For a side who faced a near-identical scenario last season, needing a result in their final game to secure the title, it was perhaps advantageous that only a single survivor from last year’s final-day defeat lined up against Glasgow Caledonian this time round. Where the thirds had let the title slip away so agonizingly against UWS a year ago, merely needing not to lose by a three-goal margin yet losing 4-1, the fact that only captain Andrew Christie and coach Andy Collier remained twelve months on amid an influx of freshers can only have eased the past’s burden. Although the sporting concept of youthful fearlessness can seem redundant at BUCS level – a mere three years separates freshers from fourth-years, after all – it could hardly have seemed more apt, then, as far as this match was concerned.
This is not to say the game’s opening exchanges were anything less than cagey, however. As the rain hammered down in suitably histrionic fashion, both sides’ every touch seemed mired in mud and tension. Where the slickness of the pitch prevented slickness in the pass, midfield scrapping seemed the order of the day. Scrapping which, as soon became clear, could easily go too far: a Caledonian player senselessly raised a fist and was sent off; an occurrence which St Andrews could only view as a blessing given that they needed all three points for the title this time round.
Yet going a man down so early only seemed to spur Caledonian on. Physically the more imposing side, they slowly began to press St Andrews backwards in spite of their ten men, and as the thirds lay camped on the edge of their own penalty area, a long-range strike cracked in off the post for 0-1. The Glaswegian glee that ensued was only intensified by St Andrean silence; the goal’s significance seeming to reverberate ominously in the air. Silence which, nevertheless, also hinted at a degree of calm composure; the thirds’ many freshers conspicuously unburdened by UWS, 4-1 and all that.
When winger David Gunn’s persistence forced a corner, the Caledonian keeper’s misdirected punch allowed the thirds to equalize, Chas Blalack pouncing on the loose ball to steer home past a horde of defenders marshalling the six-yard box. Yet such set-piece efficacy was only matched at the other end by Caledonian, a clinical header from a corner of their own ensuring the thirds went into half-time 2-1 down.
At half-time, therefore, Collier and Christie made the inspired decision to gather the entire team into a huddle, presumably impressing upon the many freshers the need to remain cool after last year’s UWS experience. Sure enough, as the second half started with the rain unrelenting, another set-piece saw parity restored for 2-2. Christie and Lion Herfort began to drive St Andrews forward from the heart of midfield; the thirds’ man advantage becoming increasingly clear with every passing minute. As the entire team harried Caledonian into mistakes, starting with Tom Myers up front, the element of luck inherent in the third goal seemed somehow inevitable. A hashed goal kick went straight to Myers, and although still faced with some ground to cover, he advanced coolly to slot home for the lead; the momentum now firmly swung St Andrews’ way.
As a bundled finish from yet another corner extended the score to 4-2, the sky seemed to lighten in pathetic fallacy; St Andrews having emerged from the heart of half-time darkness to claim a commanding lead on the hour. The relative security of a two-goal cushion meant the thirds could afford to take a few more risks – and maybe even show off a few tricks. When winger Gunn received the ball just outside the Caledonian area, a nonchalant dink over a flailing defender’s head was only made to look more nonchalant by the force of the drive that followed it, rifling in at the keeper’s near-post for 5-2. The sheer confidence of the goal epitomized the thirds’ turnaround; from nervy scrapping in the gloom early on, to self-assured artistry in the late-afternoon light.
With ten minutes to go, Caledonian reminded the thirds that the rain hadn’t entirely stopped, reducing the deficit to 5-3 with a deflected drive. Yet the droplet of hope that goal offered the Glaswegians was all but evaporated when St Andrews broke away for 6-3, to render the final few minutes a formality. The entire squad was therefore given game time bar the injured Will Galvin, who was present throughout in support despite the shocking weather, sporting some four hoodies simultaneously. As the final whistle sounded soon afterwards, the cheers seemed borne more of relief than elation; the draining nature of the contest having taken its toll (draining in more ways than one given the non-stop rain). But soon enough, the jokes and the chants began, signing off a superb year for a team who conceivably contain more freshers than any other in St Andrews, in any sport. And as for the rain-sodden few who experienced UWS a year ago? It’s fair to say their sorrows had been, well and truly, drowned.