Travelling to Swindon on Monday March 9th, this was the day that the team of eight youngsters overcame the odds to reach the prestigious Utilita sponsored EFL Kids Cup final, to be played on the hallowed green of Wembley Stadium.
Their journey had begun back in November 2019 when Leyton Orient Trust held a local schools tournament at the Douglas Eyre Sports Centre in Walthamstow where 20 primary schools entered in the hope of being able to represent Leyton Orient and winning the ultimate prize that was up for grabs.
After progressing, beating Burnt Mill Academy (Harlow) on penalties in the final, they then had to wait until March this year when the 12 southern based schools representing their respective League Two clubs came together in the regional finals, hosted admirably by Swindon Town Community Foundation.
Two groups of six was the format with winners and runners-up to play in semi-finals.
And as has been in the past, some outstanding players were on show, usually attached to academies, and supported by their teammates, games are fast and full of skill.
After two good opening wins against Newport and Northampton, the boys came crashing back down with a 3-1 defeat against Plymouth Argyle – although an ankle injury to one of the players in the first game meant the squad was down to seven in this 6-a-side tournament.
With only a few minutes break between the 12-minute matches, the O’s team went on to win their next game versus Stevenage before coming up against tournament favourites Swindon.
A close encounter went the way of the Robins who scored the only goal of the game via a clever corner routine thus meaning that, due to other results in the group, the O’s team had to wait on the outcome of the last group game – Plymouth v Newport.
Thankfully this ended as a draw and Aldersbrook had progressed to the semi-final in second place behind Swindon by one point.
The school representing Cheltenham Town were to be the opponents, and they had won all their respective group games, so a tough encounter was predicted, and so it turned out.
A period of five minutes extra time could not separate the teams after a 1-1 result in normal time and so to the dreaded penalties once again with the O’s hero, goalkeeper Cyrus Malik, saving the first and putting Aldersbrook through to the final, 3-1!
Swindon had also won their semi on penalties and so we were to meet again with the ultimate prize now up for grabs – a trip to play at Wembley to play against their northern counterparts to see who will become League Two National School Champions!
Could Aldersbrook go one step further than their last attempt at this stage? Back in 2017 they had won through to the regional final that was played on the Adams Park pitch, home of Wycombe Wanderers but they lost out to the host team that day, 3-0, in a rather one-sided final.
Now they faced the hosts again and once again Swindon went ahead in the first half with a goal from a corner, the flighted ball taken down and dispatched coolly at the back post.
All to do in the second period and as often happens in these situations, substitute Louis Finkernagel stepped up to save the day with a sublime side-foot finish into the top corner with only five minutes remaining.
The O’s team then went on to hit their opponents post whilst Swindon managed to hit the O’s crossbar in the extra time period, but no more goals were to follow and so, once again, penalties to were to decide Aldersbrook’s fate!
Two penalties to one in the O’s favour before a young Swindon player blasted his attempt over the bar.
It was now down to Josh Zetter-Plummer to keep his nerve – Wembley was this kick away.
With the Swindon Town FC first team now also in attendance and watching attentively prior to their own training session, Josh strode up, a mini pause and then, GOAL!!
A confident strike to the right of the ‘keeper and Aldersbrook had done it – they would now represent Leyton Orient in the Utilita sponsored EFL Kids Cup final at Wembley!
Team Coach, Aslam Hussein, said afterwards: “At last! We have been trying to get to Wembley for a long time now, with both the boys and girls teams.
“To finally make it is fantastic. We didn’t start too well but when it comes to penalties, I am always confident. I have some very confident boys and a very good record in shoot-outs. I was sure we’d do it”.
Aldersbrook will now follow past representative winners of the EFL Kids Cup, Chase Lane Primary from Chingford, who won the competition in 2014, with hopes of emulating their achievement.
The squad from Aldersbrook:
Coach Aslam Hussein;
Louis Rock; Zion Angus; Josh Zetter-Plummer; Ryan O’Hare; Levi Jack-Jordan; Rhyan Dowden; Louis Finkernagel and Cyrus Malik.