Messages from Glenn Hoddle, Peter Schmeichel and F2 Freestylers spur The Bishop's Stortford High School on to PlayStation FC Schools' Cup under-14 success
A cup run that lasted almost a year ended in glory for The Bishop's Stortford High School as they were crowned national under-14 champions.
The team triumphed 2-1 in the final against Bolton's Turton School to lift the PlayStation FC Schools' Cup at Lilleshall National Sports Centre last Wednesday (October 14).
Joe Nardelli bagged a brace and was named man of the match in the final, which took place one day shy of 12 months after their opening fixture in the competition because of the pandemic.
The team received good luck messages from the likes of Glenn Hoddle – team captain George Hoddle's dad is the former England manager's cousin – ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Jeremy Lynch from the F2 Freestylers.
They performed brilliantly on the day to claim the title, with Ben Smith also winning the golden boot for his magnificent 15 goals in the tournament and the team ending as the top scorers with 42 goals.
"I'm so proud of the players," said manager and head of PE Peter Harris. "They have worked hard and improved as a team throughout the competition, acting on the feedback provided.
"The lockdown slowed the momentum, but they put in a phenomenal performance in the semi-final, demonstrating a superb resilience and competitive spirit, to see themselves into the final and become deserved winners."
After receiving a bye in the first round, TBSHS started out on the long road to the final in the second round on October 15, 2019 when Smith scored five goals in an 8-3 win at Thurstable College.
Next came a 7-4 success away to Stationers' Crown Wood Academy with Smith getting a hat-trick and Nardelli notching twice.
Icknield were then seen off 5-1 thanks to another goal from Smith along with two apiece for skipper Hoddle and Jack Taylor.
They had to come from behind to get the better of Samuel Whitbread 6-3 as Smith claimed a brace and Lewis Ellmore lobbed the goalkeeper from just inside the opposition half.
Smith and Finn Slater got two apiece when Ravens Wood were beaten 6-2 before Jayden Peglar saved two spot kicks to secure a 4-2 penalty shootout win following a 2-2 draw after extra time against Kingsdale School.
Their last match before the lockdown was in Gloucester against St Peter's College and Nardelli's two strikes were added to by Smith, Hoddle and Cameron Ayre in a 5-2 triumph.
When the action was allowed to resume following the easing of coronavirus restrictions, TBSHS travelled to Hurstmere School and won 1-0 thanks to Smith's last-gasp goal with his only shot of the tie.
Peglar had earlier made an excellent save while the back four of Tristain Haupt, Jimmy Tye, Ellmore and Shaye Willats were very well organised and disciplined, although they did survive a scare when their opponents rattled the post with the last kick of the game.
TBSHS started brightly in the final against Turton and twice went close to breaking the deadlock through Hoddle and Nardelli.
The pressure eventually told when Nardelli rose well to head in Jack Walker's corner from six yards out, with Peglar making an excellent stop to keep them ahead at the break.
The lead was doubled after the interval when Smith was brought down by the goalkeeper after being released by Hoddle and Nardelli stepped up to calmly convert the penalty.
Turton pulled a goal back from a penalty of their own with three minutes remaining and Nardelli received a second yellow card for kicking the ball away after being given offside, but TBSHS held on to become champions.