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OFFLEY & STOPSLEY
2005 SPORTS REVIEW OF THE YEAR
The boys are back in town as Offley & Stopsleys finest return to the nets to hone their skills for the season ahead. Theoretically, the slow, low surfaces at the Ashcroft School of Cricketing Excellence should provide ideal preparation for constructing long innings on the slow, low surfaces at the O.C.G.
In reality three months of net sessions provide plenty of opportunity for the likes of Steve Bexfield, Wayne Cutts, Richie Barker and Jon Cerasale to sample the delights on offer at The Sportsman. Bexfield opts for coke, Barker and Cutts plump for the Carling Extra Cold and Cerasale selects a variety of fruity drinks that suggest that while fast bowlers dont eat quiche they are rather partial to orange and passion fruit concoctions. Not that many opponents are likely to mistake Cerasale for a fast bowler come the summer
Not a great deal to report apart from the usual delights of the clubs Annual General Meeting. To cut a long story short it passes off relatively quickly and in relatively good humour so Hip Hurrah and Rule Britannia. Elsewhere Bexfield, Barker, Cerasale, Cutts and Colin Keeley are limbering up for the season with some exercise on the golf course. Bexfield spends plenty of time perfecting his lobbed cover drive, Cutts routinely goes to pieces under pressure while Keeley flails away like a demented Saxon axe man in the final desperate throes at the Battle of Hastings.
More golf, more nets Cerasale has now discovered orange and cranberry beverages and a worrying lack of fitness and talent all round.
Bexfield summons an unwilling array of helpers to start on the lengthy process of tidying up the pavilion and working on the pitch. The man himself is detained by a puncture and fails to materialise leaving it to the rest of the task force to get on with it. Mo Chaudry, Martin Bigmore, Darren Lunney, Keeley, Cutts and Barker are among those who turn up to offer assistance to Darrell Cooper, the clubs official groundsman. After two weeks of effort the pavilion looks less in need of a dose of napalm and the wicket looks reasonably respectable and ready for a long season.
The season begins on the final day of April and Offley & Stopsley lose the toss and are invited to bat. After six overs the scoreboard makes slightly iffy reading as the home side slump to 3 for 4, with Bexfield, Ramiz, Nathan Brodie and Jeff Francis all making the long walk back to the hutch after failing to get off the mark. Perhaps more attention should have been given to the pitch? Perhaps more attention should have been devoted to playing straight in the nets? Perhaps, well who cares as a 152-run stand between Barker and Chaudry sets up a crushing victory.
Bexfield breaks his thumb, forcing him into a month-long absence from the crease and a three-month break from the golf course. Barker sets a club record with an unbeaten 175 against some of the finest cricketing talent ever assembled in Milton Keynes, which isnt necessarily to suggest that they were in the prime. Offley & Stopsley carry all before them through May as they lose just once on a lethal piece of grass at Houghton Town.
There is also the annual attempt to regain their six-a-side crown at the prestigious Berkshire Invitational event. Former superstar Keith Towndrow leads a crack squad that includes Cutts, Barker, the Brothers Tattersall and our ringer, Luton Town & Indians;Steve Hoar.
Not for the first time the team flirts with glory an impressive achievement as Neil Tattersall starts the day slumped in the back seat of the car clutching a can of red bull and trying to make up for three hours sleep while the rest of the squad get progressively more arseholed as the day wears on. Ultimately they carry off the traditional Runners Up In Pool B trophy and also receive some sort of long-service memento to commemorate a decade of boosting bar funds.
The cricket begins to go slightly pear-shaped in June although Bigmore cracks an unbeaten 96 in an eight-wicket romp against St Josephs.
The midweek campaign ends in annihilation against Pirtons South African wrecking crew. Suspicions are aroused when he walks into the visitors dressing room asking wether or not this is the home team changing room, he then went on to introduce himself to his teammates. Shillington rack up 301-7, a total that would have been higher had Phil Gourd not stemmed the assault with 4-37 off four overs. The pursuit is doomed from the start.
June 25 (the 129th anniversary of Custers Last Stand if anyones interested) produces a jolly jaunt to Kempston to take on our old friends the Methodists. Barker hit 79, Cutts played the best shot of his life, a smeared four that helped him reach a career best 12 and Keeley weighed in with his highest score of a disappointing season to date (6) to lift the total to 226-8. After Rizwan reduced Kempston to 4-2 in the first over, the Offley & Stopsley branch of the International Handless Association proceeded to shell nine chances as Kempston headed for victory. Chaudry yorked jovial Alan Thompson to revive Offley & Stosleyshopes but the game really turned when Matthew Freeman cast aside his customary sickness to remove the dangerous Sundar for 70. The batsman was forced back on to his stumps by a lifting delivery and dislodged the bail with his heel. Not so, cried the hosts. The bail was apparently dislodged by either a gust of wind or a stone. After some high-browed debate the batsman was finally ushered on his way and Offley & Stopsley hit back. Chaudry and Freeman ran through the lower order as Chris Latino took over as emergency keeper and caught two, dropped three and nearly sparked a riot which led to more high-browed debate and a fairly frank exchange of views and opinions. Happy days. Oh, and for those keeping score Kempston were dismissed for 215.
