In Charles Dickens’s The Christmas Carol, three spirits— Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet To Come — visit the wealthy but miserly protagonist, Scrooge. In a similar vein, the Gogs visited Hammersmith and Fulham, who are not known to be generous with easy points. What ensued was a match not short of spirit (of any variety).


Some Gogs, including your humble narrator, were a bit haunted by a more tangible form of Christmas: in the shape of beverages, pies and cosy comforts. Except, Batesy. Our beloved prop has taken up the “Couch-to-5k” challenge, increasing the competition for spots in the back 3 (one hopes the club authorities will have a stern word). This Christmas Past rustiness was evident in the opening ten minutes. With the scrum collapsing, and tackling timing off, the first points for the Hammers went on the board per the worst case scenarios. The signs looked ominous.


Then, suddenly, the ball went to the wing. MoM Aaron Ferguson made a blast of a run

— the first of many feisty contributions in the game. After cantering about thirty yards or so, the burst of speed seemed to confuse even its author. Had the referee blown the whistle? Was he even on the right pitch? Was it Spring Hill? Hackney Marshes? A hill of rice with a hidden castle and waterfalls in the Arctic circle? Did he, mid-flight, catch a vision of the dulcet tones of Africa being played in Mascara, while he was held aloft, bare-torso, celebrated by his team-mates? Alas, this pause allowed the opposition to catch up with him. However, the spell had been broken. A penalty was soon conceded by the Hammers, and then it became apparent that Christmas had actually been kind to a few select Gogs.


That the Manton boot was now recovered and in form was apparent from the beautifully looped restart kick-offs, which elicited murmurs of approval even from the opposition’s supporters. It was windy, but Hanton confidently slotted the penalty from distance, and Hackney’s first three points were on the board. To buttress the point, that the Gogs are not a team of welcome mats, was Matt Fielden at 9. The Cambridge graduate, now increasingly on the mend from injury, put in an admirably two-half shift, helped out in the back, and impressed massively, digging out and delivering a reliable abuse. Er, ball. The veteran 9-10 Matt dynamic, apart from young Ferguson’s ferocity (with more contributions from Hackney’s youngest players, Charlie Killoran, Spencer, Laurie Benson, and Alistair Duffey) would be key to keeping the Hammers well down from their usual 50 points (and, more) victory margins in the league. It was also good to see the return of seasoned warhorse, Michael Waithe. 


Hackney, with exhortations from the captain, Kieran “Structure” Murray (who got massively crunched only twice this game, dislocating but one mere finger) entrenched itself in the opposition 22. They camped there for most of the half. Unfortunately, Hammersmith, confident of their defence, ability to effect turn-overs and counter-attack with ball in hand, sat back and soaked the pressure well. Frustratingly, they broke out, almost against the grain of play, too regularly. At the half, the Hammers established a decent lead, poised to inflict more damage. But there was, a small chance of Hackney pulling it back.


As the half progressed, Hackney now faced a late afternoon winter sun, blindingly low on the horizon. Here the near-dark pre-season Spring Hill practices finally proved their utility. The sun also seemed to induce some kind of stupor in the Hammers, who again sat back, content to soak up Hackney’s love for one-man charges into the chest of their nearest opponent. But the pace of the attack was improving. This time, however, Hackney did manage to breach the defence, and, boy, was it glorious.


It was not glorious because the try came on the back of some good, structured play in the sixty-ninth minute. It was not glorious because the sun was shining. It was not glorious because the style of scoring was a homage to the much missed Shorey #ShoreyComeBack. Not because the scorer had to catch the ball on instinct, near-blind against the harsh sun (knowing full well what an away try means on this pitch and venue of past horrors). Not because the scorer was put through, once again, by an unselfish, fizzing pass by Matt Hanton. No, the try was glorious simply because it was scored by your humble narrator.


But Hanton was not done. The ball had been touched down in the farthest corner, leaving a zero-angle conversion. Almost as glorious as the late winter sun was the curving trajectory of the conversion. It was trick-shot Youtubesque.


Sadly, the consequence of this impunity was to rouse the slumbering beast. Hammers started attacking again, and managed one more try, deflating our attempts at getting another past them. The last ten minutes were some of the most intense and ferocious of the match. The opposition 9 couldn’t bear Fielden’s harassment anymore, kicking out and tripping an opponent by the shins (with only a minute left on the clock). This elicited a yellow card from the referee who had taken a fairly laissez-faire attitude to things (including, what some allege, was a slightly-forward, fizzing unselfish pass for a glorious score on a foreign field). But it also meant that while mostly well-meaning and even tempered, the game was a proper smash-up, and the Gogs were not found wanting in the physicality.


