After reaching the semi-final of the same competition last season, the Alder Grange girls were even more determined to succeed in the National competition. Last season’s cup run came to an end when Alder Grange were beaten on penalties against The Priory School from Shrewsbury. Despite this it was a hugely positive season for the team as Alder Grange have never reached that stage before. The girls would be looking to continue their form into the new season and would be counting on the form of last year’s top scorer Beth Mason. Beth tallied up an outstanding 31 goals in 7 games, making her the top scorer in the country!
The English Cup is the most prestigious football competition that is offered to pupils in school so once the start of the season comes around, the excitement levels are high!
The girls kicked off this competition on the 4th of October 2019 with an away trip to Great Sankey High School in Warrington. It was a splendid day with the sun shining down on a lovely 3G surface, so the girls were in good spirits. Alder Grange was playing in their usual purple shirts, black shorts and socks. Great Sankey were in green. Those high spirits were lifted even higher after a 13-0 win! Beth Mason, Sienna Limbert, Libby Holden, Eliza Crompton and Fern Ashworth were among the scorers. It was a very positive start to the competition with a good mix of Year 8 and 9’s playing well together.
Both rounds 2 and 3 were played within a week of each other due to a delay in the fixtures. Round 2 was the first home tie of the competition and was against St Bedes Blackburn. St Bedes were a strong, physical and well organised team but were no match for the fast paced and slick passing of Alder Grange. The game finished 5-0 to Alder Grange! After another win the girls had to gear up for the next round which was a trip up the M6 to Lancaster. Carnforth High School were the opponents. The Alder Grange defence once again stood firm and didn’t concede a goal! It is an extremely hard working team but a defence that consists of Ana Crofts-Berry, Ella Holt, Grace Hadley and Charlotte Humphreys in goal is going to frustrate any opposition. At the other end the team scored another six goals, putting their goal difference at +24 after three games. It was 6-0 at the final whistle up in Lancaster.
The draw for round 4 would again see Alder Grange travel away to play their fixture and this would certainly be their toughest test yet. The opponents were Maricourt Catholic High School from Sefton, who had had some impressive results in the previous rounds. The Merseyside school had scored 28 goals in just three games, whilst also conceding just one! It was sure to be a competitive clash. It was a wet and windy day in December which made it even more of a test for Alder Grange who are a team that likes to keep the ball on the floor and pass. It would take more than the weather and Maricourt to stop Alder Grange from winning. Beth Mason scored two goals and Eliza Crompton got the other in a 3-0 victory! The girls really put out a statement with this result, defeating a team that had such an imposing record. Libby Holden was particularly outstanding in this game, her running with the ball and physical strength was just too much for the opposition.
The Christmas holidays meant a break in the fixtures and a well-earned rest for the players. They would need this rest as the first week back the pupils were greeted with a mouth-watering tie against very local opposition in Haslingden High. Lots of the girls know each other which always makes for a feisty and thrilling game! Haslingden are a strong team and showed this throughout the game. The first half was evenly matched with few chances for both teams, it was a midfield battle. Sienna Limbert opened the scoring for Alder Grange before Beth Mason added a second! 2-0 it finished which sent the purples through to the last 16 of the competition!
The Joseph Whitaker School would travel across from Mansfield for the last 16 tie, which took place on the 5th of February 2020. The away team lined up in blue kits which meant a change in strip for the Alder Grange girls. They would be in bright orange shirts, so were easily visible on a fairly dull day in Rawtenstall. Another clean sheet would help the team to a 3-0 win! The team and in particularly the defence were really starting to pride themselves on not conceding goals and to have not done so at this stage of a National competition is magnificent!
Into the quarter-final and strangely enough it was against an opposition we had played at the exact same stage of this competition last year. It was an away fixture up in Newcastle to visit Ovingham Middle School. This was the longest trip the team has been on so would be interesting to see how the journey would affect them. Being in the minibus for 3hours 45 minutes could have been a contributing factor to Alder Grange going 2-0 down and captain Eliza Crompton coming off injured during the first 10 minutes! It would seem an uphill task for the girls now. It would need an exceptional effort from the whole team to overcome this; these were the first goals Alder Grange had conceded the whole tournament so it was a real shock to the system. The game was into the second half and was still 2-0, until talisman Beth Mason grabbed a goal back to make it 2-1. This lifted the team and they continued to put pressure on Ovingham. Amy Wright, Ella Holt and Hollie McGauley were putting a real shift in for the team with their running and tackling. Endless corners and free-kicks were going close for the Rossendale team. There was around fifteen minutes remaining with the ball dropped in the Ovingham penalty box. No surprise who was there to put the ball in the net, Beth Mason made it 2-2 and sent the game to extra-time. Captain Eliza Crompton played through the pain to come back on during extra-time, along with Hannah Parrot and Fern Ashworth who came back into the game. Extra-time would not separate the two sides so it was down to penalties. Understandably the girls were nervous as they had never won on penalties before, being beaten on 3 previous occasions. Charlotte Humphreys would turn out to be the hero of the shoot-out! Saving two of the Ovingham penalties! As Charlotte saved her second and therefor winning penalty, she was charged down upon by her screaming teammates who had ran the length of the field to celebrate with her! It was a truly special moment with many of the girls close to tears. We will remember that one forever.
