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First XI Season Review

By Luca Parrish

With the football season now behind us, it’s probably a good time to reflect on the exploits of this year’s First XI. The class of 2021-22 have enjoyed a strong year: they came painfully close to contesting an ISFA final, while a Surrey Cup success at the end of the season capped off many enjoyable afternoons on the 3G and in away games throughout the campaign.

One such enjoyable afternoon saw a pulsating ISFA quarter final clash against a highly capable Repton outfit which I was lucky enough to be in attendance for and write about, with Hampton battling back with immense spirit to emerge with a 3-2 victory. Despite the defensive endeavours of the Hampton backline, the team had to endure a 2-0 deficit going into the half-time break, a somewhat flattering score line for the opposition given that the First XI’s performance had been far from feeble.

It was Nat Woolaghan who proved to be the difference that day: with a win for the First XI appearing ostensibly improbable at the interval, he found a way to poke home after twisting and turning his way elegantly through the box and, after a Sam Evans equaliser, the midfielder stepped up once more, securing a pivotal winner late in the second period of extra time. I wrote in my report that the nature of the performance and the victory, enhanced by the buoyant Hampton faithful, would see them in good stead mentally in the later rounds, but sadly they succumbed to a very strong Bradfield side in the next round.

In reality, a semi-final of a national competition is always a fine effort, and the team could most certainly take great pride in their run. The Upper Sixth core of the squad, many of whom had been at the School since First Year, had tasted cup success before, but were only the joint winners of the ESFA U16 Cup due to a Covid-induced cancellation of the final, so the Surrey Cup, the final of which the First XI reached after a 2-1 victory against Richard Challoner School, represented a fantastic opportunity to fight for silverware in their final outing for Hampton.

It is important too, not to overlook the outstanding contributions of Lower Sixth and Fifth Year boys in the First XI’s season, with Fifth Year Conrad Knight proving an ever-reliable custodian in goal, where he will surely remain in the upcoming years.

Wilson’s School were the opponents in the culmination of this year’s Surrey Cup, and as Captain Jonah Blake explained to me, it was clear that the main threat they were going to pose was always likely to be vertical passes on the transition combining with runs in behind to stretch the Hampton backline, a backline always high up the pitch to facilitate the front foot, high pressing football the team employs. A cagey first half belied the ability down on the pitch, but one always felt that should the game open up into a more fluid encounter it would be Hampton who would gain the upper hand.

Nevertheless, it was Wilson’s who were the first to find the back of the net. A lapse of concentration in midfield left the ball up for grabs, and when the deflection from the resulting challenge ended up in a critically dangerous area, Wilson’s were able to pounce, and a low shot was rifled into the Hampton net.
The next part of the game can be characterised largely as a period of Hampton frustration. The game drifted, and Blake described it very aptly as looking as if it was going to turn into “one of those what if games.” While Hampton remained calm, as always under the watchful eyes of Mr Burke and Mr Ritchie, they were unable to land enough meaningful blows, reduced to probing and recycling, prevented from doing genuine damage by a Wilson’s team who, it must be said, were doing a fine job of keeping them at arm’s length.

The game was begging for someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck, or at least for someone to provide a pivotal moment, and eventually, it fell to the Captain, Blake, to provide such a moment. Late in the day, having come forward from the centre of defence, Jonah found himself at the back post, with the ball on his forehead for him to nod back across goal into the corner, making the score 1-1.

The final few minutes of the game passed with little of note to report, before penalties were required to end the stalemate. Here, Hampton were imperious in both departments; Conrad Knight made himself a hero with two fine stops, clearing the way for Player of the Season, Ben Bird, an indefatigable force for the team throughout the year, to dispatch the final spot kick, a penalty Blake described as “never in doubt,” indicating the confidence with which Hampton approached the whole situation, and ensuring them victory in what was a tough and at times torrid affair.

Blake, bowing out as First XI Captain with a trophy, made sure to say a few words to the team about the value of this triumph in the changing rooms after the cup was secured, with the boys thanking the coaches and with forward Jack Da Costa able to deploy his winning playlist at long last. Moreover, the players were able to share a moment of celebration with the hardy souls who had travelled to support them, a group who are a notable feature of so many games the side has played.

This represented a fitting end to not only the cup run, but also to the season as a whole, as well as to the footballing time at Hampton of a group of Upper Sixth boys who have been exemplary servants. The boys can hold their heads high after ending their time playing football for the School on a hard-fought and well-deserved victory.

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