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Taming of the Shrewsbury: 1st XI head North dreaming of glory

By Josh Bartholomew, Online Editor

Well then. A national final. Hampton’s 1st XI will tomorrow play in the school’s first-ever ESFA (English Schools Football Association) final after exuberant anticipation in the past few days across the school: posters of the team and Mr Mills ‘the tactician’ have been splayed across the corridors; chants with questionable musicality but first-class humour are already being composed by inventive sixth formers.

This Hampton team are already history-makers, but in Shrewsbury, Mr Mills’ cluster of virtuosos will be aiming to go one better and win the ESFA Cup.

His team have been admirably resilient this season, overcoming numerous barriers in their bid for national success.

The agonising defeat on penalties to Ardingly in the ISFA (Independent Schools’ Football Association) quarter-final would have been enough to hold many teams back. But the next week, the 1st XI were back in ESFA action, winning 5-0 over The Palmer Catholic Academy to reach Round Five.

Then there was the ESFA semi-final at Gordon’s. Faced with a 2-1 half-time deficit, ferocious wind and bobbly pitch, the team bounced back brilliantly to go 2-4 ahead with only minutes left.

Then the wind struck, helping Hampton’s opponents to a 4-4 scoreline at full-time. Buoyed by a rampant home crowd, Gordon’s were attacking with verve, but the 1st XI immobilized them before striking to win 4-5.

Hampton celebrate their semi-final triumph

This all adds up to one conclusion – this Hampton side are plucky, tenacious and persistent, and that’s before you take into account their supreme technical quality.

There are former professional academy representatives all over the pitch in black and gold, and for good reason. In George Maxwell and Noah Hanley, Hampton have two robust and experienced centre-backs.

The 1st XI’s midfield trio have been a key reason for their progress this far into the season. Tom Hudson is brilliantly hard-working, often tucking into defence while the team attack so that full-backs Sami Omaar and Tom Waring can bomb forward freely; Louis Instrall and Harry Short both have the goal-scoring threat to worry any opponent and can control possession at will.

Midfield maestro: Instrall is a key member of Hampton’s team

And up front, Hampton possess one of the most talented players you’ll see in the school game this season – Shaun-Chris Joash. On his day, Joash is close to impossible to stop, and is supported by three talented wingers: Freddy Hodgson, Denil Manuel and Louis Rhodes.

In their way stand Repton School, a fellow member of the so-called ‘big four’ footballing schools – Hampton, Repton, Millfield and Royal Russell. The team from Derbyshire have had a similarly successful season to Hampton, reaching the semi-finals of the ISFA cup, before bowing out to Millfield.

Though they did win this competition last year, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re set to do the same this year – a number of key players have left the school in the meantime.

But Repton have some quality of their own: full-back Matthew Bowman has had spells at Middlesbrough, Hull City and Cardiff City; midfielders Elijah Sawyers and Eno Nto have turned out for Stoke City and Derby County’s respective U18 squads.

Hampton and Repton have met once already this season – a 5-4 thriller in the Derbyshire side’s favour in February.

Alas, this affair in Shrewsbury will be totally different. In front of thousands of fans in a professional stadium, there’ll be an immeasurably different feel to the game, with one important aspect at play – added pressure.

The stakes are far higher than any other game. Both schools will take a sizeable travelling contingent to Shrewsbury, and whichever team deals with the greater tension will likely come out on top.

The midfield battle will be pivotal in deciding this game – Hudson, Instrall and Short will have an important task in neutralising the threats of Nto and Sawyers, and extra impetus from Hampton’s QPR academy midfielder Stathis Kalathias could prove to be pivotal.

Both teams have performed admirably well to reach this stage, and the match will likely be frighteningly tight, but one thing’s for certain – this Hampton side has the tenacity and quality to bring the trophy back to South-West London.

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