Due to the COVID restrictions there was a lengthy break in between the quarter and semi-finals. The game was postponed until the following school year which meant it was played in September of 2020. Despite the delay the girls were still very pleased to have been playing as it did look like the competition would have been null and void.
The semi-final of the national competition would once again see Alder Grange face off against The Priory School. Just last season it was the same Shrewsbury team that knocked out the girls at the same stage of the tournament, the girls would be looking for revenge! The tie was played on the 28th September 2020, this time away. Alder Grange made the two and a half hour journey on a fine Indian Summers day. The pitch was a well-kept grass pitch across the road from the school and despite the COVID restrictions gathered a healthy crowd. Rightly so for a game of such magnitude. The Alder Grange team were without a few important players. The quarter-final hero Charlotte Humphreys and strong defender Hollie McGauley were both missing due to isolation periods. Amy Wright stepped up in net for AG. A player who will rise to any occasion. The game started with a fast tempo, the first tackles were bigger than ever. It was clear to see how much this meant to both teams! Alder Grange had the better of the early chances, The Priory goalkeeper made an excellent save down to her right from a Beth Mason shot. Ella Holt, Ana Crofts-Berry and Grace Hadley were all holding strong at the back giving AG a solid platform to build on. The deadlock was broken half way through the first period…Beth Mason worked hard down the right and passed neatly inside to Libby Holden. Libby is the type of player that doesn’t need an invitation to shoot; she struck a powerful shot low into the bottom left corner! 1-0 Alder Grange! The whole team congratulated her in the centre of the pitch. The game was more open in the second half and Alder Grange started to show their class. Eliza Crompton was having another commanding game in midfield and was playing some defence splitting forward passes. These passes were being chased after in particular by Megan Walters and Sienna Limbert. It was one of these determined runs that lead to a big chance, Sienna Limbert ran the ball down to put pressure on The Priory keeper. The keeper spilled the ball and an almighty goal mouth scrambled occurred. Beth Mason was first to the ball and as she was about to shoot into an open goal she was fouled from behind, penalty to Alder Grange! To step up and volunteer to take a penalty in this kind of game would be very courageous for anyone. Even more so if that person is playing one year below the age group. That’s exactly what Sienna Limbert did. The referee blew his whistle, Sienna tip-toed her way to the ball and struck it cleanly, straight past the keeper into the left hand side of the goal. Just what Sienna deserved after putting in a monumental performance for the team. There was around fifteen minutes left of the game and would take a huge team effort to keep a clean sheet. This is exactly what happened. The Alder Grange subs were on for fresh legs, Fern Ashworth, Erin Smith and Hannah Parrott all played their part. Amy Wright was tested in goal but remained resilient, a brave performance. This part of the game really showed what the girls were made of and in particular Ella Holt. In a time when many panic Ella remained calm and professional. To display such maturity is special at such a young age; Ella plays the game beyond her years. The Priory could not break through and that was that. The referee blew for one last time and the girls had done it! Through to the final after an amazing game! The team joined together in the centre to celebrate. Thoroughly deserved!
Usually the final of the National cup would be held at a well-established Football League or even Premier League ground. In the past the finals have taken place at Stoke City’s Bet 365 Stadium and also The Hawthorns which is home to West Bromwich Albion. However due to the pandemic meaning the competition final was now going to be played within the season for these elite teams, it was to be played at Lilleshall National Sports Centre. Still a very prestigious venue! The girls were extremely excited and fancied their chances to win the whole thing. They were very confident and rightly so after their cup run so far. A few days before the final was due to take place, staff at Alder Grange were notified by the ESFA that the final would no longer take place. The Cherwell School from Oxford who were the opponents no longer wanted to travel and fulfil the fixture. This was due to the climate at the time. Cherwell did not think it was a priority that the game was to take place when cases were rising, travelling into another ‘tier’ was questioned and therefore potentially putting their team and staff at risk. As frustrating as it was for the Alder Grange girls the decision made can be understood.
So after working tirelessly for the past season and putting together a superb run of games, Alder Grange were crowned joint winners of the English Cup 2020. A year to forget in many ways, but not for Alder Grange. The school have never achieved such success within the footballing competitions. Credit goes to such a formidable team who have therefore reached the top four and two teams within the country, 2 years in a row. They are an amazing group of girls who deserved to play in a National Cup final. They will try again next season to replicate this success and hopefully go one step further. Never the less, they are certainly creating a dynasty of football here at Alder Grange.