Ben Pullan reports on a match that will go down in history as one of the most breathtaking exhibitions of sheer skill ever seen on the Rubber Crumb, or indeed anywhere:
Never has Exeter University sport seen such a titanic clash as Xpression Sport’s third annual charity football match, played out between Xpression FC and the All-Stars XI on March 23 at the Rubber Crumb.
There was skill. There was drama. There was heartbreak. But as both teams left the pitch, bruised and battered, with the score 1-0 to the All-Stars, everyone knew that they had taken part in something very special.
Later on that day, the Bernabeu would hold one of the most exciting El Clasicos of recent times, but it was nothing compared to the scenes at the Crumb. Be it future VP Activities and All-Star captain Matthew Bate’s Messi-esque performance to inspire his team to victory, to DJ Lawless’s incredible attempt at one of the most mind-boggling own goals ever seen, this game had everything.
A glance at the two team sheets before the game was enough to send shivers down the spine; for it pitted some of Exeter’s greatest galacticos – names such as Higham, Curtis and Louch – against Monday Arena’s finest, those boys and girls who waste away hours of their lives ranting on air about sport to a negligible listenership.
It was always going to be an earth-shattering clash, and as the game kicked off just after 12 noon, the tension was palpable.
The early exchanges hinted that the contest would live up to its billing. It quickly became apparent that the All-Stars had considerable pace up front, but this was absorbed well by the heavyweight pairing in central midfield of LNLS cupid Alex Manning and, in particular, intramural journeyman Sam Buxey. Indeed, the man they call the ‘white pony’ went on to have a fantastic game in this role, using his ‘athletic’ physique to fill the hole in front of the defence.
These two were well supported from behind by an Xpression back four that ranged from the lofty heights of Ben “Crunch ‘im!” Cartwright to the, er, slightly less lofty heights of Ted ‘Tad Moon’ Mahon. Alongside these were “the most attractive channel islander” on the team, Doug Statt, as well as Mr. Xpression Sport himself and all-round casanova Dougie Wilson. There was no doubt where the women in the ground were looking…
Nevertheless, the All-Stars looked much stronger in attack than the Xpression boys, as Higham, Carter and Chaplin showed Messrs Warden, Topp and Beeson how to link well with pace. They had an ace in the pack, as well, with Xpression FC traitor Bate dominating the left wing. It was he who got the first genuine shot on goal, a scintillating left-footed edge-of-the-box blast, which was well kept out by Xpression keeper Alex Whitington.
Great save by Whitington as Matt Bate comes close to scoring #CharityMatchIII
— Exeposé Sport (@ExeposeSport) March 23, 2014
Despite Bate’s unquestionable BNOC status, the Xpression lads had highlighted their opposing skipper as someone they could target in the All-Stars XI (presumably owing to their knowledge of his playing style), but he went on to play perhaps the best 70 minutes of his career. The All-Stars’ dominance was rewarded 19 minutes in what can only be described as some intramural Div. 3 defending. Whitington, presumably planning his show for that evening, was caught unawares by Chaplin, who left him completely stranded at the edge of his box. Statt did his best to block the shot, but could only turn the ball into the top right, giving the All-Stars a 1-0 lead.
Justice was restored however, as player/manager Topp turned to his beacon of light on the bench to provide the answers, hoping presumably that Henry’s new shining golden lid could blind the opposing defenders. He was partnered by the slightly less elaborate Edgington, who, to the surprise of everyone, out-played his partner and added a new verve to Xpression’s erstwhile stagnant attack.
Justice’s hair only rivalled by the severe haircut Ben Pullan is sporting on the sub bench, ale in hand — Exeposé Sport (@ExeposeSport) March 23, 2014
Topp looked to enhance this further by the addition of the bromantic duo of Nick ‘DJ Lawless’ Lawley and the gentle giant Dan Hull-Sieff. Despite the undoubted chemistry between the two, it became apparent that this comes to the fore better on a quiet night in with Game of Thrones on the box than on a football pitch; nevertheless, they gave their all in search of that elusive equalizer.
Also, the gaffer, who by his standards was not having a Topp game, also began to find some form on his wing, but the All-Stars’ defence remained strong – ensuring that Xpression would go into half time 1-0 down. To the surprise of many, star player and spectators’ heartthrob Ben Pullan had not been introduced as yet, but Topp knew that, in this time of crisis, Xpression FC needed a hero.
Adding a degree of elegance and control that had not been seen thus far, Pullan, whose playing style has often been described as more South American than English surely did enough to book himself a place on the plane to Brazil, and, furthermore, a starting berth in the middle of the park up against his old adversary Andrea Pirlo.
A few girls on the pitch now but Ben Cartwright is not one of them, despite some fans thinking otherwise — Exeposé Sport (@ExeposeSport) March 23, 2014
To add a little more physicality, Statt and Manning were replaced by wrecking balls Freya Godfrey and Abi Paterson. Godfrey, in particular, used her size advantage to keep Higham firmly in her back pocket, but still Xpression struggled going forward.
Lawley decided that, with the All-Stars’ defence proving impossible to break down, the best way to entertain the crowd was to turn round and have a 30-yard pop at his own net. It was executed to perfection; flying off the side of the boot, it curved beautifully and rattled the woodwork. No-one, either on the pitch or off it, had ever seen such an audacious attempt.
UNBELIEVABLE SCENES. DJ Lawless running to his own goal and inexplicably smashes his upright from 30 yards. Would have been og of the season — Exeposé Sport (@ExeposeSport) March 23, 2014
Some of the Xpression players were still looking to score in the opposition net. Joe Alexander and Will Baker, coming off the bench, looked good, and the French flair of international star striker Will Sohler was beginning to show. As the game entered its final stages, desperately searching for a goal, Topp controversially decided to take off Pullan and return to something resembling Xpression’s starting line-up.
Surprisingly, this looked to be paying dividends, as Xpression’s midfield began to send searching balls forward. One of these, in the final minutes of the game, was latched onto by Sohler, but the record fee signing was only able to hit the upright.
Warden attempts to run onto a through ball but his little legs can’t run fast enough
— Exeposé Sport (@ExeposeSport) March 23, 2014
This meant sadly that the game would not provide Xpression Sport legend Wilson with the fairytale finale he deserved, as the game ended 1-0 to the All-Stars. Nevertheless, the iconic leader left the pitch with his head held high, and wallowed in the admiration of the adoring crowd.
In his post-match press conference, Wilson described what an honour it had been to lead Xpression Sport both on and off the pitch, leaving not a dry eye in the house.bookmark me