St Peter FC U18’s arrived at Chatham Town FC Stadium on Sunday 30th May, having already made history by becoming the first Channel Island Junior Club side to reach an English County FA Cup Final. To also have played all their matches away from homemade this an extra special achievement
The bright sunshine reflected the atmosphere of the occasion. With around 350 people gathered in anticipation of watching a keenly contested game between the two finalists Bexley FC and St Peter FC. These two clubs started the tournament in September 2019 as just two of 64 of the elite teams in Kent. Having proven themselves in 5 previous rounds, the culmination of the tournament was about to unfold for both clubs. The Chatham Town Stadium was in pristine condition with the 3G pitch looking immaculate and inviting.
The teams and the officials were presented to the crowd and team photographs taken.
Nerves were jangling —- Let battle commence!
Bexley started the more confidently with two rangy strikers David Ikumbasin and Mo Jallow, hustling and bustling and looking powerful and threatening. With St Peter’s slow to get into their stride and leaving the opposition with too much time on the ball, they paid the price when Ikumobasin was left clear on a one on one with keeper Pierce Roche, the keeper and Noah Risby both attempted to close the striker down as he delayed to pick his spot. All three players got to the ball simultaneously and all went to the ground with the ball slowly trickling across the goal. With the two St Peter players momentarily entangled, the burly Bexley striker was quickest to react and managed to get to the ball for an easy tap in. Two minutes on the clock 1-0 Bexley. The worst possible start for the Saints.
The first 20 minutes was somewhat end-to-end with Bexley holding the upper hand and conjuring up two good chances which the lively Ikumbasin failed to convert. After which, St Peter started to ease their way back into the game creating chances of their own. After 36 minutes disaster struck when their talented young midfield player Jamie Ritzema, who was at this stage playing exceptionally well appeared to be caught from behind and instantly went to the ground screaming in agony. After prolonged examination by physio Ciaran Pack, he was carried from the pitch with suspected cruciate ligament damage.
Jamie was replaced by Luke Lister, who had only just been declared fit to play after recovering from a fractured hip. In the 38th minute, Pierce Roche was called on to make an extraordinary double save. Bexley right-sided player Ben Twist, who was seeing a lot of the ball, cut in from the right bye-line and struck a fierce shot which Roche managed to reach palming it away from goal. It was quickly latched onto by the Bexley left-winger who struck it cleanly only for Roche to dive full stretch to turn it around the post.
Luke Lister was filling the Jamie Ritzema role with energy and purpose and little skill. With, Luke, Tommy Boarer, Toby Ritzema and Noah Risby now holding the upper hand in midfield. It was St Peter who were gaining the ascendancy and creating chances of their own. They were a real threat with several dead-ball opportunities, skilfully taken by Noah Risby causing severe problems for the Bexley defence without producing the equaliser that St Peter desperately wanted. Whatever Karl Benest and Anthony Lister said at half-time it was certainly effective. From the moment referee Hewson blew the whistle to start the second half there was a renewed sense of purpose about the saints. The defenders were tighter on the opposition attack and Hamilton and Smilek were giving the two Bexley strikers no opportunities and little time on the ball. With Thomas and Risby getting the measure of the wide men it was St Peter now having most of the possession and looking threatening.
The midfield of, Ritzema, Boarer, Lister and the wide men Carr and Bentley were now playing the ball around fluently and Marcinko was occupying the defence and looking hungry for a half chance. Lister struck a thunderous shot that was inches too high. In the 55th minute, Bentley took a knock and was substituted for Harry Scott the youngest player on show, at just past his 16th birthday. No nerves and full of confidence, he made an immediate impact, going past defenders and working hard to win possession back when the ball was lost.
