In the days when I was a Housemaster, I always enjoyed the start of the year as the new 1st Leagues Captain began to analyse his chances of League success. There was optimism in the air as new boots were polished and taken out of their packaging, with colours and designs reminiscent of the Speech Day Art Exhibition. The optimism did not always last, however, and as the League progressed and the position in the table faltered, morale could get low! Yet there is always something to play for.
In the last round of matches this season, Moser’s, The Grove and Riggs’s could all have won the 1st League trophy. The Grove had to lose if they were not to be crowned champions – and they managed to do so by 3 goals to 2 at the hands of a competitive Severn Hill side, for whom victories had been in short supply in this campaign. Rigg’s had to win and hope that Moser’s would either draw or lose. They did their part in a fine 4-1 win over Oldham’s. But sadly for their fans, Moser’s won 5-0 against Churchill’s. So it was congratulations to Moser’s for a consistent and successful season.
Meanwhile at the bottom of the table, my former protégés in School House were beaten by Radbrook, who won their first game of the season. Manager Des Hann told me that had been a transitional year and he was delighted that the lads had won their last game, as it showed his footballing ‘vision’ was beginning to take a more lucid form. For School House, though, a season that had started so promisingly with a first match victory had turned into something of disappointment, as their first victory remained their only win. New Manager Hugo Besterman admitted it had been tough adapting to the demands of the League in his first season at this level, but was hoping for some summer signings to reinvigorate his squad. “I am hoping for some summer signings to reinvigorate my squad,” he said. Having refereed a handful of games, I can say that I was impressed by the passion and skill levels on show.
No one in the School 1st or 2nd XI squads is allowed to play in 1st Leagues, and it is a tribute to the School and the players that the competition remains so tightly contested and played in such a good spirit. The joy of such competitions is that each week someone can become a hero, if only for a few hours. A couple of examples might be Kit Hartley scoring all six of Oldham’s goals against Radbrook and Charles Cooper scoring on his debut for Riggs’s in the last game of the season.
If you cannot get into your House 1st Leagues team, then there is always 2nd Leagues – this year won by Oldham’s, with Port Hill and Ingram’s not far behind. The games are played between teams of nine-a-side and refereed by some of the staff’s lesser known footballing cognoscenti, which can add spice to events! There has to be a result, and if the teams are drawing at the end of the game there is a penalty shoot-out. Perhaps the FA should take note, with a World Cup campaign about to start!
For younger footballers, there are A Leagues and B Leagues. A Leagues is generally for Fifth and Fourth formers who are not in School A team squads, although robust Third Formers can play if selected. Port Hill narrowly pipped Churchill’s to the title this season, with Oldham’s finishing third.
If you are bored of the ever increasing prices, hype and brilliance of the Premier League, you want to come and watch B Leagues. B Leagues is for Third and Fourth formers who are not in A Leagues or School A squads. It is designed to be played with true Corinthian spirit. It is about participation and enjoyment, yet it is also about courage, valour, spirit, teamwork and a desire to win.
Ridgemount B League Team
I caught up with the Ridgemount B League team just before their triumphant final match, which saw them clinch the League from School House by one point. Manager Will Hughes was delighted that recently retired Ridgemount Tutor Martin Knox – a long time lover of B Leagues and possibly the world’s leading expert on the history and playing patterns of this unique League – had returned from a scouting mission in Italy in time to witness the young Ridgemountaineers’ moment of glory.
Mr Hughes told me that before the start of the season he likes to spend an evening with each of his League teams, going through what he expects of them. He let me into some of his motivational tactics but asked that I only share them with a few ‘select’ people. I felt that those of you still reading this article at this juncture will surely fit those criteria!
At the heart of his talk to the B Leagues squad is his power point presentation on what B LEAGUES stands for.
B = ‘Beautiful Football’ in all senses of the phrase. Beautiful one-touch passing and finishing; true sportsmanship; courtesy to match officials and the crowd. “Beautiful football is important to me,” murmured Tristan Lywood.
L = Look. It is important to look the part with smart kit and well polished boots. “ I was always taught to look good,” Mr Hughes told me.
E = Eating. It is important to look after the body that is part of the machine that is the team. Pasta snacks are important before a big game, and certainly trips to the Grot Shop are frowned upon. “My body is a temple,” stated Magnus Chaplin and one or two others!
A = Athleticism. The Ridgemount training regime is sharp and rigorous. Mr Hughes himself supervises early morning training sessions before a healthy breakfast. Strict bedtimes and careful stretching is also an important part of the daily routine. “I love to be fit,” said utility player James Tollemache.
G = Goals. Each striker has a goal target for the season and Lysander Adair, Jack Humphreys and Richard Walker all met their targets. “Goals are important in football,” said Jack.
U = You have to do your best. “Each member of the team has to be at their best all of the time,” said defender Archie ‘I’ll never let you be’ Free. “To be like a Swiss clock takes 100% concentration from everyone,” added Ed Owen.
E = Education. Midfielder Charlie Home told me he regarded football as an ‘education’. “It involves teamwork, hard work, mental toughness and physical fitness. A successful team is a team well educated in the arts and history of the sport. It is also important to have something to talk about on the way to and from matches.”
S= Solid. Defence is about the ‘impenetrable barrier’. Ridgemount as a team are trained to defend in a pack. Led by team ‘Hardman’ and Captain Henry ‘Joey Barton’ Bradshaw, the squad will put their lives on the line for others. Henry’s brother George was mentioned earlier in the season as a robust defender, and one has to wonder what ‘football’ in the Bradshaw garden is like. Henry’s ‘enthusiasm’ in the challenge led him to an ‘early bath’ on a couple of occasions and he felt some referees misunderstood him. The team were also helped by the sudden availability of Will ‘the cat’ Redgrave-Scott who was ‘released ‘by the under-14 As and became the goalkeeper for the last few games of the season.
After his talk, Mr Hughes tells me he leaves it up to his captains to inspire their teams. In the photo above, Henry Bradshaw can be seen speaking to his team from the heart. We will all be able to share Mr Hughes’s powerful footballing vision when his long awaited book “Tactics for B League success” comes out in time for Christmas.
Just before I leave the topic of League Football, it is important to acknowledge that behind every League is a very good organiser. Nick Jenkins retires at the end of this term before almost immediately coming out of retirement to take up his new role as Director of the Salopian Club in February. Nick can be seen whatever the weather, ensuring that referees have turned up, monitoring that the wearing of shin pads and the correct kit is being worn. He is responsible for crowd behaviour, the player response to poor decisions, and at times he has to calm managers down. He is FIFA, UEFA and the FA rolled into one. They tried to beat his love of football and organising things out of him at Rugby, but thrilled by playing football for the Staff Ramblers team earlier on in his career here, he has rekindled his love affair with the national game. Once it was more likely that you would hear his impression of Bill McLaren, the famous Scottish rugby commentator, but now it is Alan Hansen or Gordon Strachan. I believe Will Hughes may have found the same tactics manual as Nick and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Nick for the huge amount of time he has put into running House Leagues and ensuring grassroots soccer at Shrewsbury has never been greener!
At a rough estimate, some 400 boys will have played House League football at some point this term. I think that is called mass participation – and maybe that was the goal!