Carre’s Grammar School footballers held their nerve in a penalty shoot-out to be crowned national champions last Wednesday.
The Sleaford school edged out Shropshire school Thomas Telford at Manchester City FC’s Academy Stadium to win the final of the English Schools FA Boys Under 16s Premier League Elite Schools Cup.
The school has excelled in national competition in recent years and reached the latter stages, but this was the first time Carre’s had won the highest level competition in English Schools football.
Having celebrated as a school last Friday, it was then back to reality for the players who faced another big test of a different kind – their GCSE exams.
“In truth the whole squad did their job on the day,” said Carre’s head of sport, James Offer. “All 16 players played their part in the win.
“There was lots of eager anticipation leading up to the day, but our players had concerns over the quality of the opposition leading up to the day of the game.
“We did have chances, but mainly played in a defensive way against technically superior players.”
The day of the final had not started well for anyone looking for omens as road closures, roadworks and heavy traffic turned the journey to Manchester into a six-hour epic.
“Luckily we got word to the 400 supporters to change their route and go via Stoke or they would not have made kick-off,” said Mr Offer.
“But my mother spent her 70th birthday in the car trying to get to Manchester and didn’t make the kick-off!”
“The facilities at the Manchester City Academy were unbelievable,” he added.
“We had to have a truncated warm-up, but we made the best of it and in a way it gave us less time to worry.
“We had to be on it from the start of the warm-up.”
After the kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes, Carre’s set up in a 4-5-1 formation, conceding the majority of possession in their half to their opponents and expecting a battle.
The Sleaford side did their job and having held the Shropshire side, then won a penalty from a good counter-attack with 10 minutes left.
Haydn Tear calmly slotted it into the bottom-right corner to put Carre’s in sight of the trophy.
They held out through a nervous final 10 minutes, but agonisingly in the third and final minute of stoppage-time, Carre’s conceded a penalty and Telford levelled.
Without extra time the tie headed straight to penalties, with questions of how Carre’s would cope after that late disappointment.
“The last 10 minutes plus two of the three minutes of added time took an age to pass,” explained Mr Offer.
“We were a minute from glory when unfortunately we gave them a penalty.”
Carre’s did indeed blink first, and missed the second penalty, allowing Thomas Telford to take the initiative at 2-1.
But a great save from Carre’s keeper Elliott Matthews helped claw them level, and at 4-4, the shootout went into the even greater lottery of sudden death.
Telford’s goalkeeper took their sixth penalty and Matthews made another great save to move Carre’s one kick from glory.
Alfie Chapman kept his cool to stroke home the decisive spot-kick and spark joyous celebrations among the travelling support from Lincolnshire.
Tristan Skerrittt was named man-of-the-match for an outstanding defensive display.