Scottish Thistles at The Dragons Festival, Swansea – Saturday 30th & Sunday 31st July
Squad: Paul Bateson, Phil Bell (GK), Donald Dunbar, Ian Dunbar, Peter Girvan, Tim Lorimer (Manager), Brian de Mattos, Derek McAslan, Duncan Mitchell, Alan Parker, Keith Raper, John Smith, Neil Ward (Capt.), Tony Walker, Jim Watson.
The Dragon’s Festival is now finally back after 2 years, on their two new blue ‘Smurf’ turf pitches here in Swansea just a stones throw, or an aerial ball, from Swansea Bay. There were 7 teams taking part, 4 from Wales (Red Dragons, Black Dragons, Yellow Dragons and the Aberiginals), 2 from England (LX England Club side and the West Country ‘Gatfers’) and just 1 from Scotland (Thistles of course!) Matches were 17.5 minutes each way with a 5-minute half time and 15-minute pre-match warm-up.
Saturday 30th July
Red Dragons v Thistles
Our first match was on the pitch nearest the café – so not too far to walk – and although it started cloudy the sun appeared as soon as we arrived pitch side! Unfortunately, Alan Parker injured his right leg in the warm-up but none-the-less gallantly took to the field to ‘test it out’. Thistles, in our blue, blue, blue kit, started strongly, surging into the Dragons half in the first minute. Alan Parker chucked an aerial ball from a free hit, picked up by Brian de Mattos who drove into the D, passed to Tim Lorimer who struck the ball fiercely passed the keepers shoulder into the roof of the net!
Yes, you read it here first – THISTLES WERE ONE UP
This spurred the Dragons into action, and they mounted one assault after another on our beleaguered defence who defended valiantly but inevitably, and we managed to hold onto our slender lead right up until the whistle blew for half-time.
Half Time: Black Dragons 0 – 1 Thistles
Neil Ward provided some sage words and encouragement in the short 5-minute half-time chat, and we went back on the field rehydrated and boosted ready for further battle. Thistles again pressed the attack maintaining pressure up around the Dragons D until they turned the play around counter-attacked, driving into our D and a deflected shot went just wide of our left post. Phew! Yet again they attacked, and another shot went just wide of the right post. They kept up this pressure and eventually, 3 shots later they, scored the equalizer. So, we were now ‘honours even’ at 1 – 1.
Dragons continued to press us hard and in truth we probably found ourselves defending too deep. We managed to break out a few times but the gap twixt the mid-field and attack resulted in the ball pin-ponging straight back as they counter-attacked. On one of these occasions Phil Bell made an athletic and crucial sliding tackle, with his stick, outside our own D and cleared the ball to the side line. The pressure continued and after six consecutive free hits inside our 23m line the Dragons moved inch by inch closer and a strong low crossed ball from right to left inside the D by a Dragon deflected off a defenders stick and into our goal putting the Dragons 2 – 1 up…
…and so, it remained to the final whistle.
Full Time: Black Dragons 2 – 1 Thistles
Thistles v Aberiginals
Spurred on by our earlier performance Thistles again took to the field in their blue, blue, blue kit, this time on the pitch nearest the sea, and a game reminiscent of ping-pong ensued as there was little to choose between the two sides, that is until a Welsh attack resulted in a Thistles foot blocking a shot on the line! The resultant penalty flick was expertly dispatched into the back of our net, so it was 0 – 1 to the opposition. This was quickly followed by another strong attack by the Welsh down our right flank and a strong shot on goal putting the opposition 0 – 2 up. Thistles marshalled the defence and managed to hold off the Welsh attack in true combative style right up until half-time.
Half Time: Thistles 0 – 2 Aberiginals
More sage words and tactics from Neil at half-time and we returned to the field determined to claw back the deficit. We started strongly and pressed the attack to their D very early on and extracted a save or two from their keeper. The Welsh re-grouped and returned the favour back in our own D and fortunately their shot went wide. Stringing a few passes together from the 16 we pressed up field and a ball from Tim Lorimer to Jim Watson drew another fine save from their keeper, with a similar attack from the Welsh to be repeated minutes later at the other end of the pitch drawing a fine save from our keeper, Phil Bell.
A ball out to Jim Watson, down to the line to Tim Lorimer, won us a free hit just outside the Welsh D, which was moved wide for a ball across the face of the Welsh goal where a defender stretched to deflect the ball out of play and denying Tim Lorimer what would have been a simple tap-in. Thistles continued to press the attack with some fine passing play from our 23m line up to the Welsh D, where it was then turned over, but we came straight back at them, and so it continued, up and down from one D to the other. The Welsh won a short corner which ping-ponged around our D to eventually, and thankfully, it was cleared to the side line. We struggled to find an outlet, again possible defending too deep; and the Welsh pressed hard, won a free hit on the edge of our D, passed back to the 23m, and fired in hard but wide. Thus, reprieved we had another 16 hit which we again only cleared as far as the half-way line before it came back at us again. Dogged defending from our back 4 and a magnificent reaction save from a tip-in by our keeper, kept the Welsh from adding further insult to injury and we finished this second half honours even.
