Report by Wes Hammond
Margate Youth U9’s, led by Wes Hammond and assisted by Dan Hudd, travelled to Béthune in France at the Easter weekend to compete in the 2023 Spring Tournament at Béthunois Stadium.
The Margate squad travelled with only 8 players with Florain Gadd Young unavailable for the weekend, they had no subs and played on bigger pitches than they are used to in the UK along with bigger goals and bigger footballs. The rules also are different to what the youngsters are used to playing in the UK.
Margate started off their tour with a friendly game on Sunday where they were welcomed by Lievin FC, a smart football club that showed a lot of respect to the visitors with their hospitality.
After taking the first 20 minutes to adapt to the new way of playing and finding their feet, the Margate team came away comfortable 8-2 winners with some great football on display from both teams making it a great game for the spectators.
Margate’s attention then moved to the big day, competing alongside 15 French teams in an attempt to bring some silverware home with them.
To stand a chance of this, Margate had to finish 1st or 2nd in their group to move on to the quarter finals of the competition. The youngsters from Margate did not disappoint and put on some fine displays of football resulting in 1-0 and 5-0 wins in their first two group games, with goals coming from Taylor Hammond and Isaac Macrae, powered by a solid midfield performance from George Hudd Oskar Jarman and Rafferty Rigden.
The 3rd and final group game finished 0-0, meaning Margate finished top of their group with 7 points. This meant they played against the team that finished 2nd in group D and yet again, an excellent footballing display saw them comfortably win 2-0, with goals again from Hammond and Macrae cruising them through to the semi finals. There was also some solid defending from centre backs George Cassar and Cian Hartnett.
This time it was a tougher challenge, against a well-rehearsed, professional RC Lens team, where Margate had several chances to score but none seemed to go their way. This resulted in a 0-0 draw taking the game to a penalty shootout, three penalties for each team. Lens stepped up first and superstar goalkeeper George Sykes leapt from his line to make an incredible save, giving Margate the first advantage.
Up stepped Hammond, hitting a rocket that any keeper would struggle to save. Lens scored their 2nd, putting a bit more pressure onto Margate but Macrae smashed it home and left Lens needing to score their 3rd to stay in the competition. Sykes got his fingertips to it but not quite reaching enough to keep it out of his goal. Next stepped up Rafferty Rigden, incredible pressure and needing to score to send Margate through to the final of the tournament. Cool as a cucumber, despite the boos from the home crowd, he slotted it home and sent Margate through to the final game of the day!
Up against tournament hosts Béthune, and a stadium filled with home support, this was going to be no easy task but the travelling Margate support made their presence known and gave the Margate boys the confidence they needed going into the biggest game of the day. Just 3 minutes into the game, a freak ball that hit the wet conditions bounced awkwardly over Sykes head and landed the hosts 1-0 up early on, the first goal Margate had conceded all day and the only shot Béthune had all game.
Margate didn’t give up and gave it their all, with plenty of chances had throughout the rest of the game, none of which sadly made it to the back of the net meaning the Margate came out Runners Up out of 16 teams in France, bringing a Runners Up trophy home with them. George Sykes was also awarded the best Goalkeeper award for his display throughout the whole tournament, no surprise after his fine display and outrageous penalty save in the semi final!
A fine show from Margate Youth U9’s who did themselves, their families and their football club proud all weekend. Well done boys and coaches along with a special thank you to Thomas Dargan who kitted up and supported the uUs all tournament via the sideline.