Final whistle blown. Season ended in empathetic style. Champions status confirmed. The best in their age group, now destined for a play-off with ‘northern’ rivals to be champions of champions. Players pump fists and shake hands of opposition as small crowd rises to applaud them. Players crowd around coaches, bubbling with excitement, opened bottles of water hidden behind back. They pounce lifting manager up above their shoulders, jumping and shouting, cheering in triumph as water is flung to cover them all. First manager is let down to his feet as pack of players now turn to other manager. Chased down, after fruitless efforts to evade, and hoisted into the air. More cheering and more water thrown. Happy faces abound, players, coaches and small band of fans who had turned out to seen their young team become champions.
Last night saw Tooting & Mitcham United FC under 23s win the ‘Bluefin Sports Insurance’ Development league (South) after a comprehensive win in their last game of the season. After a couple of attempts over recent weeks the solitary point needed was achieved. The young team has had an excellent campaign, with their only two defeats coming late in the season after a great early unbeaten run, which defined the successful season.
Apart from the clear amount of victories, and the limited number of defeats, the most pleasing aspect of watching the under 23s has been the quality of the play on show. The coaching staff, who as we know are also responsible for the first team side, deserve huge credit for how well the side play. Forward looking play, that make the most of the dynamic pace and technical ability of the young players. Quick incisive and fluid link up play is encouraged, leading to the side very regularly creating a whole host of chances in every game they have played. In the vast majority of games Tooting’s quality in front of goal has led to some impressive score lines, in the odd games those chances have stacked up. Creating chances for this team however has never been a problem, it has served them well and why they are worthy winners of their division.
Free kick won by opposition. A long way from goal. Ball driven low and hard, bypassing defensive wall. Keeper tips ball on to post. Post send ball across goal mouth to edge of six-yard box. Forward reacts quickest and pounces on lose ball. Ball cannoned off crossbar, down into path of another quicker to react. Ball bounces and is inexplicably fired over by head of now anguished attacker.
Tooting & Mitcham United FC under 23s now go into a ‘Champions of Champions’ style play off. Playing against the runner up in the Development league (North), which looks to be Enfield Town or Bowers & Pitsea, depending on how the latter gets on in their final game this evening. The winner then has the chance to play for the champions of champions cup, exciting stuff. Alongside this is the rumour the club might be reinstated into the under 21s county cup final after their semi-final rivals appear to have fielded an ineligible player.
These short team goals are exciting and are reward for a group of young men who I have witnessed dedicate themselves to the club and their teammates. The under 23s train two weekday evenings a week, with many training additionally with the first team. On top of this, and the midweek evening matches, they are expected to train on a Saturday morning from ten till twelve. This might not seem like a lot, but I am sure many of us will remember being between the ages of 18 and 23 and will not remember being up and active at those times over a weekend. Especially when you add that a lot of these young men are either in full time education or full-time work. They train hard and have demonstrated their level of skill on the pitch.
Many of these under 23s have made an impact on the first team and some are trialling at (or have been signed by) professional clubs. Their footballing futures are bright, as long as they continue the hard work they have started and get the grain of luck that is needed. I expect to see many more of this squad making appearances for the first team next season and making a positive mark on the league.
The fans should be very proud of this team and should look forward to its young stars turning out for the senior side. When they do, let’s give them the support and patience that they deserve.