Euro 2020: Stubbington soccer tots celebrate 50 years - and back England ahead of final with Italy tonight
AS ENGLAND’S elite players take on Italy tonight all eyes will be on Wembley Stadium for the Euro 2020 final.
Young players who have risen through the ranks – like Portsmouth’s own Mason Mount – have the weight of the nation on their shoulders.
In the 90 minutes that follow kick-off they will be thinking of the game ahead, not their climb to top tier football.
But 90 miles away this morning at Stubbington Recreation Ground a group of tiny tots were looking at the current Three Lion’s in awe – and as an ‘inspiration’.
Stubbington Youth Football Club traditionally wears red – reminiscent of the World Cup-winning English side in 1966 – but many children today wore England shirts and were excited, along with their parents, for the game tonight.
Little Joey Saunders is in his first year at school and joined the club on the field for the first time today.
Mum Kerry Saunders, from Hill Head, said: ‘Joey’s been watching England play the Euros and was inspired by the football team, and just said “mummy can I be in a football team, I want to play at Wembley one day”.
‘I said “yeah sure that’s brilliant, let’s get you booked in”.’
She said Joey tried a football club when he was around two or three but he didn’t have the confidence to join in and is now ‘full of confidence’.
‘We’re really proud,’ she said.
The 2020/21 season marks the club’s 50th year – made all the extra special by England’s success at the Euros.
Coach Barra Houldershaw has run the soccer tots group for six years, having joined the club in 2006.
Mr Houldershaw is an ardent follower of The FA’s England DNA – a long-term scheme aimed at creating winning senior teams by supporting all tiers of English football.
He usually runs games for the tots as one on one, two on two, or up to four on four.
This gives the youngsters more time on the ball, and an opportunity to ‘shine’.
Mr Houldershaw said: ‘It means the kids who are more developed, they get to demonstrate that.
‘If they’re this age – under-5s, under-6s – it doesn’t matter how good they are, they’re still not that good to beat four players.
‘But they can shine and show their skills with what they’ve got.’
Teams were dwindling back in 2006 and the club faced folding. Now 15 years on, it has 24 teams including four all-girl teams.
It launched the FA Wildcat Centre two years ago – and today the club had had 30 girls in three age groups, plus two sessions for boys aged four and five.
Club spokesman Andrew Griffin said: ‘Everyone turned up today excited about the final.
‘We encouraged the boys and girls to wear England kits and some of the girls had their faces painted with the St George cross.
‘They love playing football just as much as the boys - the Wildcats sessions encourage them to come along - have a try in a less pressurised environment than in a mixed team.
‘From there they can thrive, practice and develop skills and make friendships that will hopefully last a very long time.
‘England’s success at the Euros will create life-long memories for our players - and the inspiration it is driving can only be a good thing for the club - here’s to another 50 years of fun and football at Stubbington.
‘Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 55 years to see England in another final.’