In the 59th minute, Tommy Boarer got forward, took a pass from Ritzema following a brilliant team play and struck a fierce shot that cracked against the bar. Close but not close enough, the Reds supporters were beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen. Not the players though, two minutes later, centre back Ben Hamilton of all people saw an opportunity to make ground down the right flank, fought off a couple of robust tackles and expertly found Marcinko with a pinpoint pass in the Bexley area, the big striker brilliantly turned his marker and arrowed the ball into the bottom corner of the goal for the equaliser. The players smothered him in celebration, the watching St Peter contingent erupted raising the decibels by a serious margin.
1-1 and all to play for. With their tails, up the St Peter team were now looking more relaxed, the tension had been removed but the sense of purpose was now evident. James Carr on the left flank was living up to his ‘Giggsy’ nickname making several mazy runs and with Harry Scott creating opportunities on the other side of the park, St Peter were testing the Bexley defence to the full. Ritzema was dropping deeper, collecting the ball at will and finding his colleagues with style. With 20 minutes of normal time to go the St Peter coaching team made a big call, taking off big Ryan Marcinko, who had given it all for the cause. On came young Tom Proffitt, taking up position down the right side of midfield with Harry Scott moving to the central role.
Without a target man, the ball needed to be played with a sense of purpose and accuracy. Smilek broke up an attack and with the big strikers closing him down quickly and the watching contingent shouting for him to get the ball forward down the line, Kacper calmly played the ball inside to Toby Ritzema, just inside his half, Toby moved away from his two markers saw space ahead of him, he went forward past two defenders into the area, brought the ball back onto his right foot past another defender and expertly placed the ball into the net. The ground erupted, even those supporting the opposition had to show their appreciation having witnessed a quite scintillating goal of rare quality. If it was to be the winner, it was worthy of winning any match at any level. The players couldn’t get to him quickly enough and the noise from the Jersey support was unbelievable. 2-1 St Peter; surely there would be more twists and turns.
In the 87th Minute, the outstanding James Carr made way for Andre Dias. All substitutes were now on the field. Two minutes later the Saints were forced to bring back Jan Bentley under the rolling sub-rule to replace Luke Lister who had performed so well after recovering from a fractured hip.
He made an immediate impact, after some clever play he found himself clear on goal. In desperation, the defender brought him down on the edge of the area with a late tackle. It seemed ages but eventually, the red card was shown. There were a few flurries from Bexley well coped with by the St Peter defence. Time added on seemed like an eternity, 7 minutes still to play!! One remaining scare was to come with a free-kick given away on the Bexley left, on the edge of the St Peter area. Up came the Bexley keeper Charlie Martin, could this be a re-incarnation of the recent Liverpool game. Were St Peters going to be deprived in a spectacular fashion? The ball was decisively cleared and the long blast on the referee’s whistle was music to the ears of everyone associated with the St Peter FC Club. They had made history for the 2nd time in a fortnight. They were now the Kent FA Cup Winners, standing above all of the other 63 teams who had entered the competition.
The first Junior Channel Island Club side to win an English FA County Cup. A close game played in the right spirit but over the 90 minutes a win that was earned and thoroughly deserved. Ryan Marcinko was made ‘Man of the Match’ by the Kent Officials, but there were 15 heroes out there today. Remember, St Peter had to play all of their 6 games away from home. Throughout the competition, they played some outstanding football against some high-quality teams. Every credit must go to the coaching team of Karl Benest and Anthony Lister and of course to all the players in the squad, who wanted to win this competition so much. That will and determination made the difference! Make no mistake these players were a credit to St Peter’s, to Jersey Football, to their parents and above all themselves.
St Peter should be proud of each and every one of them for the way they have conducted themselves both on and off the pitch.
St Peter FC wish to acknowledge the help and financial support the Academy has received from its two main sponsors Jacksons and Altair. Without their superb backing, the Club could not have competed in this prestigious tournament and they are owed a sincere debt of gratitude by the whole Club. This Kent FA Cup competition has produced so much joy and satisfaction for the players, coaches and everyone associated with the Club and raised the level of appreciation for the Status of Jersey football on the UK mainland.
– All photos used are from the Kent FA Facebook Page –https://www.facebook.com/1595033554146245/posts/2909916455991275/?d=n