Waltham Lions u7’s today gave their best performance of the season in my opinion. I may have said that before, but all that shows is that the boys are getting better and better. Playing on a great pitch at Ross Sports Ground against a very sporting and well-managed Clee Community Mariners team, the Lions had a great time showing individual skill and great teamwork.
First of all, let me just say, I’ve no idea how to fit everything I could write about here into something of a reasonable length that people will actually be bothered to read. I can always find something to write about every player every week. Everyone always does positive things, whether it is with the ball or without. But today, EVERYONE played so well that I could have given justifiable reasons for giving the Man of the Match trophy to any one of them. The only baffling thing about the game is that we didn’t win the game. I thought we played some fantastic football in the game. And I don’t mean just for a group of 7 year olds, I mean just fantastic football. I came away from the ground feeling as proud as if we had won though, because I thought we played the better football and all 7 players were fully involved in a great team performance.
I’d decided before the game that I wanted the boys to show off some skills today. Before the game we did some practice of a few skills – some basic ones and some more difficult ones too. You’d be surprised with what kids are capable of doing. We went through the outside hook (Lucas Gill’s favourite), the backheel turn (an Oliver Hendry trick) and what I call the lollypops (also known as scissors/step-overs). I then introduced the “Ronaldo Chop” (see what it is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH_6Oc3kGP8 and watch it being done in live action here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSRRSxGMBNE). I was surprised by how many grasped this, or something very close to it, in such a short space of time. I’ll do it again another time but in more detailed steps so they can learn it.
I had a very quick chat with them and said I wanted them to be confident during the game to try any skills or tricks that we’ve learned, or even to make their own up and try them. I re-iterated that it won’t matter if it doesn’t work or we lose the ball, we’ll just get it back. But I don’t want them to be scared of trying things, or have a fear of making mistakes at this young age. I want them to be as creative as possible, and that won’t come by being scared of doing something wrong or trying something new.
Nothing could’ve shown this creative, fearless attitude more than seeing Rhys Racey pulling off some skills as the last defender in the first 10 minutes. In this 1st quarter, Rhys was playing as the defender. He had the ball near the edge of our penalty area in a central area. An opposition player came towards him but instead of panicking and or even passing straight away, Rhys threw in a couple of lollypops then dribbled the ball to one side, before passing to Oliver. I admired the confidence Rhys had in doing this in what an older age group might call a dangerous area of the pitch. Not in this team though – they can do whatever skills they want to on any bit of the pitch they want to. As always, it should be THEIR decision. Rhys later told me he didn’t know why everyone on the side laughed when he did his step-overs here. I told him it was just because it was such a good thing that he did. But hopefully in future to make sure no-one feels embarrassed or confused like that, let’s have a cheer when someone does a skill or trick. It was great, and I don’t think I was confident enough at 7 years old to try that in front of my own goal.
Ethan Lowe played the first 10 minutes in goal and was excellent, as he usually is when he puts on those gloves. As well as the great saves he continuously makes to deny the opposition goals, he’s now adding the ability to rush out of his goal to his game. He’s starting to choose when to come out to meet an oncoming attacker well, and is getting quite comfortable now at becoming a ‘sweeper-keeper’ (coming out of his goal to sweep up anything that’s kicked beyond our defence). Ethan made some great saves and some very brave saves too.
Rhys Racey went in goal for the 2nd quarter and carried on from Ethan. Rhys made some great saves and also used his speed well to rush out to the ball when it was needed. His passing out to players from goal kicks was also excellent, always choosing a player in a good position to pass to.
