London, the midlands and the south took the honours as over 300 local league players from across England experienced the unique joy of playing at Wembley Stadium as the FA opened it’s doors to amateur players for the national finals of a year-long five-a-side competition on Saturday. (December 14th)
46 men’s and women’s teams qualified to compete for four separate trophies in the FA Fives at the end of a journey which began with a country-wide series of local league qualifiers and culminated with 98 matches on the ‘hallowed turf’. The players also enjoyed arrival to the National Stadium’s Dressing room area in an official ‘England’ team coach and an emotional walk from the players’ tunnel to the pitch with a ticker-tape welcome and the National Anthem.
After the preliminaries were over, one player, Andy Bishop from Birmingham-based Hurricanes commented: “Walking out from the tunnel and onto the pitch was so emotional and I can’t believe I experienced it. I’ve seen it so many times on television and I’m sure it means a lot to the professionals who do it, but for players like us to be part of it all was just magical.”
The FA Fives is the country’s biggest small-sided tournament and over 5 hours of action was watched by around 2,000 supporters, family and friends who were present to witness this unique occasion.
Simon Walker, the FA’s Manager for Adult Grassroots Football said: “Once again, the standard displayed by all the teams on finals day was extremely impressive and success for all the winners was certainly hard earned, but the unique opportunity we can give to football players of all ages to play at Wembley, means the day will always be memorable for those involved whatever the outcome of their matches. With nearly 2,500 teams taking part in this year’s tournament, the FA Fives is the biggest small-sided football competition in the country and the players have enjoyed an experience that cannot be afforded anywhere else.”
8 teams in two groups of four contested the Respect Cup after earning a place at Wembley for upholding the high standards reflected within the FA’s Respect campaign during the qualification process. Teams which failed to qualify by virtue of performance, were nominated by their respective regional organisers on the basis of team discipline, sportsmanship and ‘Respect’ during local qualifying stages. The 8 finalists were then selected at random.
The Wembley final was a clash between the Aston Stags, a team of post-graduate students who met at Aston University in Birmingham and Chin High Petey from Kettering. Aston Stags began the final as favourites after a 100% record from their group matches, including a 13-0 victory and the form book was upheld as they edged a close game 2-1 to claim the trophy. After the presentation, Stags’ player, Jason Shotton said: “This was an incredible experience and one none of us will ever forget. We originally entered as a bit of fun just so we could keep the lads together and have a chance to see each other after university. So to achieve this is just unbelievable.”
Captain Liam Angel said: “ We all thought it was a wind up when we were told we’d been selected to play in The Respect Cup and to be a winner at the home of football is just brilliant. I can’t believe it’s just happened!”
The Grassroots tournament was created to generate interest in the small-sided game for players who are not usually members of established teams. A total of 18 teams played in separate men’s and women’s tournaments.
Grassroots Cup – Men’s tournament.
The draw for finals day originally kept apart teams from HMS Naval base, Portsmouth and the Royal Marines from Plymouth, who’s good natured, if determined rivalry left the prospect of a knockout stage match up as a mouthwatering prospect. But, with the Marines failing to qualify from their group, it was HMS Naval Base, Portsmouth who claimed the bragging rights by reaching the final and beating Passalona from Cambridge 4-3 in the final.
Captain Matthew Shortt said: To get to the final and win at Wembley is just amazing. We were reasonably confident we’d do o.k. but to win 3-0 in the final against a good team is a great feeling. We had some good natured banter with the boys from the Marines because some of us play eleven-a-side together but we’re happy to have finished as champions. The whole experience has been first class and from the first moment of the day the whole competition ran smoothly. It’s been a brilliant day.”
Grassroots Cup – Women’s tournament
The women’s final featured an all-Hertfordshire clash as Watford Ladies narrowly defeated Bushey 1-0 to take the trophy. The two teams were paired together in the group stages and drew 1-all. The final was an equally close encounter with Sarah Wiltshire’s solitary goal deciding the destination of the trophy. Sarah, who was named Women’s Player Of The tournament said: “ We didn’t start off very well today but in the last three games we found our feet and it’s brilliant to win. I played here two years ago with another team, but there’s nothing like winning at Wembley.”
Team Manager, Steve Edwards, who also managed the team when they won in 2009, said: “ We had a few harsh words early on when things didn’t go too well, but I’m proud of the girls because they dug in and won it. We’ve now done it twice with two different teams, so I’m delighted and very proud..”
The Champions’ Cup featured 20 teams who started in four groups of five after earning their Wembley places in regional qualifiers across the country. Two of the quarter finals went all the way to the tension of penalties, but both shoot-out winners were then beaten in the semi finals, leaving reigning champions, Top Draw from London to play Monday Night Fresh Sticks from Bristol. Top Draw’s greater experience of tournament play shone through as they won 3-1 to retain the trophy.
Manager Craig Mills said: “I feel like I’m walking on water at the moment and I’m finding it hard to stay on my feet because I’m so happy. We’ve won a fair few tournaments, including a trip to Singapore, but this is by far the most prestigious. Wembley is a special place and of all the tournaments we enter, this is the one we always want to win. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
Men’s Player Of The Tournament, Kurtice Herbert said: “It’s certainly been worth coming today! It couldn’t have gone better for me because I felt really good from the start and felt I played really well. Mark Bright was here as a commentator and he said at the start I was the pick of the bunch. That really inspired me and the whole day has been brilliant.”