This Saturday, the Panthers capped off an amazing season back in the GFSN with a 6-1 win in London against East End Phoenix FC. This win ensures that the Panthers will finish at least second in the league. That means we've secured our promotion to the top flight of the GFSN league in our very first season back!
The Panthers started the game with the hot sun in their eyes, but that didn't stop the visitors from putting the pressure on early. Wingers Alex Kohnert and Mike Green gave Phoenix a lot of trouble with their speedy breaks, and it was a run from Kohnert that gave the Panthers the first breakthrough 10 minutes in. Phoenix's defence brought Alex down on the edge of the area, drawing a penalty. Mike Green stepped up calmly and hammered the ball into the top left corner to bring Panthers 1-0 up.
Going behind lit a fire under Phoenix, and their speed in the midfield and up front gave them a real boost. But the Panthers midfield trio of Charlie, Stu and Dean May quelled their advances and kept the pressure on. An injury to Alex meant that Marley had to come on at left wing, and it was from there that the Panthers secured their second goal. Marley cut the ball back across goal where striker Chris Miles was waiting to add to his season tally as he struck the ball into the net.
Phoenix were really starting to feel the pressure now, and made a concerted effort to push forward. Thankfully, some strong work from Tom Marlow at right back kept many of their attacks at bay, and Pete and Jonathan thwarted a couple of charges on the left. Centre-back Ross was, as usual, the immovable object that Phoenix couldn't summon up an irresistible force to beat. Charlie flung himself into several precision tackles which kept Phoenix's momentum stemmed, all of which meant that goalkeeper Fozzy was free to manage the game from the back. The Panthers' focus and discipline were rewarded with a third goal. Chris Miles ran the ball into the box and drew the Phoenix defenders' attention. That left captain Stu free to receive a pass and push the ball into the top left corner.
The game was firmly under the Panthers' control, and the first half still had one more goal to yield for the visitors. Pushing forward again, the Panthers played the ball into the box and the Phoenix defence struggled to get it to safety. In the melee, the ball came into the year, and Mike Green doubled his goal tally with an authoritative header which belied his petite, elfin frame.
After a break for water and sun cream, the Panthers made some changes, with chairman Rob Parry-Hall coming on for Pete at right back. The home team continued to press hard, but again the Panthers' organisation came to the fore, and after Alex Kohnert came back on to replace captain Stu, the Panthers were once again poised to strike. This time the threat came from the right side as some strong play saw Mike Green get a shot on goal. A good save from the Phoenix keeper nonetheless put the ball in Chris Miles' path who was able to tap the ball in to send us 5-0 up.
The scoreline didn't entirely reflect the threat Phoenix posed, as their intensity and pace gave goalkeeper Fozzy some work to do, with the Panthers keeper and defence responding well to set pieces. However, the hosts were able to deny the visitors a clean sheet as some solid football down the left wing gave Phoenix some space to play the ball into the centre, where they were able to get a little consolation from a well-placed strike into the Panthers net.
The Panthers kept their composure, and were able to summon up an impressive response to the Phoenix goal. The Panthers were able to break on the counter attack up the left hand side, and Marley screamed a shot in that clanged off the post. Mike Green was ready to pounce and slipped past his defender to shoot. Despite the goalkeeper denying him, Green wouldn't give up on his hat-trick, and maintained his composure to shoot off the rebound, giving him a well-deserved third goal. Somehow, this hat-trick wasn't enough to give him the man of the match award, with vice-captain Ross picking up the coveted cheese pretzels in the pub afterwards.
The final ten minutes saw the Panthers dig in, with super-sub Glenn coming on for Jonathan at the back. Glenn, the Panthers' indefatigable treasurer, put in a great shift, pulling off a beautiful back kick that stopped a Phoenix attack dead in its tracks (much to the admiration of Tom Marlow, who pulled off a similar feat a few minutes earlier). With the subs and an amazing cheering section of Paddy, Scott, Kevin Basham and Dominic shouting support, the Panthers were able to stand their ground. At the final whistle, the team celebrated wildly as they'd capped off an incredible season with a 6-1 win.
That win has capped off an amazing season for the Bristol City Panthers. We started off our campaign against East End Phoenix back in September, where we fell to a 2-0 defeat at home. To end the season with a 6-1 win away is a huge credit not only to the players on the pitch on Saturday, but to the entire club who have all approached training with commitment, friendship and camaraderie. The victory means that the Panthers will finish at least second in the league, and if Leicester Wildecats beat Phoenix in the final match of the season next week, we will be the league champions. That result surpasses any of our wildest expectations when we made the decision to rejoin the GFSN, and we're so proud to have seized the moment so comprehensively.
Barring a shake-up in the GFSN's organisation, next season we will be playing in the top flight of the UK's national LGBT football league - with rivals as far apart as Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool awaiting us. We end this season as a club full of friends, and we will continue to welcome EVERYONE to the Bristol City Panthers - whatever your ability, sexuality, or gender identity. But for now, we wait to see what the results are in next week's match and keep our fingers crossed we'll get to celebrate being league champions in a week's time!