Greenside primary school in Shepherds Bush have ‘done a Leicester’ and won the borough’s schools football tournament against all the odds.
The football competition has thrown up surprises since it started in 1989 – but nothing to match this year’s extraordinary result.
For the first time in living memory, serial champions Brackenbury and Larmenier & Sacred Heat didn’t have a team in either the girls’ or the boys’ final, after both stumbled at the quarter-final stage.
Yet unfancied Greenside primary school in Shepherds Bush, who hadn’t won the competition for 15 years, galloped to victory in the equivalent of Leicester City leaving Chelsea and Manchester United for dead on their way to Premier League triumph.
Greenside’s supporters were hoarse by the end of a dazzling display in the final against Sir John Lillie school… but that was nothing compared to the tearful joy of their coach, Giuseppe Fazzone.
Because, incredibly, Giuseppe was a centre back in the Greenside team which last lifted the trophy in 2001 – and he still has the silverware from that famous win on his mantelpiece at home.
After leaving the primary school, Giuseppe had always dreamed of returning to try to repeat the success. He trained as a teacher, and landed the job back at his alma mater three years ago, immediately setting about rejuvenating the football team.
“I’ve been back here at Greenside for three years, and I’ve been waiting to coach a team that I knew could win it,” Giuseppe admitted as he was mobbed by the players, supporters and parents after the final at Ravenscourt Park on Friday April 22.
“Back in 2001, when I won the Mayor’s Cup as a young player, everyone on the winning team was given a replica trophy with a little silver player on the top. I’ve still got it at home!”
Perennial champs Brackenbury had looked as if they were cruising into yet another Mayor’s Cup semi-final after leading St Stephen’s 2-0 at half-time in the northern area quarter-final, but a spirited comeback in the most stirring match of this year’s tournament saw St Stephen’s triumph 3-2.
Meanwhile Greenside, who had beaten Wormholt 1-0 to reach the semis, then did a spectacular demolition job on St Stephen’s, winning 4-0 to set up a place in the final.
Their opponents at a chilly, overcast Ravenscourt Park were southern borough champions Sir John Lillie, who had scraped past Langford 2-1 on penalties in their area semi-final.
Sir John Lillie in yellow, enjoying the most vocal support, kicked off, playing towards the river end, but man-of-the-match Sebe Romaniec in the Greenside goal gave an early indication of what was to come with a brave kicked save in the second minute.
Sir John Lillie threatened several more times, producing a string of saves from Sebe until Jahmal Sanderson, Greenside’s tall No11, weaved through the defence and unleashed an unstoppable volley to put the Shepherd Bush school in front in the eighth minute.
When referee Mo Helem – seconded to the Mayor’s Cup from QPR – blew for half-time in the final, it was 2-0 to Greenside after No8 Rayan Haddi fired home.
Although Sir John Lillie had faster pace, Greenside had more purpose, playing coach Giuseppe’s favoured 2-4-1 formation, focusing on continuous attack in possession.
On the touchline, the support for the southern champs was deafening, with a constant chorus of:
Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate?
Not the king, not the queen, Sir John Lillie’s football team!
Greenside were awarded a penalty three minutes into the second half after Jahmal was bundled over in the box, with Rayan stepping up to place the ball beyond the Sir John Lillie keeper’s grasp, for the final 3-0 scoreline.
Sir John Lillie pressed to the last, but Sebe Romaniec’s superb form denied them as he made a string of top-class saves.
“I’m pleased with my performance,” Sebe admitted at the end, after Hammersmith & Fulham mayor Cllr Mercy Umeh had presented the winners and runners-up with medals, and Greenside had lifted the cup itself. “It was a bit hard at the beginning of the game, but it was easier at the end!”
Coach Giuseppe said of his goalie: “Sebe saved that performance for today. He’s come a long way since last season when, frankly, he had a howler.”
Greenside didn’t lose a game throughout the competition, winning nine and drawing one.
In total, the Mayor’s Cup pitted 34 primary schools against each other, in a tournament for 10 and 11-year-olds that is the envy of other London boroughs.
Calum Fairley, the borough school sports and games organiser, was given a rousing round of applause by everyone at the end.
Cllr Umeh thanked him for his work, and said of the competition itself: “I know you all really enjoyed it, and your attitude, conduct and behaviour throughout has been excellent.”
Calum, too, praised the spirit in which the contest was played.
“It’s been a great success this year, with 150 games played in all,” he said. “It’s been really unusual not to have a Brackenbury team in either final; in fact, it’s unheard of. One reason the competition is so special is that it is long-term, with the children following their team’s progress in the league, and young players developing and coming into the squad during the season.”
He had special words of thanks for the tournament officials from Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, who support the Mayor’s Cup by supplying referees, but also add a touch of professionalism to the whole event.
At the final whistle, Sir John Lillie were inconsolable, although their coaches Brent Cibau and Juna Morgan did their best to put arms of comfort around the disappointed players.