Countdown to Wembley: prawn sandwiches at Old Trafford, pawn strategy among mates

Jake: 'any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?'
Jake: ‘any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?’

John McCormick’s semifinal story has a familiar ring of competing allegiances. He couldn’t let friends and fellow chess-players down but his mind was elsewhere. We know events at Old Trafford went happily enough, with or without Keano’s prawn sandwiches on the away end catering stalls. Read on to see how John fared is his important game …

I knew from the outset I couldn’t go to Old Trafford. I play chess in the Merseyside League and we had a fixture that night. The club as a whole is a couple of players short, we have little slack, and my team needs to consolidate its place in division three, so I was never going to let them down. I must admit, though, had someone rung up with a ticket I’d have been sorely tempted.

It’s just as well that no-one did call as we needed two players to step up from the fourth team (my spiritual home) to make our numbers. I did offer to stand down if our opponents defaulted a board, given that the really important match was showing in the room next door, but it was not to be and I kicked off about five minutes before those down the road in Mancland, or in the bar, take your choice.

Chess demands a lot of concentration and I’m only a mediocre bit-player so I struggle. This time I struggled even more than I usually struggle. I did manage to create an advantage and just about hold on to it but I really was finding it difficult playing against an opponent who cramped my style while wondering (me, that is, not him) if we were keeping our slender lead from the first leg.

John McCormick:
John McCormick:
looking for guidance

And then came a crunch point. I had the half-chance of creating a quick win but it opened the possibility of a long drawn-out game I could easily lose. I let my opponent threaten mate, which I could easily avert, but only by allowing nasty threats against the pawns protecting my king. I could soon be naked in a storm. My gamble was that in pressing his attack he  would surely miss a tactic. Or so I thought, but there were things on my mind that night and I could have been wrong. A bit like Old Trafford perhaps, where strategy was being put to the test and tactics would prove important.

Gus, I need a hand with the tactics
It’s nearly half-time and I don’t know where things are going

I countering the mating attack  but it cost me one pawn  and left another  dangling. Taking this looked obvious, and it proved too tempting. Black gobbled it up, and in doing so moved his queen from a vital square. As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Big. Huge”

And that was enough. That one tactic gave me enough time to give a couple of checks and win the queen, and then get my king to safety with a winning advantage.

I still had to win a won game, though, and that’s not always easy, as Man Utd found, and it took a few more moves for me to free my remaining pieces and hammer my opponent into submission. Like Sunderland, he didn’t give up easily but, unlike Sunderland, or maybe Gus Poyet, he couldn’t see his way through a tricky position and handle tactics. Not that we analysed it afterwards, I was on my way to the bar for the second half.

The chess match continued without me. I know we won it and are now safe from relegation but I don’t know the final score, even though I did go back in and help to clear away at the end of the night, when I told the captain I wouldn’t be available for a match in March.

Jake: ' any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?'
Jake: ‘ any chance of tickets for March 2 and May 17?’

Countdown to Wembley: click along this line to see all articles in this series

In 1985 I had two small kids and no money. Going wasn’t an option. In 1992, in Liverpool, everyone wanted tickets and I was at the back of a very long queue. This year there’s only a slim chance but if I can get a ticket I’ll be there; I’m  even planning to go down without one in the hope something will turn up. At the very least I’ll have a long weekend in London.

The chess can wait. There’s loyalty and there’s loyalty, and I’ve been keeping the faith for God knows how many years.

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1 thought on “Countdown to Wembley: prawn sandwiches at Old Trafford, pawn strategy among mates”

  1. We are going to play Man City at Wembley and have achieved what many would have thought impossible. Not because we don’t deserve itvor have been unlucky but Poyet has used these games to experiment free of pressure and has revealed what we are capable of without
    pressure les’s hope we learn thevlesson

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