NUMFC 1s - Jesse Cook (1s Captain)
Last year’s season had been cut short by the first wave of COVID-19 so when the news broke that grassroots football could return in Summer 2020, optimism and excitement manifested into a tantalising pre-season. Magdala Amateurs and Hemington Hammers provided both a great opportunity to rotate rusty legs as well as tinker with formations ahead of the season. Two wins out of two left the skipper with selection headaches and confidence, surely it couldn’t be this straightforward?
With the season confirmed, a lot of paperwork and behind the scenes action saw a training plan resurrected and booked as it finally looked as though some footballing consistency may be established amidst the ongoing uncertainty. However, the villain of the piece reared its ugly head and the NUMFC 1’s side were hit with isolations, hampered trainings, and found themselves with 0 points after the first 3 matches. Lockdown number 2 arrived in October and all football was once again suspended. The momentum and excitement towards the campaign was crumbling and with the strains of COVID-19 health and safety ever-present, hopes of a successful season were fading.
After a nervous wait, football was again allowed to restart. After the disappointments of the first three matches, the captain felt it was time training was revamped and the system was tightened. The squad responded excellently, and confidence started to return. The first victory arrived in the first match back after lockdown 2.0 in the form of a cup thrashing where the true qualities of this gifted 1’s team shone through. The team looked to take this form into the final match before Christmas, an away league game to Arnold. Here the football spoke for itself, the shape of the team had improved 10-fold, players knew their roles and Arnold were left chasing shadows as our boys took a 3-0 lead. It seemed as though things were slotting into place however panic followed complacency and the match ended 3-3. Despite achieving the first league points of the campaign, it felt like a loss, and it was hard to not let it overshadow what had been the perfect performance for 60 minutes. To make matters worse, lockdown 3 arrived and this time no-one knew if football would be back this year.
It wasn’t until the 25th of April that the NUMFC 1’s returned to matchday football. Due to the nature of the lockdown many hadn’t been able to return to university and the boys found themselves with several games in hand. This, in some ways, was a blessing; it allowed the team to look forward and see just how many points were required to remain competitive. Unfortunately, the first match back was away to league leaders Priory Celtics. I do not exaggerate when I say this was one of the most unpleasant football matches I’ve ever played in. Priory started with the confidence of a team playing a bottom table side but were shocked upon realising that this NUMFC 1s side had been cruelly misrepresented by the current league standings. The score line ebbed and flowed until half time where NUMFC led 2-1 against a side already reduced to 10 men. The control of the match had already wobbled at multiple stages in the first half but the NUMFC lads were not phased, no one had shirked a challenge or seemed daunted by the affair. The second half struggled for quality, remaining bitty and hostile, and eventually finishing 3-3. However, unlike the 3-3 against Arnold, this result brought confidence within the group. We matched, and outplayed in many departments, a top of the league side who had to lower the tone of the match to find some points.
That draw catalysed a scary run of form for the 1’s where it was clear to see that their true position belonged far higher in the table. Four points were taken from second place Hemington hammers in a double header with veteran Oliver (Calves) Barnard excelling with a shock stint in goal. Then six points were taken from a double header with Notts united, the always dangerous attacking force of Gracethorne, Holden, Cookie and Kazi really starting to click. The maximum points against Meadows left the 1’s needing 2 wins and a draw to finish second in the league after what had been a very below par start. Next up were Poets, the team holding on to that second place position.
The lads went into the match with no fear. It was a great game, both teams played football in good spirits trying to break the other down and work the key chance. It was Poets who notched first and found themselves 1-0 up at half time. After a substitution and slight system change, the 1’s went back out knowing a loss would not be enough. Some excellent football and clinical finishing by Cowling up top left the medics with a 2-1 lead with seconds to go. Credit where its due, Poets did not stop playing and pushing and eventually, with the last kick of the game, equalised to finish the game at 2-2. It left the league on a knife edge; Poets had played all their games whereas NUMFC had one double header left against the very competitive Fanzines united where only 6 points would be enough to get to second.
The Fanzines game was not one to be missed. From the first whistle NUMFC controlled the ball, they looked solid at the back and dangerous up top. Eventually, the performance drew what it deserved and Gracethorne scored the goal to put NUMFC 1-0 to the good at half time. The second half was not as simple. Fanzines came out with a point to prove, they pressed higher, worked harder and took their chance when it came. 1-1. With anything less than a win not enough, NUMFC pressed on and on creating countless chances. When at last the whistle called an end to the match at 1-1, the team were exhausted, their effort not only in this match but throughout the season could not be faulted. It was to be third place, a result that gets better the longer you leave it to sink in and something the lads should be very proud of. The final match of the double header was played with next years captain Sam Holden at the helm, a spirited performance saw NUMFC win the game 2-0 and round off a season that saw them unbeaten since October!
This was a season of disruptions and difficulties however the truly impressive element is that football fought on throughout everything else going on in the world. This team has evolved throughout the year, the stalwarts of the team such as Harker, Lawton, Atkinson, and Barnard clicking with emerging talents of Young, Wise, and Wood. It was a season to be built on and it is a team I was immensely proud to captain and be a part of. I wish all the boys moving on the best of luck in the future, and I have full faith Sam will bring home the silverware this team deserves next year.
NUMFC 2s - Tom Smith (2s Captain)
Overall, it was a very successful season for the 2’s despite many disruptions. A strong end to the campaign solidified a 5th place finish for one of the strongest 2’s squads I have been a part of. One of the biggest successes this season has been establishing a core group of committed lads that play week in week out and we hope to add to that group with the new intake of first years arriving in Notts in September.
Paul Roberts finished as top goalscorer with 4 goals following a strong campaign for the forward. Gavin Harman was voted as the player’s player of the season and Ismaeel Malik was my vote for captain’s player of the season. I have personally really enjoyed the challenge of captaining the side this year and believe the team is very well set up to do even better next season under the captaincy of Tomos Plant with several areas already being identified for improvement.