By Alex Watson
It’s been an immense season for the Hampton U13A football team. Under the guidance of their coach Mr Hooper, they have managed to reach the semi-finals of the Independent Schools Football Association (ISFA) cup and even more impressively come out winners of their national competition, in the English Schools’ Football Association (ESFA). Overall, the team played 29 games, with a staggering 24 won, just four lost and one drawn. On top of this, they have managed to score an astounding 115 goals throughout the course of the season, whilst conceding just 36 (credit must go to striker Rio Felonov-Tzanev, who managed to score 45 of those goals).
However, it wasn’t always easy going for the Hampton footballers. At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, they were far from the team they are today. After a couple of fairly convincing victories, including in the first round of ESFA, they had their first taste of defeat in the season as they succumbed to a strong Alleyn’s unit, losing 4-3 despite a hat trick from Felonov-Tzanev.
However, the U13A team responded to this defeat brilliantly, as they first beat Sevenoaks School 8-0 in the ISFA cup before scraping through to round three of ESFA against a quality Carshalton Boys Sports College, the score 5-4 after extra time. After another win in ESFA against Royal Docks’ Community School, they defeated Haileybury 9-1 in the third round of ISFA. In my eyes, this was performance that really kick-started the season of U13A team. Some of their best football was on display, with Felonov-Tzanev scoring four and the Hampton defensive line, comprising of Felix Burt, Sooho Jin, Alessandro Cardinale and Freddie Thwaite, seeming to go up a level, though they still had a long way to go until they would the reach the level which saw them described as a ‘yellow brick wall’ by the commentator of the ESFA final.
After this victory, Hampton became simply unstoppable. They continued their winning run with a comprehensive 5-0 victory over Glyn School, and then managed to defeat St Thomas More High School 3-1 in round four of ESFA thanks to a brace from Cardinale. Two more wins were secured the following week, as they defeated St John’s School 3-0 in ISFA, with two goals from Finley Milner, and then beat Ardingly College in a routine 3-1 victory.
The Hampton U13A side had now essentially broken through into what you could call ‘the big rounds’ of ESFA and ISFA, and they showed no signs of stopping as they defeated Ravens Wood School 5-1 to progress into the national cup round of 32, Marcus Solomon and Felonov-Tzanev scoring two goals apiece. Though their winning run was halted after a 2-2 draw against a strong Whitgift team in a friendly, the U13A footballers continued to go from strength to strength as they defeated Woolwich Polytechnic School 4-2 in the next round of ESFA.
This has to be one of the most notable games in Hampton’s season, one which saw them go very close to being knocked out of ESFA and one which displayed a new side to the U13A team – a side of grit, courage and determination. With the Hamptonians 2-1 down with under 15 minutes to play, they managed to score three goals late in the match, with Cardinale converting a penalty and Felonov-Tzanev scoring two to complete his hat trick.
Next, it was time for the quarter-final match on their ISFA journey, as they travelled to Alleyn’s School hoping for revenge after earlier in the season. However, this U13A side was not the same one that had started the 2021-22 season – the defence were going from strength to strength, the midfield was much improved and the attack was on another level. This was evident as they showed how much they had grown over the past year, beating Alleyn’s 4-2 thanks to another hat trick from striker Feloniv-Tzanev.
The cup games kept coming, and they now had an ESFA round of 16 game against Kingsdale Foundation School. A tough, hard-fought battle against a strong side, the game ended 1-0 to Hampton. Felonov-Tzanev may have grabbed the glory, scoring the only goal, but it was the Hampton defence who played the most significant part in the game, as they excelled in what was surely their best performance of the season, keeping a clean sheet and securing a Hampton victory.
After a 2-0 win against Abingdon School, the U13 team set off on the long journey to Devon to play Torquay Boys’ Grammar School in the ESFA quarter-final. The big pitch the match was played on thoroughly suited Hampton, allowing them to play their best football and run out 6-1 winners. Goals were scored by Solomon (2), Balti Birts, Felonov-Tzanev, Omer Olcer and Alex Watson.
Just three days later, however, and it was time for another tough encounter; an ISFA semi-final against Dulwich College at home. Unfortunately, it was the visitors that rose to the occasion, and though you could say that the cause of defeat may have been fatigue from the long trip and match just three days earlier, or the hole in the midfield left by Balti Birts, who was unwell, you have to admit that on the day Hampton were simply outclassed, losing 2-0.
Not to worry, however, as they had another semi-final to contest, this time in ESFA against Enfield Grammar School away. Learning from their mistakes in the ISFA semi-final, the U13A team put together a much improved perfromance, and thanks to a brace from Felonov-Tzanev and one from Solomon they ran out 3-1 winners to send them through to the prestigious ESFA final.
They would have a long time to wait, however, as it wouldn’t be played until May at The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion. In the meantime, several friendlies were played, including two pulsating encounters against Whitgift School, the first of which was lost and the second won. Other games included a 3-0 victory over Royal Russell and a 4-0 win over Wimbledon College.
However, after a break of more than two months, it was finally time for the ESFA final, where they would play Chesterfield High School…
U13As Top Scorers for Season 2021-22
Rio Felonov-Tzanev- 45 goals
Marcus Solomon- 22 goals
Alessandro Cardinale- 12 goals
Caspar Strouts- 8 goals
Goal of the Season
3) Freddie Thwaite vs Forest School
2) Felix Burt vs Carshalton Boys Sports College
1) Marcus Solomon vs Whitgift School