Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hogge Wild

I am reading through my collection of football books this summer -- Wetherell's "Soccer Dad"; Richard Williams' "Perfect 10"; McGinnss' "Miracle of Castel di Sangro"; Chuck Culpepper's "Bloody Confused"; and, now, the phenomenal "Outcasts United." Culpepper's "Bloody Confused," about Pompey's 2006-2007 EPL campaign, was much better than I expected. The book's coverage coincides with our first year of going to EPL matches ... and Charlton Athletic's relegation. Culpepper's book touches on an event that, in retrospect, clearly portended doom for CAFC: Charlton's dismissal from the Carling Cup on November 11, 2006 (from the quarterfinals no less) at the hands of the Wycombe Wanderers at The Valley.

Having traveled to The Valley for the Coca-Cola Championship opening match against Scunthorpe two years ago and having sat on the edge of my seat listening to the radio commentary of the league opener against Swansea last year, this morning we packed up a bag and headed down to the zoo right when the Charlton-Wycombe fixture kicked off. I checked in on the score through Charlton Life at half-time and then fifteen minutes from time and, in light of the tension that roiled the conclusion of today's win, I am thrilled that we were checking out paiche and roseate spoonbills rather than me sitting miserably at home hoping that Charlton could hold on.

Perhaps I'll be able to use CAFCTV next week, but for the time being I appreciate the distance.

We followed up the zoo trip with another visit to Richard Montgomery High School to watch Real Maryland's final home match of the USL2 season. Due to traffic on the beltway, we arrived late and by the time we sat down the Bermuda Hogges were down 2-0 and hell had broken loose. Bermuda traveled with the most obnoxious USL2 fans/members of the club that we've yet witnessed at a league match. This group of late 30s/early 40s pie-eating aficionados hollered continuously at any perceived prejudice against their Hogges -- not, in itself, unusual or improper. What amazed, however, was that the Hogges' players themselves responded back to the fans and used the incitement to ridicule the referee. At one point, Bermuda's Blenn Bean approached either the fourth official or the line judge and pointedly asked him if he would referee the game. The harassment and, honestly, unprecedented whining from the players of the worst team in the USL2 continued until Bermuda's coach (I think it was Jack Castle) got tossed from the game and, after further pointless arguments, was escorted off of a high school football field by a police officer (while Bermuda's fans/owners/frat boys shouted helpful aphorisms like "Shoot Him!"). After Coach Castle's (?) departure, it looked as if co-owner Paul Scope ("the Hogges are not folding") left his roost amongst the Bermuda fans to sit on the bench and further augment the ruinous interactions between the small group and the team. (It may not have been Scope -- I have a hard time distinguishing between middle-aged obnoxious white men).

Just when it seemed as if Bermuda was fully intent on self-implosion, Ryan Cordeiro struck again. This time getting in an altercation on a dead ball with a Hogges player that resulted in what appeared to be a head butt from the Hogges player and Cordeiro doing an impression of Dida touched by a Scottish fan for five minutes. Cordeiro got tossed, the Hogges player got tossed, and the Hogges scored two quick goals in succession -- the second on a penalty kick in extra time -- to go into the half tied.

The absurdity of the events was, in part, fascinating but, unfortunately, was more of an embarrassment than anything else. The numbers of Hogges supporters relative to Real Maryland supporters was impressive and, again, the small group of boisterous supporters did nothing terribly out of bounds. But egging the players on and constantly seeking to throw matches on the tinderbox down on the field reflected horrific judgment. The tension broke a bit when the most obnoxious member of the group volunteered to go down into goal during the half to provide ... to provide ... I would guess either (1) comic relief or (2) an impersonation of a garden gnome statute for two of the Hogges' reserve players. Not as good as the dancing trombonist from last night's Mystics match, but almost as funny (even if not intentionally).

The second half calmed down considerably, to the point of near boredom. But after a brilliant header that put the Hogges up a goal, Kevin King -- a player who put in what I thought was a terrible performance for Crystal Palace last year in their end of the season match against Bermuda -- took over. An insane strike from outside the box that curled past Bermuda's helpless goalkeeper into the left corner of the net helped explain why the former Harbour View player took (and missed terribly) so many speculative shots for Crystal Palace last season. King consistently frustrated the Hogges' backline, dancing by their center halves and floating out on the left wing to set up Real Maryland's attack. King's work and the renewed vigor of an almost unrecognizable Real Maryland squad soon led to a fourth and winning goal that should put the team into the playoffs. The last thing heard from the small group of vocal Hogges' supporters: "Will someone please mark number 11?"

Strange game.

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