So, after six hard-fought games, the day had finally arrived.
The tweaking of tactics, recruitment of fresh faces and refining of individual training schedules all led to this moment. My first competitive match in the Vanarama North League at home to Harrogate Town, and with it, my first meaningful step towards Champions League glory.
In the hours before kick off my Chairman Anthony Sampson called me into his portacabin to do his best to unnerve my pre-match preparations. Expecting a friendly and reassuring arm around the shoulder, I was left somewhat slightly unnerved by him choosing this moment to deliver the Board’s expectations of me. Anthony made very clear to me that failure to achieve the ‘promises’ I’d made upon my appointment would result in a rather premature delivery of my P45. I cast my mind back a few months and immediately cursed my naive excitement and over-zealousness (I had assured the Board that I’d lead the club to the league’s playoffs, 4th qualifying round in the FA Cup and first round in the FA Trophy).
Hoping that a broad grin would mask my sudden feeling of panic I gave Anthony a reassuring pat on the shoulder (which I immediately regretted, why did I not learn from my incident with Brede a few weeks earlier?) and made my excuses. I had the team talks of all team talks to deliver, and the sobering discussion we’d just had simply reinforced the fact that my livelihood was very much now on the line. It was time to deliver.
Despite sight favourites (6-4) for the match I didn’t share the bookies’ optimism as Harrogate got the game underway. While the last game still lingered on my mind I desperately hoped that my players had done a better job of focusing on the task at hand.
It turned out they had. Only 10 minutes in Jackman made one of his trademark runs down the left flank and floated a high, deep cross into Harrogate’s box. I don’t whether it was the dazzling sun, or the rather intimidating ‘woooah’ from the impressive 500 home supporters, but their keeper Peter Crook made an early contender for the howler of the season by slicing his attempted punch into the roof of his own net.
I barely had time to uncouple from a rather awkward embrace with Brede (seriously, when will I learn?) when our early advantage was quickly wiped out with a loose ball being rifled past Ethan Ross from the edge of the area.
I feared the worse. I feared my boys would capitulate under the pressure. However, once again I was pleasingly proved wrong. Danny Jackman made yet another surging run down the left wing and floated a long, high ball into the box. Despite Crook’s nervous flapping he managed to avoid another embarrassing own-goal, however this time the ball instead ended up in front of Evans who nodded in to retake the lead for City. Half time 2-1.
Any hopes for an early home goal to kill off the second half were soon dampened with Harrogate hitting us on the counter attack early in the second half. Knowles was left in too much space with Chambers and co pushed too far up the pitch for a potentially game-deciding corner and he easily poked the ball past Ross after being found following a long clearance from their penalty area.
With the game drifting away to a draw I decided to throw caution to the wind, bringing both Steele and Shariff into the mix. With only minutes left on the clock my masterful substitution had the immediate impact I had hope for, with Steele setting up Hughes for an unbelievable chance only for him to be cynically scythed down in the Harrogate area.
There were literally seconds on the clock. Our fans went from riotous excitement to completely silence. A goal now, so late in the game, would surely mean 3 points and a perfect start to my competitive reign in charge of Worcester City. I sent Nelson-Abby up to take the penalty (who else?). This guy had been on fire in pre-season and deserved the opportunity to become the hero.
The crowd erupted with cheers and continued bouncing with joy until the final whistle was blown moments later. Worcester City had won their inaugural game of the season 3-2, and with it took one step towards achieving my lofty ambitions. The perfect start.
Hell, I noticed even Brede managed to crack a smile.