KINGS HILL COLTS vs HOLLANDS AND BLAIR THUNDER (KINGS HILL WIN ON PENALTIES)
Emotions ran high at Kings Hill as Hollands and Blair Thunder went out of the U11s Consolation Cup on penalties at the first hurdle.
It was a double heartbreak for the boys, who at full time said farewell to manager Lee Pickett and his son Leo, who is heading off to play for Hollands and Blair Lightning next season.
A day of high drama started atrociously, with Kings Hill surging into a 3 goal lead in a six-minute period before the game had even hit the quarter-hour mark. Apart from a majestic lob, the goals boiled down to Blair errors and a general lack of concentration that seemed to infect all the boys at the same time.
But the third goal – and some timely substitutions – seemed to light a fire under Thunder, who came to life as a team and came very close to an unlikely victory.
The fightback was led by Oscar Colyer whose characteristic determination paid off when Zach Tydeman found him with a lovely through ball which Oscar tucked away in the 18th minute.
The introduction of Archie Rutherford as midfield conductor made a massive difference as he and Fred Bullivant worked their socks off, linking up time after time to keep the Kings Hill defenders on their toes.
The second half was all Blair, who cut the deficit to one goal within 60 seconds of the restart. A throw in on the right found Leo who jinked past his man and rolled a lovely ball into the path of Zach who steamed into the area and slid the ball past the onrushing Kings Hill goalkeeper.
Thunder were looking increasingly confident with Franki Hillier, Ben Phillips and Max Barwick shoring things up at the back while Archie and the ever-busy Joseph Watling worked hard to get back to help their defenders.
The equaliser came from Ben, who slotted home the penalty after Oscar was brought down as he honed in on goal.
It felt like only one team would go on to win it as Blair carved out chance after chance, hitting the post, rolling the ball along the goal line and just missing out to last-ditch Kings Hill interceptions. Thunder’s attacking force of Fred, Archie, Zach, Leo and Oscar gave everything they had but could not find a way through and the game would be decided by the dreaded penalty shootout.
Considering the pressure, the boys acquitted themselves incredibly well but ultimately just missed out and it is Kings Hill Colts who progress to the next round.
In such cruel circumstances, the sad reality also dawned on the boys that this would be the last competitive match in which they would have Lee on the touchline and Leo in the heart of midfield.
Leo’s bravery in fighting back from a broken leg a couple of years ago is a hugely inspirational story and we will all miss his creative energy, obvious passion for the game and his massive contribution to the team.
We’ll all have our favourite memories of Leo’s time with the boys but his late winner in an ill-tempered, blood and thunder game at Snodland last year when he lobbed the keeper and sprinted straight to his dad for an all-pile-on celebratory cuddle must be near the top of his highlights list.
As for Lee – it is difficult to put into words just how much the boys owe to their outgoing manager. Their development as footballers is down to his passion for them to succeed and his determination that they should play football the right way.
He has given up so much of his personal life to organise, plan and execute this team’s upward trajectory and we are all incredibly grateful to him for everything he has done.
The parents are planning to say goodbye in our own way over the coming weeks.
Thanks Lee and Leo – and good luck with everything you go on to do.