth. Bradford’s opening goal was slightly harsh on guest keeper Ackers as he denied the striker when clean through, only for his strike partner to complete the job moments later. Any doubts about the Kidderminster keeper’s ability were dispelled as he dealt well with a barrage of corners and long throws. Why there was any debate over his ability in the first place is staggering. The man had personalised goalie gloves. He could only be brilliant with such accessories. Although Bradford ran out 2-0 winners, Fever should not have been too disheartened as this strong team eventually won the main competition, defeating Lens in the final.
If a positive was to be taken from defeat, it was the tactical decision (most certainly not a mutiny) to move Jimmy Hickman up front whilst moving one of the Longshaw-Burson Wantage alliance, Dave Cheeseman, to the wing for the following fixture. This move worked wonders in the next game as Fever hit their stride to gain revenge over Welling. A backline of George Dugdale, Toby and Nicky Pear and John Butcher coped well with Welling’s barrel-chested striker who had caused havoc earlier in the season. Analysts suggest that his decision to remove a one inch ponytail in the intervening months was the true reason for his downfall. Fever started the match at a frantic pace with Theo Dominian’s running causing all sorts of problems for the Welling backline. It was Dominian who opened the scoring, finishing well after an interchange of passes with Hickman. Fever doubled their lead late in the half as Dominian jinked past several Welling defenders before drilling a low shot beneath the advancing keeper. The second half continued in similiar fashion with Stuart Burson and Dan Pear pulling the strings in the middle, Mike Connolly and Mitchell Maulson (who qualified for Fever via a relationship with a member of the manager’s family in the style of Andy Burgess and Sergio Aguero) threatening on the flanks and Hickman bringing others into the game with his hold-up play. A bursting run from Hickman allowed him to round the keeper to extend the Fever lead and soon after, as Welling failed to learn from their mistake, Dan Pear tapped into an empty net after placing the keeper on the Bodington turf. A vastly improved performance from Fever and a confidence boost ahead of the final group game against Ipswich in which only a point would be needed to progress to the main competition’s second day.
Dan Pear battles for possession
Despite the nature of the task in hand, Fever went out to win the match in order to progress in style. However, despite an encouraging start Ipswich took the lead against the run of play when Ackers struggled to clear a backpass and the Tractor Boys took full advantage of a disorganised Fever backline. Forced to chase the game, Fever began to exert their dominance in the midfield but met stubborn resistance from a determined rearguard. When Toby Pear hammered a volley into the roof of the net following a corner by brother Dan, it seemed as if all was well. However, Fever were once more caught sleeping at the back when they failed to clear a long throw and the ball dribbled into the corner of Ackers’ net. Despite relentless pressure in which both Dugdale and Toby Pear ended up as makeshift strikers, Ipswich held firm to move into the second round. Despite dominating the match, conceding two goals from the oppositions only two shots meant that it would be an early start for Fever in the newly christened ‘Remshed Plate’ the following morning. A further blow was dealt with the news that Nicky Pear’s knee injury would rule him out of the second day, breaking up an impressive partnership with Toby.
Toby Pear in control
As the first day headed towards a close, Fever headed over to ‘contest’ a friendly against housemates Motherwell. For the record, the game finished 1-1 with a Dugdale equaliser late on. The game was played with a friendly atmosphere at a relaxed pace (some may say similar to the pace on offer in the veteran’s tournament…). Meanwhile, the much anticipated ‘Raging Fever Donkey Derby’ was taking place on the veteran’s field. Despite allegations of false starts, the result stands and is available below.
The banter continued to be thrown around in the aftermath as both squads travelled into Leeds for a team meal (once more featuring James Longshaw vs The World at bill time) and a visit to the ever popular Cockpit. Despite the youth team’s 8am kick off moving ever closer, a good time was had by all with the veterans enjoying some Nirvana (I heard they stole the Foo Fighters lead singer) as some members of the youth team joined the tattooed teenagers next door for some 21st century tunes. With pre-match meals including shisha, kebabs and a McFlurry, little hope of progress in the Plate remained as the team arrived home at varying times on Sunday morning after a night ‘on the bang’.
