What’s better than a team with a National Title? A team with two.
On a freezing wet April day, the team that tests your ability to use an apostrophe, Rossall’s Girls’ Headmaster’s XI, travelled down to Hertfordshire FA to take on Surbiton High School in the final of the ISFA U18 Cup competition. The ground was a place of happy memories for most (or no memories for Alice, who suffered a concussion in last year’s final) as we had seen the girls triumph in 2022, and all of the pre-game discussion was around whether this team of outstanding players could repeat the performance. Reader: they did. And some.
The similarities between the two games were remarkable: 0-0 at full time, with chances at both ends; a goal in the first half of Extra Time (in the exact same minute as the goal last year); and a nervy final few minutes until the final whistle was blown. National Champions has a nice ring to it: retaining their title sounds even better. But more of that later.
As it was, Rossall arrived en masse as a number of students chose to miss whatever academic lessons they had that afternoon in order to support the girls, knowing that the near 500 mile round trip would result in a 1am return. But days like this need supporters, and days like this create memories. None more so than the pre-game moment for outstanding captain Ellie, whose Dad flew in from America to surprise her and to watch her for the first time – if you haven’t seen the video, then do jump onto @RossallSixth on Instagram, but be prepared to cry. As the supporters arrived, the players came out to warm up and you could just tell they were fired up for this game. And what a game it was.
The first half was electric with chances at both ends. Grace pulled off two stunning saves and Sophia H cleared off the line to help keep the clean sheet intact, but we also went close through Keren, Cloe and Diti. The real battle was in the middle of the pitch where Emma and Sophia W came up against their best player, a tall, strong and graceful student from the Chelsea Academy and there was a feeling that whichever side won this tussle might go on to be successful. Equally, Surbiton’s pace up top caused some issues at moments in the first half, but some crunching tackles from Maya, and strength from Frankie really kept the chances to a minimum. The half time whistle came at the wrong time for Rossall who had been enjoying their best period of the game, but it sent the girls into the huddle full of confidence, and the crowd into the cafe full of frostbite.
Enter Mr Newson, the Fleetwood Arsene Wenger, with some words of inspiration, and the girls came out flying. A sustained period of pressure resulted in a series of repeated corners for Rossall, one of which saw Diti attack the ball on the edge of the box that must have bounced near head-height for her, drawing a superb save from Surbiton’s keeper. This was followed by Emma’s 30 yard free kick that hit the crossbar, and some chaotic goalmouth scrambles, where we just failed to make that decisive touch. Grace was busy too, saving twice with her feet from close range, and plucking the ball from the darkening sky to relieve some sustained Surbiton pressure.
With time ticking down, the voices of the crowd increased with Ashton leading the supporters’ club in their songs and Will commentating on a livestream to parents and students from all over the world – both boys doing what they do best: talking a lot. But the full-time whistle blew and we were thrown back twelve months to exactly this feeling: can we find one moment, one piece of skill, that extra bit of bravery, to take the trophy back to the North once again. Reader: we did.
It happened seven minutes into the first half of Extra Time. Siddall picked up the ball (in exactly the same part of her own half as last year), drove past a couple of tackles, cut out to the right, and then, almost from the exact place she scored from last year, she chose to slip a reverse pass into Keren, who drove the ball past the onrushing keeper into the corner of the net. Cue pandemonium. But this was the time for cool heads and in-game discipline. The outstanding-on-the-night Isabel and the infatigable Sophia W tightened up the midfield, and all eleven players got nasty, and tough, and intimidating, and resilient, and just showed the type of spirit that has made them back-to-back National Champions. As the final whistle sounded, the players collapsed to the floor in ecstasy, tiredness seeping through their veins. A fantastic final played between two excellent teams. Let the singing begin.
Of the success, Headmaster, Mr Jeremy Quartermain said:
“Football is more than just a game. The phenomenal success of this trailblazing group of girls is an inspirational story that contains so many personal triumphs. However, a team is more than the sum of its individual members and the bond that unites these talented young players is one forged in close friendships, and a courageous competitiveness that knows no limits. Mr Newson and his team deserve to be congratulated on another superb season. Their guidance and support has created a unique dynamic that propels the girls to success. We are incredibly proud of these girls.”
What’s better than a team with two National Titles? See you next year.