It has been a remarkable season for the Year 10 football team who have ended the season as city, county and now national champions. Having already claimed the Liverpool School’s U15s R.L. Martindale Trophy, beating North Liverpool Academy 4-2 in extra time and following that up with a 4-2 victory in the Merseyside Junior Shield against a strong Alsop side, SFX went to Goodison Park, the home of Everton Football Club, to contest the ESFA National Cup Final against Little Heath School from Reading.
The season started with some very tough away fixtures and, after defeating Childwall at home in the first round of the Liverpool competition, SFX had to go to last year’s Echo Cup finalists, Range High School from Formby ,in the Junior Shield. Next up was another tough away test at arch rivals Calday Grange Grammar School from West Kirby in the ESFA National Cup.
This was a season of transition after last years Liverpool Echo Shield and Echo Cup success. The players didn’t have long to adapt to the new squad changes and they found themselves 3-1 down to Range with only ten minutes of the game remaining. Showing their true battling spirit they fought back, galvanised by a thunderbolt of a shot from Jack Ward, and when Louis Sharp scored a penalty to take the game to extra-time, they took control to run out 3-5 winners. This performance was the catalyst to an unbelievable run which took the team to three cup finals, ending the season without a single defeat.
Along the way they saw off the challenge of some very strong sides: defeating Alsop in the Liverpool Cup semi-final; returning to Calday Grange Grammar again in the Junior Shield semi-final and overcoming several tough opponents in the ESFA Competition. These included a contentious meeting with Altrincham Boys´ Grammar School, two schools from Shrewsbury and a meeting with our fiercest rivals, Cardinal Heenan, in the National Cup quarter-final.
By the time the squad travelled to last year’s beaten finalists Westfield School in Sheffield for the ESFA National semi-final, it was clear that the team had the opportunity to achieve something amazing. The players must have realised this too and their first half performance blew their opponents away. Two goals from Jake Burton and one from captain Thomas Massey meant that SFX were 0-3 up at half time. If not for the heroics of the Westfield goalkeeper it could have been 5 or 6, such was the dominance of their display. Although their opponents rallied themselves in the second half, SFX defended superbly and ran out deserved 1-3 winners.
But at this stage the team had won nothing and, following their trip to Sheffield, they set up their assault on the treble with the two aforementioned ‘domestic’ semi-final wins. The latter, away to Calday Grange, saw goalkeeper Dylan O’Brien stealing the headlines by making four penalty saves in the game, with three of them coming in the decisive shoot out after the sides couldn’t be separated. It finished 1-1 after extra time.
The first of the three finals was a tough affair with NLA twice taking the lead (the first goal came after only thirty seconds) before goals from Jake Burton and Jack Ward pegged their opponents back. In extra time SFX started to take control, but with the game still deadlocked at 2-2, penalties loomed. With just a few minutes left, Jake Burton got behind NLA’s tiring defence to head SFX into the lead for the first time in the match. Louis Sharp put the icing on the cake when he slotted home the fourth in injury time after the ball broke to him in the box following a trip on Ross Craig. The referee waved play on and Sharp sealed to victory to make this SFX side Liverpool champions for the fourth time in four years.
With one trophy in the SFX cabinet the team went back to Walton Hall Park to contest the Junior Shield, a trophy that SFX have not won since 2000 (before any of these players were even born!).
Facing Alsop, a side that ran them close in the Liverpool semi-final, SFX were in no hurry to repeat their slow start from their last visit. The players imposed themselves on the game and although Alsop created some good chances of their own, SFX went into half-time 1-0 up despite not converting any of the numerous corners they created. Ross Craig broke the deadlock, arriving at the back post to convert a Thomas Massey cross. The second half saw SFX play some fantastic passing football and it was during this phase that they scored two more thanks to Jake Burton. If his first could be described as a straightforward finish following a fine passing move and another Massey cross, the second could only be described as sensational. Running at full pace he took the through ball down with the outside of his foot whilst holding off the defender in his back, touched it out of his feet and hammered it into the net past the stranded goalkeeper. At 3-0 it looked all over, so the fact that Alsop rallied in the final couple of minutes scoring two quick goals was testament to their spirit and determination. However, just as quickly as their hopes of a fightback were ignited, Jack Ward extinguished the flames when he burst through the Alsop defence and coolly guided the ball into the back of the net. SFX had won the ‘domestic’ double but the season wasn’t over yet!