Houghton Town turn up on a scorching day, win the toss, bat, and hammer 355-8 against a 10-man Offley side who couldnt really be bothered (as befits a group of players who play the same team 6 times a season and never once see the same player twice in that side) Cooper picks up 3-96 off eight overs, two of his wickets being caught on the long off boundary. Offley do not rack up 355 and barely anyone gets it off the square let alone to long off. The small matter of a 216-run loss. Elsewhere England go 1-0 down at Lords.
Sunday August 7 never has an eight-man Offley team cared less about being stuffed by 9 wickets on a scorching day at St Josephs. Englands two-run victory at Edgbaston is enough to keep everyone happy with the exception of Chaudry who chucks his rattle out the pram after recording one of three ducks. Chaudry and Bexfield exchange philosophical views and Brodie hits 57 before running himself out.
Minehead is the destination for the club tour and the tumbleweeds are blowing through the streets after the team arrives after thrashing Taunton St Andrews en route. Latino takes three wickets in his first over as an Offley bowler and has another scratched out for a no ball. Australia cling on for a draw at Old Trafford. Freeman nearly has a stroke at the prospect of having to share a double bed with Latino. The following day Latino takes 0-40 off three overs in a six-wicket defeat. Minehead pile on 264-6 on a scorching day before Hoar leads the reply with 116. Bexfield makes an appearance as the first ever super-sub in club history and scores 23 before being yorked and hurling his bat in disgust. It looks good at 137-1 and 178-3 but a series of rash strokes (Towndrow, Barker, Tattersall) ends in a 33-run defeat. A succession of drinking games reveals once again that Chairman Dave Bridgland is not best suited to quaffing pints. Mortified at being selected last apparently the first time ever Bridgland justifies his place at the back of the queue by hurtling off into the Somerset darkness. A 20-over victory in the shadow of a power station completes the tour after Tattersall storms to victory on the girly pitch and putt. Will his form hold for the Offley Masters in October? Freeman completes the tour having failed to score a run or take a wicket. England go 2-1 up at Trent Bridge.
The Ashes come home after an epic finale at the Oval and Offley & Stoplseys finest swap their spikes for studs as they take on the locals on the football pitch.
Player-Manager Bexfields plans are disrupted when Tattersall rules himself out and Brodie cries off with a hangover. A patchwork team takes the field with Francis lining up as the slowest fullback ever on the right while former Manchester United trialist Chris Austin is at left back. Bexfield and Bigmore form a solid partnership in the centre of defence before Bexfield limps off after 12 minutes with a groin strain after trying to kick the ball too hard. A battling display limits the pros to a 1-0 lead at halftime despite some inept decisions and blatant cheating by referee Gourd who clearly wants his footballing friends to win against his cricketing associates. Keeley makes his mark in the second half with some strong forward runs and a somewhat casual attitude to defending and gaps begin to appear in the Offley line. Barker makes some fine saves before conceding a second but hopes are revived when Lunney does something thats a bit like watching Brazil and scores from 25 yards out with a cross-cum-shot. Theres no miracle comeback though but its a definite moral victory.
The season ends with victories at Southill Park and Potten End before a thrilling win on the final day at Bourne End. Gourd is repeatedly sick en route forcing Bexfield to drive slowly to prevent his passenger pebble-dashing his dashboard. Barker dismisses Bexfield for 13 with a Rudi Koertzen raise of the finger that does nothing for the captains sense of humour. Keeley turns back the clock or the sun dial by charging in up the slope to take five wickets. The old warhorse ignores the steep incline to race in and bowl, evoking memories of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava, and claiming 5-20, ending the season on a winning note as Freeman clings on to a steepling catch in the gloaming.
Bats are locked away and the golf clubs come out for the Offley Masters. Its an epic event that ends in a one-shot victory for Barker over Keeley. Tattersall so accomplished on the pitch and putt comes nowhere when it matters most while Cerasale suffers the ignominy of trailing in behind Bal Bains. Latino and Freeman both provide a fair imitation of spastics as they toil round Stockwood Park. Once again The Sportsman is the venue for the odd drink too many and the presentation night as the club celebrates Neil Bigmores 50th year as player and umpire, Cutts gets paralytic and (allegedly, to quote the man himself, blows his money on a male prostitute on the way home), Bexfield eats a poppadom and a convivial time is had by all.
More golf as Barker and Cutts take on Cerasale and Bexfield. Cutts plays with a Freeman-like touch and earns the sobriquet Crumble for his habit of going to bits. He has the last laugh as he chips in at the 18th to secure a tie. Elsewhere England beat Argentina 3-2 in Switzerland, so poke that up your arse, Diego.
Cricket sucks again as England lose the tests and one day series in Pakistan. Mind you, who cares? Whose Ashes are they anyway? Offley prepare to move to the Saracens League and there is a real optimism possibly influenced by numerous pints and the odd hint of Jack Daniels and Red Bull as the players look forward to the 2006 campaign in a darkened corner of the Brewery Tap. The news that Groundskeeper Cooper has swapped his lawnmower for a chefs hat at the Gloucester Arms choosing a new career of carving meat after years of having his pies carved up by batsmen merely confirms the belief that 2006 should be a very good year.
Bring it on. . . . . . . . .