Friday, 3 October 2014

Coptic Orthodox Football Tournament Association (COFTA) 2014 - Article by Samuel Michail

We were all missing a bit of COFTA in our lives. With no tournament in 2013, it had been too long. So we all strapped on the shin-pads, tied up our boots, and got going on the 10th annual Coptic Orthodox Football tournament. Golders Green and the hosts, Stevenage, joined the holders and pre-tournament favourites, Brighton, in Group A. The 2012 runners-up, Croydon found themselves in what appeared a challenging group B with our friends from the north, Nottingham and Rotherham.

And so we began. Despite the fact that we were awoken at 5:00am on Saturday morning to the sounds of a thunderstorm, we didn’t allow that to rain on our parade as we marched out onto the oh so familiar pitches in Shephalbury Park.

The opening game in group A was a tentative affair with neither Golders Green nor Brighton able to find the breakthrough, and it ended a goalless draw, a result which should’ve been repeated when Golders faced Stevenage, but for a Golders goal which the Croydon linesman deemed to have crossed the line. Despite numerous onlookers, the players AND the ref believing it hadn’t, he was adamant it did and the game ended 1-0. No, I’m not bitter at all. When Brighton faced Stevenage, the St George boys defended like warriors and for all Brighton’s attacking flair, they just couldn’t find a way through our resolute defence, until a penalty was awarded for a handball that wasn’t, and it was coolly slotted home. Stevenage found themselves in the familiar position of “If we win our next two games by large margins we can still go through”, as we walked into lunch.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of group B’s game isn’t as in depth as it should be as I was so indulged in the events of my team and my group. However, the highlights include an inspired fight back from Nottingham against Croydon, rescuing a point after being 2-0 down thanks to two headers from their striker Nduoma Chilaki, and an Amir Ameen hat-trick giving Rotherham the three points they needed. Going into lunch, it was clear that group B would have a much tighter finish then that of group A.

We hobbled back onto the pitches, our muscles aching and our stomach’s filled with spaghetti bolognaise, determined to find out who will compete in Sundays semi-finals. Group A resumed very similar to how it started, with a close match between the holders and Golders, ending 1-0 to Brighton. This flung the group wide open but as soon as Golders defeated Stevenage 2-0, we had lost all hope of qualifying and the final game between Brighton and Stevenage ended up being a chance to rest those in need of rest and give the whole squad a run out.

Group B was much tighter as expected. Croydon found their form thanks to some inspired team talks from John Halaka and Anthony Daniel, to beat the Nottingham boys, this time managing to hold onto their lead. Nottingham then beat Rotherham, so it was down to the final game. Croydon v Rotherham. The winner joins Nottingham in the semi final. A draw suited Croydon. It was beautifully poised for a thrilling finish. Rotherham take the lead. Half time. Anthony tells his boys, ‘get me the ball, I will make something happen’. Amir Ameen takes on responsibility of man-marking Anthony. Dying moments, Amir looses his man, Anthony is free, and he scores! The Croydon fans erupt, Rotherham heartbroken. Croydon see the game out at 1-1 and they’ve done it! (Sorry for picking on you there Amir)

And so, the day was almost over. We hobbled back into the cathedral to end the day in the unity of prayer as we prayed Vespers together. The topic of the Vespers sermon by HG Bishop Angaelos was about fellowship and our responsibility to encourage and support one another not just on the football pitch, but spiritually as well.

Sunday would offer us the chance to see a repeat of the 2012 final. Brighton v Croydon on first and they would play the winner of Golders Green v Nottingham in the final. The day started on a lovely note as we were joined by Bishop Moussa to pray the mass with us. Following that, rooms were tidied, brunch was taken and then everyone got into game mode. Brighton opened the scoring, with Mina ‘Deutch’ Muharib bagging his fourth of the campaign. Croydon went for it, they had to, they threw the kitchen sink at it. However, inevitably with them pushing on so hard, gaps were created and Brighton took full advantage as they grabbed the goal that sent them to the final on the break. Another deep and inspiring team talk delivered by John and they promised to be back even stronger next year.

Semi-final number 2 saw Golders Green start at a rapid pace as they took a quick 2-goal lead, which should’ve been extended even more. However, as the Nottingham team has already shown us this tournament, they are not ones to give up and feel sorry for themselves. Captain Mark Khalil rallied the troupes as they gave it everything against the tiring Golders boys and they pulled level before the final whistle went. The nerving affair of a penalty shootout to come. Nottingham scored all their penalties, they had ice running through their veins, but regrettably the Golders boys couldn’t do the same and they were knocked out. Hani Mohib, the Golders coach, lamented the fact they couldn’t hold on to a 2-0 lead, but also exclaimed just how proud he was of his boys and what a fantastic job they’ve done. I second that, Hani.

And now onto the COFTA 2014 Final. The atmosphere was filled with a mixture of tension, excitement and nerves. Nottingham found themselves in the lead when the tournaments top-scorer, Nduoma, ‘scored’ a simply stunning bending and curling free-kick. He ended the tournament with 5 goals, the free-kick deemed to have gone in of the keepers heel, so awarded as an own-goal. However, Brighton fought back and levelled the scoring, but when Nottingham scored again, Brighton had to summon every last ounce of energy to hold on to their trophy, which has found home with them for the last 4 years. Lead by the incredible, player of the tournament, Ashley Brown they produced wave after wave of attacks, but David Morgan was an absolute rock in defence. The few times they did manage to get behind him, the captain, and winner of the golden glove award, Mark Khalil pulled of some simply outstanding saves. The final whistle blew and the celebrations began! Everyone joined in the group bundle, including the Nottingham priest. Thrilling scenes. Nottingham lifted the famous cup as the Brighton boys looked on, vowing to come back stronger next year, with captain Mikael stating that training will go up to three times a week! Congratulations to Nottingham and well done Brighton for playing your part in what was a thrilling final. 

I personally can’t wait till COFTA 2015. I would like to thank everyone who made this tournament so successful, from the kitchen staff, to the fans, to the players to the priests and bishops and to all the captains, coaches and managers. See you all next September!

                                                                                                                                                      Samuel Michail