It was with some excitement that ten Prep V and VI girls departed Bridgewater this morning for their first competitive football fixture since the Valencia tour last October at AJIS U11s Girls’ Football Festival hosted by St. Bede’s College. Indeed, for some it was to be their fix competitive fixture ever: on the bus to the tournament, Eloise was heard to mutter, “I don’t know why I’m here, I’ve never played football before. I hope I don’t try to pick the ball up and run down the pitch with it.”
With strict instructions not to pick the ball up, Eloise started her footballing career in defence, very quickly forming a solid defensive partnership with Molly in our first game against Manchester High. From the first whistle, our girls’ enthusiasm was plain to see, and a Leeds style high press put early pressure on the Manchester defence – after a break down the left by Nyla and a well saved shot from Evie B, Allegra pounced on the loose ball in the box to poke home Bridgewater’s opener. Of course, a high press leaves a team open to the counterattack, and despite constant Bridgewater pressure, Manchester High broke away to score an equaliser, notwithstanding the best efforts of Emma in goal to scramble across. From the restart and the introduction of Mia in attack to make a nuisance of herself, Manchester High were reduced to desperate defending – one clearance fell to Molly 30 yards out who struck the ball first time, only to see the ball ricochet away to safety off the cross bar. It wasn’t to be – a draw to open our account.
In the second game, Bridgewater came up against The Grange. Once again, the girls played a high pressing game – 90% of the game was played in the Grange half. The introduction of Darcy and Juliette gave the girls – not that they needed it! – a lift and their energy helped keep the pressure on The Grange. However, it was perhaps the girls’ exuberance that prevented them converting from the possession they had – a little more composure in front of goal would surely have led to the opener. Unfortunately, on only their second foray into the Bridgewater half, The Grange earned a corner. Emma tipped the first corner away, but the second was drilled into the Bridgewater penalty area – no problem, seemingly, as Eloise got to the ball first and attempted to clear it, only to see it hit a retreating Grange player and bounce past the stranded Emma in the Bridgewater goal. A really unlucky end to the game, as there was no time even for the restart.
And so it was through to the Plate competition semi-final, and a match up against Stockport. And so began the Evie O show – we think it was the chocolate orange cookie that she snuck in before the game started that gave her the energy to cover the amount of the pitch that she did. Her effort and determination drove Bridgewater on and it was her own pressure on the Stockport defence that allowed her to break into the box and rifle a shot past the helpless Stockport keeper. The lead never looked in trouble as the girls snapped at the Stockport players every time they got the ball – indeed, but for a truly outstanding save from another ferocious Molly long distance shot Bridgewater might have doubled their lead. But it was enough – it was through to Plate final for the girls.
Our opponents in the final were Bury, and once again the effort and determination of the girls was a joy to watch. However, Bury had a secret weapon: a goalkeeper who was able, with a bit of wind assistance, to kick the ball the length of the field. Not only that, but she also made several good saves from Bridgewater pressure, which she was immediately able to turn into attack for Bury. Molly and Eloise coped well with this, but it was from a Bridgewater corner taken by Molly that the keeper saved well from Allegra, before launching the ball upfield for the Bury player to slot home, via a miss hit shot, past Emma for the opener. Undeterred, the girls pushed on but were unable to make their pressure pay and it was as they were pressing for the equaliser in the final minute of the game that the keeper again saved, launched the ball long for the Bury striker to latch on to and slot home to make the final score 2-0 to Bury.
Many of these girls began playing football two years ago on the Valencia tour; their improvement through a second tour to today has been incredible. Those girls that have come into the squad have also shown enthusiasm and no little skill. From never playing football before, Eloise was actually awarded Player of the Match by the opposition coach for her efforts in the final. These girls show huge potential, and have been a credit to the school today as they all played with sportsmanship, passion and smiles on their faces all day. Roll on the next game!