Report by Neil Prior

RESULT: Southgate 2 – Cambridge City 1

GOALS: Oscar Prior (PC) & Barney Collier (FG)

The last time the Southgate Under 18 Boys were in a National Final the current group were barely out of kindergarten! Messrs Rivett and Burkin were in the line-up back then, a dozen or so years ago!

This was a rare event indeed and it was an occasion not to be missed at Reading Hockey Club – 13:15 push back, Pitch 2 – Southgate (playing in White Shirts and White socks) vs Cambridge City (playing in Blue shirts and Red socks).

Southgate’s playing journey to the Final had been a tough one, dismissing Wimbledon (6-5); Holcombe 6-2); Norwich (2-0) and Bath Buccs (8-1) on route. Could they really come away with a National Trophy?

The sun shone, the spectators gathered, the boys warmed up and even the wind held its breath.

Coach Joergen Jaehnig gathered the together in the pre-match huddle passed on some final pieces of advice that basically boiled down to “just go out there in win it (please)!”.

And the game was underway. Cambridge City looked strong (allegedly having a couple of NAGS and Futures players in their ranks). It was clear this was going to be Southgate’s stiffest test yet. If Southgate were nervous they did not show it, they got the game started at a high tempo. Vivek Dongha and Jackson Trathen both quickly winning possession and moving the ball on to the forward line that started with Daman Bansal, Barney Collier and Oscar Prior. It was a delightful piece of trickery and skill from Vivek that resulted in him confusing a defender sufficiently to duff the ball with his size 10s and the first Penalty Corner of the game was awarded. A coded shout from the bench meant that the boys lined up – Giles Woodland to inject; Tom Murphy to stop; Lucas Jaehnig to slip left; Barney Collier to reverse hit to far post and Oscar Prior to deflect in. That was the theory, that is what they had practiced at length on Tuesday night in training and that is exactly what happened in the National Final – ONE – NIL to SOUTHGATE! High fives and celebrations were brief as the boys knew there was a long way to go – we were barely five minutes in.

Cambridge came right back at Southgate – Lucas, Sam Marshall, Tom and Josh Chandler had to be at their tackling best to keep out the marauding runs of the opposing forwards. Great patience was shown in possession. As ever Giles was the epitome of calm in his deep centre midfield role, picking off tackles, distributing with pinpoint accuracy – you can see why he has been a natural pick for the M1s all season. But it was a piece of outrageous individual skill that saw Southgate double their lead midway through the first half. Just past the centre spot Barney dispossessed his opponent and set off on a run towards the D being hounded by two players, Oscar and Sam Ziff (newly added to the front line) were both making runs to make themselves available for a Barney pass, instead 3D skills were chosen, two more players beaten and a peach of a reverse stick hit unleashed into the roof of the net. Truly a thing of beauty! SOUTHGATE: TWO – NIL up.

Clearly stunned, Cambridge raised their game. A couple of poor decisions at the back (taking an extra touch after the whistle had just been blown) resulted in Green cards first for Josh and then for Captain Lucas. No amount of arguing was going to change the umpire’s mind – it never does guys!! Cambridge were about to take advantage of the extra man. Sam M stepping in front, as he always and excellently does, was dispossessed at the top of the D, the ball was moved swiftly to the right and a cracker of a strike from the Cambridge centre forward gave the magnificent Veysel Demir no chance (on this occasion) – Cambridge were back in it at 2-1. It was they who finished the half stronger – forcing excellent saves from Veysel from a couple of penalty corners. Southgate did get the ball in the net once more in the first half with a nicely worked move from Daman who found Oscar lurking to hit a trademark volley into the goal, but alas, it was disallowed as the ball had rolled out of play moments before the killer pass from Daman. Oh well – 2-1 at half time it would have to be.

Reinforcements throughout the game in the form of Noah Lavy, Ruben Straat and Aman Chhaya all added to the strength and depth of the team, Noah with high energy levels spurred on by his own personal fan club made many of his trademark darting runs to deceive the opposition. However, the second half seemed to be a more cagey affair for the Southgate boys. Huge amounts of energy was being sapped by the pace and work rate – mistakes were being made, cracks were beginning to show and Cambridge could smell blood. Decisions did not go Southgate’s way, basics like looking at the umpire when the whistle blew to check in which direction he was pointing his arm were forgotten. Lessons not learned from the first half saw the Green cards upgraded to Yellows in the second half for knocking the ball away – Noah, Barney and Vivek were all deemed culprits at various stages of the second half. Plus a bit too much cheeky chit-chat from Daman saw him take a five minute breather and then a rash challenge from Oscar too meant that they were looking for an extra chair at the side of the pitch! Were Southgate self-imploding? Were they about to throw it away? The crowd were beside themselves – all of Noah’s friends that had made the trip from North London were in a state of deep anxiety; Coach Joergen had his head in his hands; Manager – the usually super-calm James Marshallwas visibly in pain; Club Chairman Neil Murphy in attendance as a parent rather than in an official capacity had to flex some authority with fellow parents on the side lines to head-off further yellow cards being issued to Southgate players. At least the boys timed their ill-advised actions in such a way that there were only ever two off the pitch at one time, but having to hold-on to a 2-1 lead with 9 vs 11 was asking a lot of the likes of Lucas, Sam M, Tom, Ruben and Giles. Southgate were running the clock down but Cambridge attacked and attacked. In the dying seconds they forced a Penalty Corner after Tom was deemed to rather-too-obviously block a run into the 23. Once again Veysel was called-upon to save and kick to safety. Surely, the final whistle needs to be blown now, the game on the other pitch had finished, it must be time up – please! And then it was. Southgate U18 Boys have won the National Tier 1 Plate 2022 – whoop whoop!

Massive thanks and congratulations to Coach Joergen Jaehnig – his commitment, planning, belief and unstoppable ambition has been the difference between mid-table mediocrity and success at the highest level in the land. Huge kudos to Joergen.
Also, a really big thank you James Marshall for marshalling (!) the boys, parents and the Club through all of the important stuff behind the scenes – great work James.
Thank you to all the parents and Club members that have come to support throughout the season – being noisy at the side of the pitch really does make the boys feel special and gives them an extra boost.
And finally a special thanks to the four boys that have been involved throughout, played their part in earlier rounds, were there to support the squad at Reading today but were not able to get any pitch time themselves – Jack Levene, Nayan Bhundia, Esa Sohoye and Tom Fish – you are all winners too – THANK YOU!

Final stop – win the league – just the little detail of having to beat old foe Old Loughtonians (twice)!