A matter of hours later the squad assembled for the second round clash against Kidderminster B, an unfortunate draw considering this was the team carrying the registration of guest goalkeeper Ackers. With Paul Soper kindly sacrificing an hour’s sleep for the youth team cause, Fever lined up with Stuart Burson replacing Nicky Pear at centre back and Nick Wehmeier slotting in alongside Dan Pear in midfield. Despite the odd sore head, general tiredness and the resultant lack of motivation, Fever started well with Wehmeier drilling the ball left-footed into the corner of Acker’s net midway through the first half. As the game moved on, it became apparent that Fever hadn’t been the only side out in Leeds the night before. Although Soper had one smart save to make early in the second half, there was a smooth efficiency to the Fever passing with much of the football being played through Dan Pear, somewhat worryingly for a Kidderminster side noticing that he was waking up a little more with every stride through their defence. Fever deservedly doubled their lead soon after through player-manager Longshaw. After an effort was well saved, the ball fell to Longshaw whose scuffed volley dribbled home. It would have struggled to burst a bubble, let alone the net, but as a quick flash of the ‘Goredayer’ t-shirt showed (it had a whole 6 attendees this year), they all count. The cherry was placed on top of the Fever cake as Wehmeier forced a Kidderminster defender to put through his own net despite having inadvertently blocked Toby Pear’s thunderous volley from a Dugdale corner. Job done without hitting top gear and time for a well-deserved breakfast before the last 16 match against a strong Preston B side at midday. Thanks must go to both Kidderminster for lending us a keeper and Ackers himself for a supreme effort, playing 6 games on Saturday, often in different corners of Bodington with a matter of minutes between games. The Fever manager kindly presented him with a warm can of Strongbow as a man of the match award although his gratitude was placed in doubt by the news that he was carrying a significant hangover.
John Butcher halts a Preston attacker’s advances
Having seen the veterans bow out with a whimper in the morning, the youth team seemed to be motivated by the prospect of avoiding the depression that was emanating from the over 30s camp. Even the sight of a physical Preston side embarking on a 30 minute warm up as Fever soaked up the sun complaining of sore limbs didn’t have the expected effect as the Yellows started the game well with Hickman, Connolly and Dominian going close. Despite dominating a physical first half, Fever couldn’t break the deadlock.
George Dugdale in an aerial battle with Preston’s frontman
As the second half kicked off Fever became aware of the wind that Preston had been so keen to mention in the first half and struggled to clear their lines on several occasions. With the ball holding up in the wind, Paul Soper did well to deal with through balls that could have caused all sorts of problems without such swift action. Despite free kicks in dangerous positions at either end, the game looked destined to be heading for extra time until the ball bounced across the 6 yard box to Longshaw following good work from Dominian and Hickman. As the expectant crowd drew breath, expecting another trademark scuffed volley into the corner, Longshaw miraculously caught the ball sweetly and sent it rocketing over the bar. Late disappointment for Fever but it wouldn’t be long until he gained revenge.
James Longshaw hammers the ball over the bar…
Only moments into the 10 minute period of golden-goal extra-time, Fever won a throw in deep in Preston territory. As the ball soared into the box from Dan Pear’s long throw, Toby Pear put the keeper under pressure and as he flapped, the ball dropped to the feet of Longshaw. Having missed a similar chance moments earlier, this time he made no mistake, putting the ball into the corner of the net and sending Fever into the quarter finals. Preston were undoubtedly stronger than several of the sides that had made it through to the main competition having been victims of a ‘group of death’ and a battling win should not be overlooked.
…but tucks the ball into the corner moments later
As the veterans packed up their Zimmer frames and descended the stair lift for one last time before the journey back to Oxford, the youth side headed over to watch the penalty shoot out that followed a 0-0 draw between Hearts and Port Vale to determine who would make it through to face a confident Fever side. Despite distracting the management team with quips about Lewis Haldane’s skin, hair and insect related treatments, Vale won the shootout in sudden death. In spite of having played a full period of extra time, an hour later it was Vale who looked much fresher and raced into a 2-0 lead within 4 minutes of kick off on a fluctuating pitch. Two long balls caught the Fever line flat-footed and were clinically finished by the Vale front men before the men in yellow had woken up. Despite an improved second half display, it became clear that Fever had run out of ideas and more importantly, energy. Two days of tough fixtures with a small squad had clearly taken its toll on key players and Port Vale held on comfortably to run out fully-deserving winners.
Although the end of the tournament was just as disappointing as the fate suffered by the veteran side earlier in the day, the side left Leeds with their heads held high. Fever remained competitive in all matches against some strong opposition and produced excellent team performances against Welling and Preston in particular. Although it was disappointing not to have another crack at the main competition’s knockout phase, progress into the quarter finals of the plate resurrected some pride. As always, all Raging Fever matches were competitive but carried out in the correct spirit, upholding the traditions upon which WorldNET is run.
‘Ackers’ (Kidderminster), Paul Soper, John Butcher, Toby Pear, Nicky Pear, George ‘Dougie’ Dugdale, Nick Wehmeier, Mike Connolly, Dave Cheeseman, Mitchell Maulson, Stuart Burson, Dan Pear, Theo Dominian, Jimmy Hickman, James Longshaw.