A great weekend for Kentish Town at the ESF Tournament at Butlins Bognor Regis as Kentish Town U10s, U11s and U12s joined around 50 other teams from across the country in a two day festival of football.
Our U10s started impressively, cruising to two brilliant victories in their first two games, and playing some impressive football on the way.
But they then ran up against eventual semi-finalists, South Peterborough, who looked fresher and more energetic at the end of a hard day’s football, eventually losing 3-0 in a game which they will learn a lot from individually and as a team.
On day 2, the team found it hard to recapture the form of day 1 and ended up mid-table in their group, failing to qualify for the knockout stages. But – overall – a great learning and bonding experience for a great young team. The fact that they easily beat eventual tournament winners Muswell Hill only weeks ago in the Camden and Regents Park League will make them confident that they’ll do even better next year.
Our U11s had a tough first day to the competition, as injuries robbed them of substitutes, and their opening victory was followed by two defeats and a draw. But if the first day was a disappointment, they showed huge character to turn things around on day 2. Coach James Banwell was massively pleased to see them finish the tournament with two straight victories, both of them notable for the quality of football being played.
This was the goal of the U11s campaign from Callum Currie.
Our outstanding U12s showed all the potential we expected of them with a superb performance in the toughly contested league format for their age group. Starting off the weekend, they beat tournament favourites (and eventual winners) Welwyn Pegasus 2-0, but then struggled to grab full points against two weaker sides – Maidstone United and Brixworth Juniors – drawing 1-1 in both games.
Arguably either result could have been different if it hadn’t been for questionable refereeing decisions – a mystifying free kick apparently awarded in the wrong direction on the edge of the area gifting and outclassed Brixworth Juniors an easy goal and full time being blown in Town’s draw with Maidstone United with striker Corey Molloy one on one with the opposition keeper and seemingly certain to score. But the result in each case was more reflective of Town’s inability to translate total dominance on the pitch into goals when facing weaker teams – something that would come back to haunt them later in the competition.
However the U12s fought their way back into contention at the end of the day with an impressive 3-0 demolition of Ormskirk FC, ending day 1 in joint first place in the table, trailing leaders Senrab FC by goal difference only.
Day 2 had a mixed start for Town, as they comfortably beat bottom of the table St Albans 3-0, but the game was spoilt in the second half by persistent serious foul play by the opposition. Whilst this lead to the game being abandoned ten minutes early with a 5-0 victory awarded to Town, they also saw influential striker Denny Smith suffer a thigh injury following a horror tackle in the box, followed by a sickening tackle on Oscar Del Torto that finally led to the referee dismissing the St Albans team from the field of play. Whilst the game lasted, however, Town played some of their best football of the tournament to date, clearly enjoying playing together as they dominated the game from start to finish.
The victory pushed Town up to the top of the table, and it looked like first place in the tournament was in sight, only for them to struggle again to score goals in a frustrating encounter with mid-table Cramlington Town, that finished goalless as Town struggled repeatedly to put the ball in the net.
However, with other teams at the top of the table also stuttering Town came up against big hitters Senrab FC (youth team of the likes of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora) in a game they had to win to keep their tournament dreams on track. In a thrilling and tense game of football between two top class teams – in many ways the most compelling game of the entire weekend. Town worked hard to contain Senrab’s threat before Jayden Bailey Jennings stole in to head home a Solly Hamilton free kick to break the deadlock to put Town one ahead. With Oscar DT following up and grabbing a goal shortly afterwards, Town went into the final game of the tournament needing only a win against an unfancied Stanway Rovers side to lift the trophy.
But perhaps the effort of the previous game and the stakes riding on their final match caught up with Town’s U12s as they could only manage a frustrating performance, going behind early on due to a mistake at the back against a side that had before then threatened little. Town equalised almost immediately, but then went behind again as a result of an unforced error as they pressed to get a winning goal, in the process gifting the trophy to Welwyn Pegasus in the final moments of the game.
A frustrating end to what had otherwise been a superb tournament for Town, who showed that their U12s team was capable of matching and beating the best teams out there, even if their ability to put to bed games against poorer opposition eventually confounded their quest for silverware. But coach Tom Looney was justifiably proud of his boys, who will definitely go on to better things next year.
Their runners up trophies were well deserved, but they ended the day knowing they were only minutes away from grabbing the main prize.
A great weekend all round, and a tournament that – whilst expensive to take part in – was amazingly well organised and enjoyable to participate in. Every aspect of it ran to plan, and the down time between games provided a brilliant opportunity for our boys to get to know one another and bond as teammates. We’re already looking forward to next year.