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I was in Sunderland recently to see the English Premier League game against Manchester United. It was, I thought, instantly forgettable and, compared to the Under 13 AC Taxis Cup final between Redhall Star and Blackhall Athletic, a complete waste of time as far as football in all its glory was concerned. You may think that is an over-the-top comparison, but, believe me, the under-13 final was totally brilliant in every way. So, step up to the plate all the boys who made it a totally memorable night at the Enclosure.
Blackhall won the silverware by winning 3-2 in a penalty decider. The game itself was just pure magic and Redhall fought back in the second half, while trailing 3-0, to square the game and take it to extra time and penalties. Dramatic? I’ll say it was! A game to remember? I and all others who were in the surprising large crowd on the terraces, will, hopefully agree that it was.
The two squads of young footballers deserve all the praise I can heap upon them. And the spectators, too, deserve their share of praise for creating the most wonderful atmosphere, full of non-stop encouragement for all the boys to show off their undoubted skills. I have no nominations for ‘player of the game’ as all the boys gave their all in what was a great night for the sport of football, often referred to as ‘the beautiful game’! This one certainly was!
It did not go according to plan for Redhall who it appeared were favourites to win the lovely big trophy. Conversely, everything went right on the night for Blackhall Athletic, made up mostly from boys who attend/attended Blackhall Primary School. And it was the ‘underdogs’ who did everything right on the night, racing in to a 3-0 lead, surely a match-winning one at that? But, in true ‘Roy of the Rovers stuff, Redhall woke up and scored three wonderful goals to take the game in to extra time. And penalties! What a night! What a thriller of a game! What celebrations on both touchlines! What sheer enthralling enjoyment! And, WHAT drama to boot! This game had them all in abundance.
There were warning signs early of for Redhall and Blackhall No 12, Josh Bridgeman, had pace to burn as they say and it was his speed and athleticism that caused so many problems for the Redhall rearguard. But this was a game in which play flowed from end to end and Redhall, too, were no slouches when it came to mounting raids on the Blackhall goal. I don’t think there was a blade of grass on the big pitch that was not used up! Blair Salvona, in the No 7 jersey, was good in Redhall attacking moves. My God, it was marvellous to watch and when big Redhall keeper raced off his line to clear from Josh Bridgeman, he lashed out at the bounding ball - and missed it completely. A fresh-air shot if ever I have seen one. There were no fresh-air shots later on TV as I watched the Masters Golf on TV. A Redhall defender got back to clear on that occasion but it was only a stay of execution, as Josh Vernon hammered a truly fantastic free-kick from well outside the 18 yard box in to Redhall net.
Hello, hello, what is happening? Possibly, Redhall fans must have thought it was only the calm before the storm! Nathan Robertson was through on the Blackhall goal and he looked certain to score. Nathan slipped the ball wide of Mark Ross but a defender managed to clear the ball before it crossed the line. Phew! And phew again! Adam Robertson let fly at the Blackhall goal but his shot was blocked and the rebound fell to Robertson, who shot wide of the left-hand post! I looked around to see if there was a ready supply of oxygen to give to the Blackhall and Redhall sidelines. Yes, they looked to be a wee bit flustered and excited. ‘Calm down, dears, it is only a game of football’! Not on your Nellie, this was a cup final and there was everything to play for.
Play raced to the other end and Scott Palmer had a shot blocked and Redhall broke away again. Blair Salvona set off on a glorious run at the Blackhall goal only for defender Stan Ashcroft (No 6) to produce the most perfect tackle to win the ball and avert the danger to the Blackhall goal. Shortly before the half-time whistle, the proverbial ‘roof’ fell in on Redhall. Josh Bridgeman used his searing pace yet again and his pass to Josh Vernon from the left was just perfect for the No 7 to slot home Blackhall’s second goal. The terracing, as they say, erupted. Normally quiet, dignified people were singing and dancing in celebration.
Half Time: Blackhall Athletic 2-0 Redhall Star
It was still 2-0 at the break and time for everyone to take a deep breath and calm down. But the game - and excitement - got even better in the second half. At the start, Blackhall No 2, Corann Henderson claimed his place in this final with wonderful play from deep on the left. Dare I say it, but this young footballer looked to be a very good athlete as well. And, boy, did he go on to prove that! Corann it was who combined with you know who - Josh Bridgeman - to leather home Blackhall’s third goal from fully 25 yards out. The ball hit the back of the net going line a train and Redhall keeper, Ryan Green, was helpless to stop the flight of the ball. Corann, meanwhile, lifted his arms above his head as his team-mates descended on him. Yes, it was something worth celebrating!
Was it, indeed, the end of the game as contest? 3-0 was a handsome lead, even a match-winning one! No way! Max Dumanye pounced on a bad clearance to hammer the ball past Blackhall keeper, Mark Ross, and what followed was nothing short of astonishing. The sleeping giants, indeed, woke up!
It was time to clear the decks as both sides went at it, hammer and tongs! Nathan Robertson was brilliantly tackled by Rory Marsden at the Blackhall end, while Lorenzo Parente was prominent in Redhall attacks along with very good No 3, Thomas Robertson. Redhall’s second counter was the goal of the game. It came from the boot of Jack Anderson (No 4) and his shot from fully 30 yard out just about burst the net. That made it 3-2 and speaking about burst nets, Redhall’s No 7, Blair Salvona, thought he had scored in the first half, when a shot, he thought, went in to the net - only for it to slip through. The net was not pegged down properly. But, despite claims from Blair he had scored, the referee gave a goal-kick. It was all part and parcel of the excitement of this final. But wee Blair kept looking at the referee and shaking his head in disbelief for a long time after.
The net was pegged down for the start of the second half. And, with Blackhall hanging on to their one-goal lead, along came Redhall’s saviour in the shape of Lorenzo Parente (a lovely name) who scored a superb equaliser to make it 3-3. All that was missing was the Hallelujah Chorus as the Redhall team, their coaches and fans went on runabout on the terracing. What a game, indeed. Blackhall hit back and, yes, it was Josh Brigeman, who led the charge, but his shot was blocked by the foot of the Redhall keeper and, woe is me, the rebound fell to Lucas Arena Terry and in his excitement, the Blackhall No 10 sent the ball soaring over the bar! Then Corann Henderson went on a great surging run at the Redhall goal. His shot beat the Redhall keeper and Josh Bridgeman fired the rebound wide. Oh, Josh, How could you?
The game went to extra time and so too did all the young players go in to overdrive. But, no more goals and so it went down to penalties. And it was Blackhall who emerged the winners by 3-2. Some of the women at the game were in need of help in the decider. It was intense, shall I say and just about unbearable to watch. Very much so and it was like a roller-coaster as each side missed from the spot.
On target for Redhall were Jack Anderson and Adam Robertson. For the winners, Josh Vernon, Scott Palmer and Corann Henderson hit the target to clinch the silverware. The level of sportsmanship did not drop after the game was over with handshakes and generous praise for both sides. A truly great night for the image of football, the greatest team game in the world. Ahem! Now to get home to see the Masters in action. And that was the perfect end to a wonderful night for me and, hopefully, for everyone else!
Full Time: Blackhall Athletic 3-3 Redhall Star (AET, Blackhall Athletic win 3-2 on penalties)