Nail-Biting Finale to an Historic Season
Glebe Under 16s claimed the Kent Youth League North Division title after a thrilling final day 1-1 draw at home to gallant runners-up, Cray Valley. The game provided a fitting climax to an outstanding season for the Under 16s, in which they have surpassed all expectations. In doing so, they have become the first Glebe FC Under 16s team to win a Kent Youth League Divisional title; an achievement that cannot be under-estimated.
Following a 4-1 opening-day defeat at home to Fisher Youth, nobody could have predicted the season that was to follow for the Under 16s. However, the way they responded to that early set-back clearly illustrates, not just the ability of this team, but also its character. The next week saw them bounce back with an 11-1 demolition of Greenwich Borough, which signalled the start of a 14-game winning streak that ultimately set-up their title challenge. But probably the first indication that Glebe were genuine title challengers came the following week, with a 3-1 victory at last season’s champions, Bridon Ropes. From then on, there was no looking back.
With 3 games to go, Glebe had built an 8-point lead over Cray Valley. But getting over the line is never easy and single goal defeats at home to Bridon Ropes and away at Phoenix, coupled with Cray Valley’s determination to fight until the end with convincing victories over Greenwich Borough and Crockenhill, set-up this final day title decider between the season’s two most consistent teams. After finishing runners-up following an injury-time goal in the final game a year ago, Cray Valley were determined to go one better this term. At the same time, Glebe were determined not to allow their one-time 8-point lead to be squandered.
The final game game kicked-off in bright sunshine and in front of a large crowd at Foxbury Avenue. Glebe were quickly into the stride taking early control of the game, with Max, Jonas and Oscar dominating the centre of midfield. However, clear chances were few and it was Cray Valley that almost took the lead after 10 minutes, when their midfield anchor, Josiah, a former teammate of many of the Glebe boys, fired into the side-netting from just inside the area. With the game now more even, small gaps started to appear between the lines. Cutting inside from the left, Toby feigned to shoot before threading the ball through to Louis, working tirelessly as the lone striker, but Cray’s excellent ‘keeper, Tommy, was alert to the danger and quickly raced off his line. Down the right, Ope was attacking forcefully and, after 25 minutes, looked to have beaten the full-back. However, the ball broke free he was penalised for his back-tracking tackle. From the resulting free-kick, Cray Valley opened the scoring. Given the quality of the game, the opening goal was scrappy. The ball was launched in to the Glebe area from the halfway line. A Cray head was first to the ball and it looped in to to penalty area. As the ball dropped it bounced over everyone leaving the Cray striker, Jack, with the simplest of chances from 2 yards. He made no mistake and Cray’s travelling supporters erupted with delight. But going behind has not phased Glebe all season and with plenty of time remaining, there was no hint of panic from the boys in red & black.
Needing just a point from the game to claim the title, Glebe knew a goal would put them back in the driving seat. Playing his final game for Glebe before signing for Sheffield Wednesday, Charles came on determined to go out in style. And twice before the interval he showed his quality. Utilising his pace and power he picked up the ball in the inside left position, before cutting inside and unleashing powerful drives, the first of which sailed just inches over the bar, whilst the second was saved by the excellent ‘keeper. But Glebe were also forced into a re-shuffle when Jacob sustained a bizarre but nasty-looking injury. Having been detailed to shackle Cray’s lightening-quick left winger, Ethan, he was doing a sterling job at right full-back. Having been forced into another sliding tackle he immediately felt a pain in his thigh. A closer look revealed an large gash that would ultimately require a number of stitches and signalled the end of his involvement after an outstanding season. However, Glebe possess a strong squad and Jacob’s injury enabled Sam to return to the field for the first time since his knee operation in February. Showing the togetherness of the squad, Sam had been to every game he missed, even when still on crutches, and he played as if he had never been away. However, the half time whistle blew with Cray Valley holding a narrow 1-0 lead that, if maintained, would give them the title.
Glebe’s half time team talk was calm and focused. We were playing well; creating chances; and solid at the back. The goal we had conceded was unlucky. The message was clear and simple – carry on playing the same way. Keep it simple; pass and move; and use our pace going forward. At the back, don’t take unnecessary risks. The boys returned for the second half looking determined. The next 40 minutes would determine their season.
If they had started the first half well, Glebe started the second half with even more determination. And within 3 minutes of the re-start, they were level and back in control of their destiny. Once again, it was a scrappy goal, but nobody in a red and black shirt will ever care. In a reversal of first half fortunes, this time Ope won a free kick on the half way line. Over the last 2 seasons, Ben has taken many long-range free kicks but if he plays until he is 50, he is unlikely to take another one more significant. Striking it sweetly with his left foot from close to the halfway line, the ball arrowed in to the penalty area. As it dropped, a Cray Valley head deflected the ball past the goalkeeper and into the empty net. This time it was the Glebe fans that erupted with joy as Ben, quite rightly, claimed the goal. And the equaliser brought even more spring to Glebe’s step as they dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half, creating numerous chances. Once again Charles broke through the Cray defence and, as he drew the ‘keeper, he slipped the ball inside to Ope. As the defender came across to cover, Toby was left unmarked at the far post screaming for the ball. But, somehow, desperate defending was able to prevent the ball from being played across. Soon after, Glebe were awarded a free-kick 25-yards out. Jonas stepped up but the ball crashed against the crossbar.
As we moved in to the final quarter of the game, the tension rose. Cray pushed on an extra striker anf forced a succession of corners as they tried to get round the Glebe full-backs. But Glebe defended resolutely with Josh first to the ball with his head or Ted catching everything that came in to the 6-yard area. But Glebe continued to attack too, knowing another goal would mean Cray would need two. After Max won the ball again in the middle he fed Charles and he quickly moved the ball out to Charlie who had taken up a fine position on the left. Having controlled the ball he looked to shoot then cut outside and the defender was able to make the tackle. Then Oscar danced through the middle. With the goal at his mercy he delayed a second too long and, once again, Cray were able to smother the attack.
By now the tension was almost unbearable. The excellent referee indicated there would be a minimum of 4 minutes of injury time. For Glebe this seemed an eternity. Cray Valley forced yet another corner that Ted punched clear but it was launched back to the box. Sam and Josh battled manfully with the Cray strikers before the ball was played out to the Cray Valley left winger. Once again, Telvin was forced in to some desperate defending and the ball was cleared. Finally, the referee blew his whistle and pandemonium ensued. The Glebe players engulfed each other in unbridled joy and the reality sunk in that Glebe Under 16s were Kent Youth League North Division Champions!!!
Despite the emotion of the game the players of both teams came together in acknowledgement of each other’s contribution to the match and the entire season. A game of such significance can rarely been played in such a sporting manner. In the end, the difference between the teams was marginal; just 2 points with both scoring the same number of goals (63) and Glebe conceding only one fewer (24) than Cray Valley (25). But it is small margins that make the difference at this level and Glebe can deservedly celebrate their first league title at this age group. A team that has stuck together; worked tirelessly to improve; and exceeded all expectations.
GLEBE FC U16s – KENT YOUTH LEAGUE NORTH DIVISION CHAMPIONS 2017-18