Full Time: Thistles 0 – 2 Aberiginals
Thistles v Gatfers
After a 1-hour break to recover from our last game we were back again on the seaward side pitch in our characteristic blue, blue, blue, to take on ‘The Gatfers’ an English team comprising players from Devon & Cornwall, many of whom are also LX England players. Thistles started strongly and this proved to be a hard-fought game in which we had our chances including two short corners, so we felt very unlucky to concede a soft goal and go in at half-time down 1 – 0 to the Gatfers.
Half Time: Thistles 0 – 1 Gatfers
The Thistles defence found themselves besieged from the start of the second half with Phil making several crucial saves and the Thistles finding it hard to release the pressure and eventually resulted in a penalty corner for the Gatfers and another fine save by Phil. Phew! A dangerous high ball resulted in the award of a free hit to the Thistles resulting in a great pass from Neil Ward to Tim Lorimer, and despite the tight marking of our midfield eventually resulted in a fine shot from Tim and an equally fine save from the Gatfers keeper. And that’s how it stayed right up to the final whistle.
Full Time: Thistles 0 – 1 Gatfers
Thistles v Yellow Dragons
Hardly any time to draw breath and we were straight back on in our blue, blue, blue, for our last game to take on yet another Welsh team – but on which pitch? After some utter confusion moving twixt the seaward and the sports centre pitch we finally set up on ‘Pitch 2’ the one nearest the café and Sports Centre.
Now we really had the bit between our teeth and threw ourselves into the fray with some quick, accurate passing play and piled on the pressure. Breaking into the Welsh D a fierce strike and follow up by Tim Lorimer resulted in a goal. 1 – 0 to the Thistles. Buoyed by this strong start Thistles continued to press the attack after the restart and it wasn’t long before a pass into their D resulted in a Brian de Mattos deflection into the back of their net. Now 2 – 0 to the Thistles. Just before half time the Welsh won a penalty corner and the strong strike from the top of the D was well saved by Phil Bell.
Half Time: Thistles 2 – 0 Yellow Dragons
After the break, from the off, Thistles pressed the attack with a shot from Jim Watson saved by the Welsh keeper. The ball immediately went back down to our D where a Welsh strike, fortunately, went wide. A later penalty corner for the Welsh saw Peter Girvan out of the trap like a greyhound, to get his stick in place to deflect their shot high and wide over the goal. Some more ‘back & forth’ play with a splendid tackle from Derek McAslan at the top of our D to keep the Welsh out again; but minutes later the ball being fired back in by the Welsh attack drew another great save from Phil Bell. Back up the pitch again with some great passing moves by the Thistles and John Smith found himself uncharacteristically at the top of the Welsh D and his shot on goal was denied by a Welsh defender.
Later, the Yellow Dragons won a penalty corner, but a Welsh attacker encroached into the D, so the injector was sent back to half-way, the corner taken but well defended by our stalwart Thistles…
...and we ended the match with an outcome in our favour – a Thistles WIN!
Full Time: Thistles 2 – 0 Yellow Dragons
Interlude – Saturday Evening
After the day’s fun and games, we all disappeared back to our respective lodgings to shower and freshen up for the evening’s revelries. The Dragons organised a BBQ for the early evening that 4 of our number attended. They then joined the rest of us later at the ubiquitous ‘Pub on the Pond’ where the rest of us had an evening meal order waiting for us, and where we could also imbibe some revitalising fluids in the form of alcohol. As the weather was slightly inclement, i.e., a bit like the West Coast of Scotland – damp – the BBQ was run from the Café back at the Sports ground where the kitchen managed to set off the fire alarm. During this hiatus the Scottish Thistles were awarded the ‘Fair Play’ Award, familiar to us all by now as we keep winning it back at every tournament. It’s what the game at our level is all about, comradery, gamesmanship and making sure the umpires, essential to the game, are also made to feel welcome, appreciated and are not abused. After all, it is they that award the trophy! 😊 The trophy was presented to our erstwhile manager & organiser, Tim Lorimer, and our very able skipper and tactician, Neil Ward, and was accompanied by a large bottle of Blue Welsh Gin. Fortunately for everyone involved, the speeches were muted by the fire alarm, which was only quelled by someone stuffing a tea towel into the bell, before several phone calls resulted in it eventually being ‘reset’. Tim, Neil, and the others then toddled down to the ‘Pub on the Pond’ to relay the good news that the Thistles were already WINNERS. The rest of us had meanwhile tucked into our meals, discounted by 20% by some great negotiation by Tim before the tournament, and he’d even negotiated 15% discount on the drinks by getting some ‘local loyalty’ cards from the manageress. What a player and a true Scotsman. The only downside was the pub ran out of beer part way through the evening!
