When one thinks of the big names in Football, one might mention Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Brighton and of course Shrewsbury Town. Shrewsbury have recently signed midfielder Abo Eisa from Wealdstone. When asked about his move, Eisa said: "It's a huge club and they are very ambitious. Being here is a really huge move for me." I am sure Eisa would also have been excited by the First House Final, played last week at one of the founding schools of the Rules of Association Football.
“Forty years of hurt.” Two members of the 1978 Ingram’s Hall football team that won First House in that year were watching to see if the present-day wearers of the ‘Slytherin’ green and white could regain the trophy they last won four decades ago.
A very nervous Nick Hancock was peeping out from behind the scorebox and then disappearing again when his nerves couldn’t take it anymore. I was reminded of my first encounters with Dr Who. I used to cower behind the sofa and probably only saw about 5% of the action, such was my fear of the daleks and other such Enemies of the World. Nick was with one of his former teammates, Angus Pollock, and both were as excited by the game as any other member of the Ingram’s crowd. “We are both very excited,” they said at the same time, as was Angus’s wife Sue, although I sensed she was not quite as excited as her husband.
Nick was hoping that his son Harvey would be in the first team from Ingram’s to lift the trophy since his father. “It would be nice if Harvey was in the next team from Ingram’s to win the trophy since his father.” Nick murmured in an almost mystical manner with a faraway look in his eyes. He went on to say, “It’s almost as if it is written in the ancient runes of the Moser precinct”.
I asked these two senior gentlemen (do you remember the two old codgers in the muppets?) if they remembered much about the match in 1978. Angus was quick to tell me it was 3-0 to Ingram’s against Moser’s and Andrew Waterworth was on the score sheet. It clearly meant a lot to them both – and anyone who has been involved with a House Football team will understand why.
This year’s final had to be moved from the last day of the Michaelmas Term, owing to the significant snowfall that led to the end of term activities being postponed in favour of serious snowballing and a large number of people suddenly finding their inner calling as specialist winter scene photographers. (My pictures are on Facebook – over 140 likes, which was especially satisfying as my wife said rather dismissively “no one will want to see them!”)
So the teams embarked on what was to be a full-blooded match with no quarter given, as befits a House match. Many school coaches have bemoaned the fact that they have been unable to unlock the extra 20% that players seem to find when battling their comrades from other Houses. No one wants to lose face in front of their peers, and bragging rights are a major incentive for Housemasters, tutors, matrons, as well as pupils.
Severn Hill’s Housemaster Dan Nicholas was in the same year as Nick Hancock and Angus Pollock, and their appearance on the touchline added to the pressure he was already feeling. Severn Hill had made all three of this year’s House finals but had so far not won any of them – and this was their last chance. “I’m feeling the pressure,” Mr Nicholas said, as sweat dripped off his brow despite the bitter wind.
Both Housemasters gave their teams some well-chosen final words of encouragement. Mr Griffiths, in his first year as Housemaster of Ingram’s, was very relaxed about the whole affair. As a Liverpool fan he was looking for an expansive and attacking style of play, but as a rugby coach he had no idea of how to implement it. Like all good managers, he had chosen to delegate. “Matron is in charge of tactics,” he told me.
Matron (Debra King) took her seat in the Ingram’s dugout and proceeded to dispense useful advice. “Matron helped me get my head right,” said non-footballing centre mid-fielder James ‘It’s-curtains-for-you’ Draper. “Matron is the King,” Alex Powell told me.
Mr Nicholas has a similar knowledge of football tactics to his rival manager. However, Master in Charge of Football Mr Wilderspin is a tutor in Severn Hill, and rumours of a secret master plan to be unveiled were rife before kick-off.
“Not true,” commented Dan Nicholas, “Matron Linda Riley is in charge of tactical awareness. She is really up for this game having just missed out on the England Ladies job”.
“I would do a better job than Philip Neville,” Linda told me with an angry glint in her eye!
Dan went on to say that “Dr Gee’s experience of supporting school matches will be invaluable. He knows just how to ‘Gee up’ the team!”
“I am known as the G force,” said Dr Gee.
The Ingram’s supporters were out well before the start of the match working out how to fly their House flag from the lamppost. They managed to get it somewhere near the top, which seemed to be most pleasing to the majority of their fans.
It would be fair to say that the two teams cancelled each other out by working very hard and giving very little space for the attacking players in each side to work their magic. There were some robust challenges and Ludo ‘I’m-the-size-of a-cathedral-city’ Lichfield was eventually sin-binned for body-checking Tom ‘I’m Severn Hill’s major Hazard’ Brunskill. “It was an accident,” Ludo told me. “I certainly did not mean to hurt Tom” he added. Tom cannot remember the incident. “It’s a bit of a blur,” he admitted.
Ultimately, due to some good goalkeeping and some chances not being taken, the game finished 0-0 and went into extra time. At the end of half-time it remained 0-0, and so penalties loomed.
Ingram’s player-maker Harvey Hancock confidently stepped up to take the first penalty as Dad headed for the car. “I can’t watch,” he said. Sadly for Harvey a sudden gust of wind took his penalty past the goal, and Severn Hill had the early advantage. Indeed they had a two-goal advantage after four penalties and merely needed to tuck one of their last two away.
Angus Moore missed his and then Felix Kenyon-Smith missed his. The crowd were struck dumb as Ingram’s equalised and we were into sudden death. Ed Stapleton was the hero of the hour, saving what was to be the last of the Severn Hill penalties. And then James Draper stepped up to win the Cup for Ingram’s and their jubilant supporters.
I asked Angus ‘at-least-I-made-the-keeper-work’ Moore, the Severn Hill midfield dynamo, if the pressure had got to him. “Not really,” he told me. He added, “As we were two up, maybe I was a bit complacent”. It certainly made for an exciting climax to the competition. Angus admitted that there was a somewhat gloomy feel around Severn Hill later that evening. “We were all a bit down, but I guess someone’s disappointment is someone else’s joy and that takes the edge off our defeat.” Perhaps we have found a new spiritual leader in Angus.
The two teams can take great heart from providing the spectators with a very tense and exciting match. No one really deserved to lose. The referee Jack Noble told me it had been a feisty game and he had been worried about the fitness levels of his linesmen Alan Kynaston and Maelor Owen when it went into extra time but was delighted they had survived. “I am delighted they have survived,” he told me.
The gallant losers were:
In goal – James Crewdson, the hero of the competition, regularly keeping Severn Hill in matches and having a very good final
In defence – Cameron Anwyl, Charles Shaw, Felix Kenyon-Smith and Tommy Price
In centre midfield – Ben Henderson and Angus Moore
In attack – Leo Walton, Tom Brunskill, Jamie Anwyl and striker Dom Ainslie
There were also cameos from Rob Ford and Johnnie Peel.
The victorious Ingram’s team were:
Ed Stapleton (in goal), the brothers James and Alex Powell, Bilal Khan, Victor ‘I-never-looked-like-I-would-miss-my-penalty’ Scheibler, James ‘I-slotted-my-winning-penalty-despite-not-being-known-for-my-composure’ Draper, Harvey ‘40-years-of-hurt’ Hancock, Jake ‘out-of-the’ Woods, Dan Humes, Sam ‘I-prefer-an-oar’ Branford, Finn Chadwick
Here’s to the next 40 years, or whenever the next generation of Hancocks arrive!