In those first 2 quarters both teams had chances to score. Clee Community Mariners unfortunately had scored one goal in each quarter, but that gave a scoreline that didn’t reflect how the game had gone. The Lions played some great football to create some of our chances. One move in particular would have been our goal of the season for me, if we had scored from it. Ethan Lowe won the ball in defence, looked up and played a good pass to Leyton Bolton. Leyton turned, looked up and saw Oliver Hendry in space beyond the opposition defender and played the ball through to him perfectly. Oliver was through on goal and shot went just wide of the goal. But that short passage of play was a great, imaginative piece of team play, which we are starting to see more of from their decision-making in the last few weeks. Please note, not once do I shout “pass” at them when they’ve got the ball. They’re making their own decisions, and maybe learned from the game last month when we didn’t choose to pass at all and really struggled. That move was honestly as good, if not better, than any passing move that Grimsby Town or Man United have put together this season, and it deserved a goal. All I could do was stand back, admire and applaud.
Bend Blast it like Beckham
As the Lions continued to play some great football in the 3rd and 4th quarters, they eventually got back into the game with the goals they deserved. The first Lions goal to start the comeback, came in the 3rd quarter from a great free kick by Ben ‘Beckham’ Crolla. A free kick from quite far out was given to the Lions and Ben put the ball down with only one thing in his mind – he was going to shoot. And he hit a great, powerful shot that the goalkeeper couldn’t stop from hitting the back of the net.
Boosted by this goal, the Lions continued to play football that was very pleasing on the eye. An equaliser came in the 4th quarter. Rhys Racey took a throw-in near the corner flag in the opposition half, and Oliver Hendry somehow wriggled his way through 2 or 3 defenders to find himself in front of goal. He managed to get a shot away despite being under great pressure and although it may have took a slight touch off a defender on its way into the back of the net, it was Oliver’s goal. However, I’d like to put an end to the outrageous rumours that it was a left foot shot from Oliver that scored it (just a reminder that I’ve rolled over the £5 prize for the next player to score a goal with their left foot, after Oliver won the first £5). This one was definitely his right foot, but 10/10 for the effort Matt.
The Lions then roared forward (lions…….roar……..THAT IS COMEDY!!!) in search of another goal but were nearly caught out at the other end. Leyton Bolton, in goal for the 4th quarter, had to be at his agile best to claw away a shot that was heading for the top corner of his goal. This was right at the end of the game and without this save, the result would have been different for sure as there wouldn’t have been time to come back again.
Ethan Lowe was an absolute rock in defence in the 2nd quarter. He tackled any opposition players that were silly enough to go near him. And at one point, I heard one of the opposition coaches say “he’s a great tackler” after yet another of Ethan’s interventions. Ethan made good decisions when tackling in terms of whether it needed a strong tackle to clear the ball, or whether he could just steal the ball from the attacker and keep control of it himself. When he did this, he looked up well and started plenty of our attacks this way, including the great move described earlier. He moved to play further forward later on and was really positive with his play after scoring his first Lions goal last week.
Leyton Bolton did really well today too. He’s always likely to shine in games where the boys decide to pass the ball a bit more, because that’s Leyton’s style anyway, and he isn’t one to get dragged into chasing the ball over the pitch. Today he played 2 or 3 great passes forward through to Oliver and played some good, quick passes across the pitch to Ben Crolla. There was a good variety to his play though, as he still found time to beat a couple of defenders down the right wing before winning a corner. When we have a goal kick he pulls really wide where there is lots of space and he knows he’ll have time when he gets the ball, before he’s closed down. And we can’t forget the save right at the end to deny what looked like a certain goal for Clee Community Mariners.
Benjamin Harrison became a transformed character in today’s game. You could see the confidence he had growing each time he beat a player. And each time he dribbled past a player, he seemed to get on the ball twice as quickly again to dribble past another player. Supporting the idea that the more involved someone is in the game, the more practice they get and the more confident they become. Benjamin was another example of that today. He got on the ball several times in the middle of the pitch and shifted the ball to the side of the defender to take it past him as he was closed down. As I said, the more he did this, the more confident he looked doing it the next time. I also saw Benjamin confidently back-heel the ball to a team-mate and also do one or two nice drag-back turns.