Sunday 31st July
Black Dragons v Thistles
As the name suggests the Black Dragons were sporting black shirts and as second named team we changed into White, Blue, Blue. Just as well as our blue tops were still damp and smelly from the day before! The Black Dragons were probably the strongest side we had encountered so far containing several Welsh Nationals. From the start it was all pressure, pressure, pressure on our 23m line and penalty corner after penalty corner resulting in first 1 goal, then another, so we were 2 – 0 down after just a short while. We penetrated their 23m area only 2 or 3 times in this frenetically defensive first half but managed to get in their D at one point when a well-placed aerial into the D from a free hit by Alan Parker dropped in behind the Welsh defence, but Paul Bateson, having lost his marker, was running backwards and failed to control the high bounce. If only!
Half Time: Black Dragons 2 – 0 Thistles
The second half was almost a carbon copy of the first half with our defence under the cosh and only being able to relieve the pressure as far as the halfway line before it came back at us again. This pressure soon resulted in another Black Dragons goal and a 0 – 3 score line in favour of the opposition. We finally managed to get the ball up to their D with a breakaway counterattack by Jim Watson and Tim Lorimer with Tim’s eventually shot being well saved by the Welsh keeper.
It did seem like our defence had the wrong size shoes on today and foot after foot in the D resulted in more penalty corners, but somehow, we managed to weather the storm. Just after this hiatus, Ian ‘Dobbin’ Dunbar made a crucial interception at the top of the D and correctly cleared towards the side line – but sadly hadn’t seen their right winger lurking just inside the D to say thank you for the ‘pass’ slapped it across the face of our goal for another Welsh forward to slap it in our net. So now 4 – 0 to the Welsh. In true ‘Robert the Bruce’ style though we Thistles never gave up and we were soon back in the 23m. A free hit was awarded and Jim Watson, being the nearest, stepped up to take the hit. Mutters on the bench of ‘Why doesn’t he leave it to a midfielder to take and get into the D himself’ were soon quelled by Jim taking the ball 5m and laying it off with pinpoint accuracy to Brian de Mattos who shoots, saved by the Welsh national keeper, Roger Parr, but it rebounds straight back to Brian’s stick, and he calmly lobs it over Roger’s prone form into the back of the Welsh net.
Redemption and now 4 – 1 to the Welsh. Still the Black Dragons pressed us hard and won a penalty corner that was struck so fiercely out by the injector, it bypassed all his players at the top of the D and made it all the way out to our left wing. Unfortunately, we failed to capitalise on the good fortune, probably because of the surprise, and we only managed to get as far as their 23m before it was turned over and coming our way again. Our defence though were defiant and kept the Welsh at bay until the final whistle.
Full Time: Black Dragons 4 – 1 Thistles
LX England v Thistles
Billed as the ‘Clash of the Titans’ the Thistles, still in White, Blue, Blue, took on a depleted LX England club side in ‘red’ shirts who ‘borrowed’ one of the troublesome Welsh national players from the game we’d just played. Undeterred by our earlier defeat we resolved to do ‘battle’ resplendent in our White tops and playing a tactical 4-4-2 formation we got off to a steady start, as did LX, and within minutes Paul Bateson lifted a ball from outside their 23m line, over their defensive line and into their D, for that consummate centre forward, Tim Lorimer, to latch onto on the run, pounce and volley the ball into their net. Thistles up 0 -1 already! What a start!
LX redoubled their efforts and almost immediately won a penalty corner but failed to convert on this occasion. Winning another penalty corner, a little later this time saw their fierce strike expertly deflected by John Smith into our own net. Bad luck John – just a few inches higher and it would have cleared the bar and would have been ‘safe’. Now honours even at 1 – 1 there was more pressure from LX that was soaked up by our excellent defence and a stunning save by our keeper, Phil Bell, yet again. Still the ‘Red Coats’ pressed their advance but shot wide in open play and nearly, but not quite, converted from a long corner.
Half Time: LX England 1 – 1 Thistles
In this second half Thistles roared into the attack and after several free hits just outside their D we managed to force a penalty corner. Injected by Jim Watson to Tim Lorimer, Tim struck the ball ‘sort of firmly’ as Paul Bateson ran into the right-hand post and watched spell bound as the ball slowly trundled past the LX keepers left foot. It was as if his feet had been glued to the line! But what of the reason? It was another Thistle goal and so now the score line was back in our favour at 1 – 2. We repelled further onslaughts and gave back as good as we got right up until 90 seconds to go when a misdemeanour in our D resulted in the umpire, Graham Reynolds, awarding LX a penalty corner. Nails bitten to the quick the Thistles on the half-way line could only watch in dismay as a well struck shot from the top of the D slammed into our backboard with only 69 seconds left on the clock.
Full Time: LX England 2 – 2 Thistles
A thoroughly enjoyable weekend and our thanks and gratitude must go to Jeff Robinson of the Welsh Dragons for the excellent organisation, to all the umpires, both those from the squads, and the ‘independents’, like Graham Reynolds, for keeping us all on track during the games, to Neil Ward for his excellent Captaincy and tactical advice, and finally to Tim Lorimer for organising us all (probably a bit like herding cats some of the time I’ve no doubt) as well arranging the food and drinks discount at the Pub on the Pond. Roll on next year!
Your Reporters: Jim Watson / Paul Bateson
Author: Paul Bateson