Tonight, our Under 8's witnessed first hand how harsh football can be as England's young lions lost their final group game in the Euro 2018 competition to a determined but somewhat lucky Swiss team.
The two teams stepped out into bright evening sunshine and onto the New York Stadium pitch in Rotherham, watched by a young crowd of expectant fans. Only 12 months ago, this age group were celebrating becoming the first English world champions since Bobby Moore's team of '66. Of course, Foden, Brewster and the rest of that squad are now playing at Under 18 level so this iteration of the team are less well known but no less ambitious.
After winning the first two group games against Italy and Israel, there was real hope the team could extend their winning run to 16 straight games.
England started brightly, attacking quickly down the flanks with intelligent running and a definite game plan. Enthusiastic tackling from the Swiss team saw them receive a couple of early yellow cards and Doyle, who had scored for England in the previous 2 games, was substituted through injury in the first 10 minutes.
As the young Bombers clapped him off the pitch, Steve Cooper reorganised his team and the pattern of attacking continued. From our position high up in the stands, the boys were encouraged by us coaches to watch the formation and how every player had a specific job to do. As our team move up to bigger pitches and 7v7 next year, it was a great opportunity for them to see how players hold their positions and don't all chase the ball.
England forward Amaechi looks to have a good career in front of him as long as he can wear massive shorts. I say that because he had the Swiss right back in his pocket during the first half, allowing him to provide regular balls into the box for the England front line to attack.
A rare Swiss raid into England's half led to a free kick that was dealt with effectively by the wall. Deft feet and movement turned defense into a quick counter and England should have been 1up but Balogun's shot from 8 yards was just close enough for the 'keeper to get a flailing boot to the ball and it bounced to safety.
England's tails were up and another attack produced a similar chance that should also have been scored but the shot was too low and the keeper managed to save again. He was rattled though and his distribution became errant and contributed to the pressure the Swiss were under.
However, just as the Bombers were discussing the half time refreshments, a series of errors culminated with the opening goal. An attack down the English right flank led to the right back losing his man, who crossed innocuously from 15 yards out. Alese saw it coming and met it with a swing and a miss, when he had time to take a touch and send it into Row Z. Swiss forward Mambimbi steadied himself and shot back across the goal at a height which would have been comfortable for Ashby-Hammond in goal. Unfortunately it hit Laird who had already turned his back and the massive deflection took it away from the stranded keeper and into the centre of the net. England looked shell shocked, with Cooper in the area trying to lift his team with excessive arm waving. Earlier in the half some of the Bombers had been practising the 'floss' dance and it seemed that Cooper was demonstrating his version.
The Bombers were in subdued mood as the ref blew his whistle and a few of the dad's went in search of sweets and treats to cheer the boys up. For those of you who follow the blogs, you will know that half time is my nemesis and this match was no different! 8 young boys wanting sustinance in a stadium where all food outlets were sold out. Well, nearly sold out...
There were a couple of pies left but, to be honest, they looked as though they had been cooking since 1945. (That's the year 1945, not the time 19:45...) Stephen and Rich, a couple of resourceful dad's managed to purchase 2 packs of Oreos and a bag of Cadbury's eclairs so we returned triumphant with snacks in hand. Although we nearly never made it as Stephen was considering a 'sweet auction'... The old retail adage of Supply and Demand had never been more true... The thought of 6000 hungry fans bidding for 20 eclairs had £ signs flashing before his eyes!
As we took our seats, the second half erupted into life straight from kick off as Appian's header missed the goal by the width of a chocolate eclair wrapper. England continued to probe and the Swiss right back obligingly climbed back into Amaechi's pocket, probably to get out of the late evening breeze!
England were playing with a much higher press, inevitably leaving space in behind as they searched for the equaliser. Only last ditch defending and a couple of poor Swiss first touches kept the deficit at a single goal and in attack, England suffered from the yips as players were reluctant to shoot first-time or from outside the area.
The Swiss started to exert more control as the game wore on and looked the more likely to score. They had probably heard that Italy were in front against Israel and therefore the Swiss roll-ed the dice and brought on fresh legs up front. They needed a second goal to leapfrog England in the table and go through to the Quarter Final on Sunday. England knew if they could keep the score where it was they were in the next round.
A few hairy moments were settled with agricultural clearances upfield and the game ended with England holding the ball in the corner of the pitch running time down. As the ref blew for full time, the Swiss players dropped to the ground knowing that although they had won the battle, they had lost the war. And, just as in Westminster, Englands Br-exit from the Euro's had been delayed by a technicality.
The England players were visibly tired at the end, all linking arms in the centre circle reflecting on how close they were to going out. Three hard fought matches in the group stage could just have softened them up for their opponents to take advantage of at the weekend. Hopefully, it just means they are battle hardened and will withstand the onslaught from Norway on Sunday. Catch the game on ITV at 7pm and cheer the young lions on.
If you want to help your child fulfil their footballing potential, give us a shout via the website at www.blythbombers.com and you could be cheering on your young 'Bomber' at the 2028 Euro championship...