In a strange twist of fate, SFX’s season had come full circle. Twelve months after their Echo Cup success at Goodison Park, SFX were back at the home of ‘The Toffees’ to compete for the only cup that had eluded them thus far, the ESFA National Cup. Their opponents, Little Heath, came into the game with a strong record in their run to the final. They were clearly a side capable of scoring goals and this was going to be the team’s toughest challenge yet. However, no one could have predicted what was to unfold, in a game which had, literally, everything.
SFX started strongly and after an early flurry of corners they got the breakthrough. Matthew Watt swung the ball in towards the Park End goal and Louis Sharp stole in to fire the ball home from six yards out after Little Heath struggled to clear the danger. The Reading side fought back and mid way through the half drew level after a slip in the SFX box allowed them to get clear. Vinnie Borrows blocked the first opportunity but the rebound fell to their centre forward, Shea Edwards, and there was no denying the quality of the finish. At halftime the players left the pitch with the game evenly poised. The second half mirrored the first, as SFX created chances and put their opponents under early pressure. Jake Burton headed just wide of the post and Matthew Watt beat the keeper with a shot only to see it cleared off the line. After SFX had a penalty claim turned down by the referee, Little Heath saw a thunderous shot come crashing back off the bar. The game was finely poised until seven minutes to go when disaster struck. After an altercation on the Bullens Road touchline the referee produced a red card and SFX were down to ten men. Despite seeing out the remainder of normal time, SFX had an uphill task. When Little Heath scored midway through the first half of extra time, it was looking like it was going to be one game too far for the SFX boys. Especially when Lewis Sinnott struck the post from a free-kick in what was by now a rare opportunity for the ten men. The players knew that chances were going to be few and far between, so when they got a free kick just inside the Little Heath half they gambled and threw bodies forward. Thomas Massey launched the ball into the box and, after Louis Sharp prevented the defence from clearing the ball, it fell to Simon Grace. In what seemed like slow motion, he touched the ball out from under his feet and rifled it into the Gwladys Street net with his favoured left foot. The relief was palpable and the SFX team held on until the final whistle. Considering the pressure of the occasion, it was a remarkable show of penalty taking from both teams and so it was down to Dylan O’Brien to split the sides with a great save low to his right. With Little Heath’s second attempt saved, the SFX players held their nerve and when Thomas Massey stepped up to hit the fifth penalty, all four of his teammates had already hit the mark. Massey powered the ball into the roof of the net and the entire squad came together to celebrate in the middle of the pitch. A moment now infamous amongst the pupils of SFX was the sight of Jack Ward, who missed the final with a hip injury sustained just days before the game, standing in the middle of the pitch, crutches raised in triumph (if you don’t believe me, watch it again on YouTube!).
What the lads have achieved this year is quite remarkable. To be Liverpool champions, Merseyside champions and now National champions all in the same season is phenomenal, especially when you consider the strength of opposition across this region alone. They have gone the entire season unbeaten, a record that puts them alongside the best school sides of any era.
With various players unavailable throughout the season it really has been a team effort and everyone who has represented the Year 10 Football team this year, whether it has been in one game or every game, has contributed to this success and we are extremely proud of what they have achieved.
- Daniel Longworth
- Dominic Riley
- Dominic Ross-Hesketh
- Dylan O’Brien
- Jack Eyres
- Jack Graham
- Jack Johnson
- Jack Ward
- Jake Burton
- Joseph White
- Lewis Sinnott
- Louis Sharp
- Lucas Edison
- Mathew Watt
- Max Griffin
- Patrick Jones
- Ross Craig
- Simon Grace
- Thomas Massey
- Vinnie Borrows