Pep Guardiola became friends with chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov while taking a sabbatical from football in New York. It may seem an unlikely friendship until you realise both are masters in a field where you need to anticipate an opponent’s moves and counter them accordingly. Both are masters of assessing their own weakness and dealing with them before their opponents are aware of them.
Hubris is not a crime, but in making any link between myself and Guardiola or Kasparov, I am certainly guilty of it however every time Montpelier Villa Women score, concede or just play and even when they don’t play, I can’t help but think of Kasparov, Guardiola and ultimately what does the opposition know about us that we don’t already know about ourselves.
I’m Skip Kelly and I coach Montpelier Villa Women. Because of this I live in a constant state of paranoia. Melodrama isn’t a crime either. This season has been defined by our games against Pagham. We beat them 5-3 in the second game of the season, this was to be their only loss in the league as they went on an incredible winning streak including a heart-breaking 92nd minute winner in the return fixture. Results elsewhere meant Pagham finished the season as league champions however the cup semi-final presented us with the opportunity for revenge.
Despite the distance between the teams, there is a lot of mutual respect and admiration between the teams. Pagham began their women’s team the same year as us and have navigated the murky depths of sexism and discrimination that is grassroots womens football since. As more and more established mens sides begin to address decades of inequality by investing in the women’s game, many of our rivals are in a position to offer incentives to play. Neither Pagham or Montpelier Villa are in a position to do this. Both teams don’t just play for the love of the game, they pay for the privilege. All the more reason to win.
The Eurovision Song Contest and the Mens FA Cup Final were the scheduled curtain-raisers with the former being more fitting for the explosive chess match that awaited. Our plan was to use our strength on the flanks to overpower them, forcing their resources out wide leaving their king and queen exposed. Their plan was to score two goals in the opening 25 minutes. Unfortunately their plan was simple, effective and ultimately did not attempt to mix sporting metaphors and as a result after 25 minutes, we were two goals down.
Half-time provided a welcome opportunity to assess our own weaknesses and attempt to address those weaknesses before the opposition found out about them.
However we were in the unfortunate position that the opponent was not only aware of our biggest weakness but had inflicted it, leaving one of their knights staring at our king in the form of a two-goal deficit. The twenty minutes that had passed since their second goal had enabled us to implement our plan which gave the players a tremendous boost. I then loudly declared that we still have all our pieces to many bemused faces which was when I realised this was the first time I had externalized the chess metaphor.
When Kasparov defeated a team made up of all willing participants in the world in 1999, he declared, “it was the greatest game in the history of chess.” Kasparov can have his opinions about chess but if he was in Pagham when we scored two goals in two minutes to equalise then he would have thought this game might just rival chess. If he was in Pagham when we scored an 87th minute winner to secure our place in a cup-final against our main rivals, he would have said this is the greatest game in history. Hyperbole isn’t a crime either.
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