It was back in January 2015 that the Club was first approached about forming an under 18 team for the 2015/16 season. The club had coincidentally applied for a Football Fund grant to set up a team in this age group and, following the success of this application, we agreed to form the team. After only one training session at the end of April we had a friendly against a strong Sherborne St John team. The 11-2 defeat was therefore not surprising but highlighted both the tremendous attitude the boys had but also where we were as a team. The second training session in May was actually my FA Youth Award assessment!
The team continued to train throughout the Summer, with a couple of the initial group dropping out and some more boys joining. The squad was 15 strong when we had our first pre-season frie dly in September (an 8-6 defeat to Woodley Wanderers after leading 6-3 with 20 minutes to go!) and then drew 4-4 with Laurel Park in our second friendly (after leading 3-0). The team was beginning to take shape, but our first league game in East Berks Division 6 was then our third match in six days and tiredness was a factor in a 5-0 defeat to Caversham Trents. The team dominated the next game against Laurel Park but two own goals contributed to a 4-1 defeat. Reading Rangers, who are the unbeaten leaders in the division, provided tougher opposition but defensive errors contributed to a 4-2 defeat.
Our cup run was short-lived but there were a lot of positives in our very first home game against Hearts of Teddlothian Lions, who were then leading Division 4. After taking a first half lead, two late goals from set pieces saw us narrowly lose 2-1. The next league game against Whitegrove Pythons was very disappointing as, after taking the lead, we conceded several goals from set pieces and, despite having numerous chances to score more, ended up losing 6-2. However, our first home league game against Sandhurst, in which we came from behind with ten men to draw 1-1, was the start of a run of six games where our only two defeats were by the odd goal. Unfortunately this was the last game for our regular goalkeeper and, after losing another player due to other commitments, the squad was then down to 13.
After the half term break the next game was away at Caversham AFC – but from this game onwards the team now had to rotate the goalkeeper position. After taking the lead with 15 minutes to go, two late goals saw us lose 2-1 in yet another game we completely dominated. It was evident that we needed to start taking all the chances we were creating! Our first ever league victory was a morale-boosting 6-1 win against a ten-man Elstead Sharks team and the winning run should have continued against Ashridge Park, but despite again dominating the game we were hit by fast counter-attacks and lost 5-4. However, our final two games of 2015 were at home and saw us win 7-2 and 7-0 against Camberley Town and Twyford Comets respectively. These wins saw us remain unbeaten in the league at home and end up with a positive goal difference (+1!) and a point a game after ten games (which is better than Chelsea are doing at the moment!).
The team are now playing some tremendous football, both with the team establishing a playing style and with the players finding their best individual positions, as well as the players developing both individually and as a group. The team has certainly achieved the aim of the Football Fund grant, which was to increase participation in this age group. The aim now will be to continue to do as well as we can for the remaining ten league games, targeting the top half of the 11-team division. The big hope for 2016 is that we do manage to find a goalkeeper for the remainder of the season (anyone interested please contact me!).
Brian Strange, U18’s Manager