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Nov 4, 2020

Staffordshire's "Invincibles" - 2019/2020

Last season's U16 boys side made SSFA history on Saturday, where they became only the second ever U16 boys side to become Champions of England, and the first ever to secure the Midlands Counties League and National Cup double whilst maintaining an unbeaten record across the season.

It is a second National title in management for Bailey Evans and Oz Rowley, and a first for coaches Alex Minshull and Jack Bromfield, who lifted the trophy as players three years ago. This is surely a first for a National-winning team, and a glowing justification of the model to bring the very best SSFA ambassadors through, beyond the playing ranks, as our next generation of coaches.

The biblical rain at Lilleshall National Sports Centre subsided in time for kick-off, and the sun came out for us. Before kick-off, a minute's applause was dedicated to the late and legendary Mr John Appleby, in recognition of his incredible service to, and passion for SSFA.

I think all involved would agree that it was a first half to forget for Staffs, where the occasion maybe played on a few minds. However, thanks to the rock-solid defensive security provided by Joe Baxter and James Sutton, the Bedfordshire attack was kept at bay.

Half-time provided an opportunity to take stock and freshen the side at 0-0, with the Staffs lads knowing that they had to find more against a pacy and physical Bedfordshire team. Whilst the second half began more brightly for the boys in green, it was Bedfordshire that drew first blood, with their attacker sharpest to prod past outstretched 'keeper Kyle Curtis.

1-0 down, two major injuries and only 30mins to play - the stage was set for either heartbreak or a legendary turnaround. Lewi Burnside (who was an obvious MOTM) slotted into defence to replace Louis Pelnens, whose injury proved too much to bear any further, with Harvey Bannister-Smith battling through injury with a sublime second half performance on the right side of midfield, maintaining the work-rate and threat Harry Buzzard posed in the 1st half.

Morgan Russell and Joe Scriven provided respite for James May and Jack Thomas, who had been so bright and busy throughout. It was Russell who gave Staffs a glimmer of hope, with a composed finish after great close-control from Scriven in the Beds' box. Joe Morley proved a constant threat throughout and came close to putting Staffs in the lead shortly after with an audacious 25 yard effort, with the introduction of Jake Finney causing Bedfordshire’s fullbacks all sorts of problems. Still it remained 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, as the midfield duo of captain Charlie Pearsall and Morgan Payne continued to work doggedly to try to open doors and protect the defence, and showed a level of grit seen only in National Champions.

As the awkward questions about penalty takers started to be uttered, Joe Scriven produced a piece of individual magic: taking the ball down on his chest before volleying beautifully beyond the helpless Bedfordshire 'keeper, igniting scenes of absolute euphoria amongst the Staffs players and bench.

However, like all elite-level performers, the boys realised that there was 3 minutes to hang on for, and goodness did they have to hang on! The final moments were an onslaught of pressure and corners for Bedfordshire, with the Staffs players throwing their bodies on the line to protect their goal.

Eventually, after what seemed like 100 minutes of added time, the final whistle was blown, and the Staffs boys assumed their rightful position as the best in the land, with Captain Fantastic Charlie Pearsall holding the cup aloft.

Our sincere thanks to all at ESFA for their efforts in holding the final: not an easy task in the current climate!