Ben Crolla was also excellent yet again. His tracking back to help out in defence by tackling opposition strikers has been invaluable all season and he was at it again today. His running with the ball was also excellent. In fact for a spell in the 3rd quarter Ben was unstoppable. He was on one great run down the right hand side after winning the ball himself. As he sprinted down the wing he knocked it past a player close to the touchline and would’ve been 1v1 with the last defender, but was hacked down (not maliciously obviously) and halted in his tracks. Watching that run on the side-lines, that was the only thing that was going to stop him to be quite honest. He got up and carried on though, and it wasn’t long before he unleashed his free-kick high into the net. That was Ben’s 12th goal in 20 games, and the third consecutive match he’s scored in.
Oliver Hendry scored for the 4th game in a row (his 14th goal in 12 games) and took up some great positions in forward areas that made him a threat throughout the match. As I’ve said before, Oliver doesn’t get sucked into already crowded areas and chasing the ball. He senses when to hang back or maintain the space he is in. He had another effort at goal today with his left foot (this boy is trying to bankrupt me, one day before payday as well). In all seriousness I’m delighted with how much Oliver is trusting both of his feet, and just striking the ball with whichever foot the ball is best set up to hit it with. He’s been showing a great appetite to learn and is always asking questions in training and before games. When I moved Oliver to a slightly deeper position later on, he was more involved in the build-up of our attacks too, and drove us forward with the ball several times in search of more goals. He also knows he can’t always run with the ball himself, and he often chooses to play a simple pass to a team-mate before running off into space again himself.
Rhys Racey not only showed the confidence in defence and bravery in goal that I’ve already mentioned. He nearly got a goal himself, running down the right before hitting a shot from a very tight angle that only just missed the post. And after playing in goal for 20 minutes during which he only conceded 1 goal, he came back out of goal in the 4th quarter to help us get back into the game, attacking well with Ben Crolla and Oliver Hendry.
Man of the Match
Lucas Gill was like a new player today. The confidence this boy had on the pitch was outstanding and we’d like to see more of the same. Lucas joined Waltham FC later than most of the Lions/Millers players, but in the last few months he’s consistently made great strides. He’s been constantly becoming more and more relaxed with the ball, and comfortable taking his time when in possession. Today, however, he took it to a new level. He showed us twists, turns, quick changes of direction and generally making other players feel dizzy. He seemed to be really enjoying himself as his self-belief grew each time he got the ball. At one stage, an opposition player was trying to come and tackle him, and I felt like I was watching a tennis match at Wimbledon as I kept having to turn my head one way, then the other, then back again, as Lucas used both feet to manoeuvre the ball away from the defenders back and forth. Also impressive was that it usually had an end product too. When they’re older, the boys will learn that any trick or dribble needs to be followed by an end product, whether it is a pass or a shot. Today, every time Lucas dribbled, he finished it off by looking up to see what he could do next. This was usually followed by a good pass to a team-mate. He fully deserved of the Man of the Match trophy today, well done Lucas.
In summary it was an excellent match; against a team I’d be happy to arrange friendlies with during the summer. Speaking with their coach beforehand it seems they’re a well-run club set up with the same principles and ideas that Waltham FC is built on. I thought the Lions were actually outstanding today and I don’t think anyone could’ve argued if we had been comfortable winners. If it was a boxing match going to points at the end, we would’ve been the winners. But that’s not the important thing at all. The performance that got us to think that is. I believe that a lot of goals we concede come as a result of a long kick up the pitch or a bit of luck in the ball falling to their player in a good position. But today, we created so many chances with fantastic, creative play. And I’ve never seen so much individual skill from our boys in one game. If we can play that way at u7 level, imagine what we could be like in a few years. I’m excited by today’s performance and hope there’s much more skill to come in the near future, as individuals and as a team. And this isn’t the first time the boys have come back from a losing position either, so well done again for keeping spirits high, enjoying yourselves and not giving up.
Up the Lions!!!
P.S. Ethan said to me as I was getting in my car afterwards “Make sure you do a write-up Tom”, so I don’t think I’m going to get out of writing them anymore.