In many ways the strength of Shrewsbury School football can be gauged by how well the under-14s are doing. They are the nursery plants that will grow and flourish, if they are nurtured appropriately, into the mighty stemmed figures we see hurtling around the 1st XI pitch. One day these fragile seedlings will bear fruit in the form of golden goals and tasty tackles, entertaining large crowds and providing them with a feast of vibrant football. Who could the School entrust with such an auspicious role? Who could protect these frail stems from the violent storms of competitive football? Who could develop their mental toughness and instil in their innocent minds the ways of ‘total’ football? The answer of course is Second Master Mr Michael Tonks. Mr Tonks has been overseeing ‘Tonksy’s Tots’ for the last nine years and has been joined this year by Spencer Gunnell. Before I analyse the current Tot Squad, I think it is important to have a quick look at where their coaches’ influences originate.
Mike Tonks was born and bred close to the ‘Roker roar’ in his native North East. Football was in his blood. I like to picture a young urchin kicking a ball around in the back streets of Sunderland with a cheeky smile on his impish face and a bag of humbugs in a coal-encrusted paw. The last time I went to watch Sunderland a policeman advised me to remove my Brighton scarf – presumably in case I got it stolen or may be he thought it was just a bit too tight; whatever the reason, I sensed that Sunderland was a tough environment. Footballers honing their skills on these streets would have to learn a few tricks and stay mentally strong. Mike has a winning streak running through him, which is possibly why he rejected the ‘Black Cats’ and became a Manchester United fan. He has watched and played football for a very long time (he has an important birthday coming up on the 22nd of this month). Who better to prepare his charges for games against state school pupils who have played together for three years? These youngsters have to learn fast and Mr Tonks puts the ‘Mr T’ into Tot!
Spencer Gunnell’s mum played football for England. She was a big influence in his upbringing. She told me that Spencer was a “good dribbler from a very young age”. She was not surprised when he joined the Stoke City youth team, and having watched Spencer play for the staff team I am surprised he is not still playing there! Spencer (pictured right, working on jumping techniques which he told me were particularly important for Stoke players) is a very highly qualified coach and he brings the technical expertise to go with Mr Tonks’ streetwise knowledge. Together they are a formidable coaching team and a string of impressive results suggest this is a team that is maturing fast. Indeed they had won four of their last five games until I cursed them with the honour of being Team of the Week!
Their 3-0 defeat to a Manchester Grammar team that have been together for three years is no disgrace and both coaches felt with and little more concentration and precision in front of goal the result could have been very different. The Tots consist of Robert ‘the impassable’ Ford in goal, Sam ‘the reliable and awesome left back’ Bayliss, Tom ‘the set piece specialist and 007-style’ Bromley Davenport, Tom the ‘trickster’ Brunskill, Ivor ‘never been known to not smile’ Featherstonehaugh, George ‘goal machine’ Garrett, Lucas ‘pit-bull’ Paul, Oliver ‘clown and entertainer’ Sykes, Harry ‘head it or hoof it’ Wasdell, Jordan ‘the brick wall’ Zaza, Jom ‘the silent assassin’ Umpujh, George ‘I used to like rugby’ Sandy, David ‘the brave and therefore usually injured’ Schofield, Mungo ‘hard to dispossess or tackle’ Hargreaves. Their mentors are very impressed by their ability and think they have a bright future.
A 50% win ratio at this juncture in their fledgling Shrewsbury careers suggests this group of players have a bright future. All Hail Tonksy’s Tots!
Below left: A typical piece of nifty footwork from captain Harry Wasdell; right: Keeper Robert Ford poised to make another spectacular save