With just a week between the semi-final and final, there was no time to celebrate. The boys were straight back into intensive training – including Friday evening – practising goal-keeping, rehearsing set-pieces and playing in transition sessions until dusk fell.
Social media was awash with good-luck messages from clubs and individuals from far and wide, such was the interest generated by this modern-day fairy tale. On cup final day itself, Ridgeway took a bus full of supporters across the water to cheer on the team.
The game started tensely, with opponents Maricourt going ‘route one’, exploiting their serious height advantage. Ridgeway’s preparation began to show with the well-drilled press and quick transitions in possession beginning to open the door. Ellis Platt linked up nicely with number 9 Joseph Taylor. A flurry of set-piece chances saw Ridgeway twice come close before a debatable refereeing decision denied them the chance to take one of their specialist corners as the half-time whistle blew. Goalless so far.
Ridgeway sprinted out of the blocks in the second half, spurred on by the introduction of Clay Fear, bringing his much-needed creative influence into a game that was edging towards stalemate. Ridgeway made several excellent moves, a number of delightful through-balls running tantalisingly out of range. With ten minutes to go, keeper Hayden Millman got down low to parry a powerful strike then sprang up salmon-like to deny a certain goal in the top corner, earning him a standing ovation from both sets of supporters. This seemed to spur Ridgeway on, again creating chances down the left, with Maricourt struggling to keep pace with Ridgeway’s movement and transitional play.
The clock ticked over, despite the scorecard’s refusal to follow suit. With five minutes to play Maricourt’s ‘route one’ approach finally caught Ridgeway off-guard. A long punt downfield found the space between Maxx Parry and Jack Bentley for Maricourt’s number 9 to slot home.
The introduction of attacking substitutions – Matthew Barclay in the middle and Theo Llewellyn adding pace up top – saw Ridgeway switch to two at the back. With just two minutes remaining, Ridgeway were gifted an opportunity: an indirect free-kick ten yards from goal. The boys tried to work a clever set-piece and by-pass the on-rushing defenders, only to see a goalmouth scramble clear the ball away from danger.
There was still time for one more effort: Joseph Taylor found room to attempt an overhead kick from twelve yards which flew agonisingly wide of the post. The final whistle blew; players and fans dropped to their feet wondering how victory had eluded them. Ironic indeed that this exciting, free-scoring side had failed to score for the first time all season.
Mr Metcalf, Head of PE, said afterwards:
The boys have been fantastic all season and put in so much effort with lunch clubs and late-night training sessions. They were dominant throughout and deserved to win Ridgeway’s first county trophy.
Ridgeway received plaudits from Merseyside County Schools’ Football Association and from opposition spectators, many of whom hadn’t previously heard of Ridgeway – near enough the smallest school in the competition!
The boys’ style of play earned huge respect. It’s a shame that history will read ‘Runners-Up 2018’. However, if history tells us anything, it is that we learn more in defeat than from winning – and a wounded warrior is most dangerous when fully healed. Roll on next season…