So, a decent result against the Hammers, compared to many others in the league. We almost matched the table-toppers in the second half. While the actual victory may not be Hackney’s, the moral victory truly belonged to, er, Hammersmith and Fulham— who won hard, fair and square. The hosts served excellent post-match snacks, too.


The Dickens of the matter revealed by this game is this: the players of Hackney’s past have a lot of champagne left in the reservoir; the younger players of Hackney’s present are eager to blaze their own trails; and who knows, with a little bit of STRUCTURE: who can say what lies in the games of the Christmasses yet to come?


PLAYER RATINGS (COURTESY OF GUEST CONTRIBUTOR M. HANTON)


1) Michael Waithe (7/10)

A very welcome return to the Gogs pack, featuring one magnificent static hand off to the face of a Hammer.


2) Spencer Elliot (9/10)

He’s basically Rolfin, with a not quite as good phone. Carrying threat all day, made a huge amount of tackles, and popped up at full back before putting in a preposterous 40m touchfinder, possibly just because he can. Saying all that, probably needs a few more games in the Gogs before progressing up the teams (again).


3) Darren Griffin (7/10)

Propped, hooked, and rolled back the years with one glorious marauding run in the first half. Very fortunate to avoid DoD* for not bringing boots of any kind to this rugby match played on mud.

*because we’re not the kind of club that does DoD, except we are, and the skipper gave it to himself so he could have a free pint, which thinking about it is a DoD-worthy move. Very meta.


4) Charlie Killoran (7/10)

Another successful outing for the former Bull, and prior to that stint in Mascara Bar, a successful game of rugby as well.

5) Dave Bates (100/10)

Started at second row because the former 10 and former Emperor Griffin deemed himself a better propping option (or possibly a worse second row option, not clear which). Batesy is therefore halfway to his ultimate aim of becoming a 10.

6) Alistair Duffey (8/10)

Seemed to make at least 20 tackles, which is 20 tackles I didn’t have to (attempt to) make, which is very pleasing indeed.


7) Ben Graham (7/10)

A relatively quiet day for Ben, by his own admission, at least until he had to drag the kit bag 3 miles to H&F’s bar at which point he very much found his voice.


8) Andrew Collins (8/10)

After no one had seen him for 4 months, Andy’s love for rugby has been rekindled by 80 mins of champagne rugby with the 4s on Hampstead Heath. Found himself in the second row by process of elimination and did so without complaint. Loves a dry white wine, either with a curry or straight from the bag.

9) Matt Fielden (8/10)

Bossed the pack and the back line and the ref simultaneously. Went to Cambridge, you know.

10) Matt Hanton (2/2, from the tee)

Not anywhere near as good as Shu’s write up suggests, but ego prevents editorial amendments being made.


11) Arran Ferguson (9.69/10, MoM)

Played wing and flanker and excelled at both, was everywhere all day. Willing carrier and tackler all day

12) Chris Reay (7)

Covered in the centres and didn’t look out of place despite longing glances in the direction of the second row. Also plays 10, which is great versatility for a back row.

13) Hugh Price (7/10)

Not concussed this week, either as a result of Friday evening or Saturday afternoon, so overall a success.


14) John Chung (8/10)

Went off for a bit with a shoulder injury, came back and tackled twice as hard. Doing his bit for the trickle-down economy by keeping the mechanics of East London busy when he goes for his regular tune-ups.

15) Kieran Murray (c) (8/10)

The week that the skipper decided he was fed up of last man tackles so he should move back to the centres lasted all of one day before dropouts meant he returned to marshal the troops from full back. The troops responded, yet again, by kindly giving the skipper plenty of last man tackling practice, which resulted in this week’s minor snafu – 1x dislocated finger (self-diagnosed).


16) Jack Lidyard (7/10)

He came, he soared, we didn’t conquer. Our lineout was A LOT better with a specialist and very tall jumper at the front of it. Will be a force for the 2s next year once he’s spent the rest of this season in the Gogs getting used to playing again.


17) Shu Shome (8/10)

Has as many tries as the captain this season. Just saying.


18) Laurie Benson (8/10)

Looked threatening pretty much every time he got the ball, which really means we should have got him the ball a bit more.


19) Tompkins Owain-Davies (6.9/9.6)

Effected his best tackle of the season on a gargantuan Hammer, before being instantly disappointed when said Hammer bounced straight off of him and trundled away whilst he was admiring his work. Carries like a man with zero regard for his calves.