Girls are Wembley winners

IF all went according to plan, two stretch limousines cruised around Great Yarmouth last night, carrying girls enjoying a celebratory night out. Hen party? Pre-clubbing jaunt? Neither.

IF all went according to plan, two stretch limousines cruised around Great Yarmouth last night, carrying girls enjoying a celebratory night out. Hen party? Pre-clubbing jaunt? Neither.

The passengers were nine Woodlands Middle School pupils at Bradwell enjoying a special treat after becoming joint national champions in the finals of a football tournament in front of thousands of spectators at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

In the final of the English Schools' FA U11 Seven-a-Side Cup, they shared a goalless draw with St Paul's Catholic Junior School from Liverpool, but the teams will jointly hold the 2008 title and were spared the agony of extra time or penalties on the big stage to find a winner.

The borough achieved an amazing double in that two teams beat off opposition from schools across the country to reach the last four in both the U11 boys' and girls' seven-a-side cup tournaments.

Cliff Park Community Middle School at Gorleston joined Woodlands in the semi-finals at Watford FC's training ground on Friday, and the next day all the last four in both the boys' and girls' competitions headed for Wembley, the home of English football, after a night in a London hotel.

But whereas Woodlands won their Watford semi-final in a tense penalty shoot-out to clinch a place in the final, the Cliff Park lads lost 1-0 there and were beaten 3-1 in the play-off for third/fourth spot at the national stadium.

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Despite the disappointment, Cliff Park - in the finals for the second time in three years - earned praise for progressing through the entire season without a defeat until that crucial decider at the weekend when they fought hard - coming fourth in a national competition against determined opposition brought great credit to their school and the borough.

The Woodlands girls, accompanied by parents and some grandparents, travelled in a coach with “We're off to win at Wembley” and “We're going to London to play at Wembley” along the side windows, each letter drawn and painted by pupils.

The slogans attracted the attention of passers-by, especially after the first was subsequently re-jigged to announce the victory.

There were Cliff Park supporters at Watford and about 100 at Wembley, having made their way independently.

The Woodlands draw was well merited, and the sides share the honours.

Each team received a golden boot trophy, the St Paul's players were given winners plaques, and Woodlands girls were handed runners-up plaques. But the English Schools' FA promised not only to have winner plaques made for Woodlands immediately but also for an official to deliver them to Bradwell to present them.

Why did not Woodlands get the winner plaques and not St Paul's? Simple: It is a shorter drive to Bradwell than to Liverpool!

Woodlands head of PE, Stuart Aldous, said: “It doesn't get any better than this!” It was his best moment in ten years of teaching, and he was really proud of the girls who had supported one another selflessly throughout.

The delighted Woodlands coach Vanessa Brambor immediately phoned her parents in New Zealand and, despite hoarseness through shouting, told them of the school's success. “The girls have done really well,” she commented later. “There was good team work, and deserved all they got today.”

Stuart and Vanessa were presented with a surprise soccer-style memento by the girls' parents for all the time they had devoted to training them and taking them to the various venues on route to the finals.

Apart from praise from their coaches, admiration from their families and a warm welcome back from their school, the Woodlands girls received a bonus.

On the journey to Watford, coach driver Tony Fenton promised them not a celebratory tour in an open-top bus but a ride in a stretch limo ride if they reached the final - and two stretch limos, one pink and the other silver, if they won.

Mr Fenton kept his promise and, having shared the championship, the girls were due for their outing last night, in the limousine operated by his Fantasy Travel company, and in his friend's Pretty in Pink car.

Cliff Park team manager Richard Oliver thought his boys should have won their semi-final, having seven or eight second-half shots at goal compared with their opponents' one, but the first-half goal they conceded proved decisive.

Because they were contesting third and fourth places at Wembley and not the top two spots, he decided to give all his squad a game there so they could enjoy the experience - “the boys will remember that for the rest of their lives.”

As it happened, Cliff Park scored within seconds of the start at Wembley but could not sustain it. The lad who found the net, Jay Turner, will always be able to tell his family and friends that he scored a goal at Wembley.

Those Wembley outings involving Cliff Park and Woodlands were part of a four-and a-half programme that included a celebrity match and an England v Scotland U18 international centenary shield match for the inaugural Bobby Moore Trophy, won 2-0 by the home side in front of nearly 20,000 spectators.

In the international, England goalkeeper James Wannell saved a penalty and was then substituted. And to the delight of the two Cliff Park goalies, Coby Stanford and Conner Grimmer, as he walked off he handed them his gloves - one of them autographed - as souvenirs of their memorable day.

The squads were: Cliff Park: Coby Stanford, Connor Deeks, Conner Grimmer, Oliver Brown, Lucas Avie, Charlie McLean, Jay Turner, Joseph McCabe, Kallum Keeler, Thomas Hagan. Management Richard Oliver, Michael Walsh.

Woodlands: Chantelle Fenn, Enya Tooke, Courtney Bacon, Sasha Lake, Bethany Roberts, Harriet Brooks, Megan Taylor, Abbie King, Kayleigh Beare. Management Vanessa Brambor, Stuart Aldous.