REACHING the final of the KBB NEFF Suffolk Boys’ Under-18 Midweek Cup has ‘topped off a fantastic season’ for ‘little village side’ Walsham-le-Willows.
So says manager Alan Harris whose side face AFC Sudbury in the final at Portman Road on Thursday evening, kick-off 7.30pm.
Walsham, who lost 5-2 to AFC Sudbury in the final two years ago at Colchester United FC, will be bidding to complete a league and cup double.
The Willows won the Central Division of the Thurlow Nunn Youth League, but standing in their way are an AFC Sudbury side who will be looking for their fourth straight win in this competition.
Harris said: “As the league winners and representatives of the Thurlow Nunn Central Division in the final, it means a lot to showcase the talented young lads we have and to try our hardest to win.
“We are often seen as a little village side but each year we are up there challenging, and to make it to Portman Road for the final has just topped off a fantastic season so far.”
Walsham-le-Willows Under-18s. Back row (left to right): Manager Alan Harris (Manager), Ian Hubbard (Coaching Assistant), Harry Roberts, Ed Spampanato, Harvey Hubbard, Kehan Whitby, Dan Stobbart, Taylor Waterson, Matthew Glover, Oli Selfe, Jack Spampanato, Nigel Brame (Assistant Manager), George Crowe (Goalkeeping Coach ). Front row: Konnor Dixon, Ben Harris, Jordan Asker, Ryan Stiff, Joe Mower, Will Stobbart, Marley Browne.
Several of the Walsham side were members of the team that defeated Stowmarket Town 3-0 in this season’s Days Sports Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup Final two weeks ago.
Harris continued: “I believe the experience of the Senior Reserve Cup Final will help the lads realise that it doesn’t matter how young you are or whether you are the underdogs or not, it comes down to one game.
“I will just be telling them to go out and play the kind of football that I know they are capable of and to enjoy every moment, as for some this will be their last taste of Youth football.
“As the manager of the team I would rate this very highly in not only my own achievements in the game but the club at under-18 level too, we all dream about getting to a final at Wembley so for us it has that same feeling.
“We worked hard to be champions of our own league this year so now we want to do the double.”
AFC Sudbury Coach Dave Cannon said that being favourites and the extra pressure that creates will not faze his side.
He said: “The ‘favourites’ label is something we have become used to in recent years and are at ease with.
“I will be reminding the lads of our processes and what we’ve worked on in training, but most importantly to relax and enjoy themselves.
“Our perception of the pressures of being serial winners of this competition is key to how we approach these occasions. It’s an integral part of the development of a young player at our Academy. We see it as a positive.”
Although AFC Sudbury are rightly proud of the number of players who have progressed from their Academy to the first team, Cannon stressed the importance of also winning trophies.
He said: “It is very important. When they arrive at the Academy on day one they are introduced to the legacy of those that have gone before them. Each day they are encouraged to improve, to develop as players and as people. Trophies and first-team appearances are the outcomes of these processes.”
Cannon said he has watched Walsham-le-Willows several times this season and is expecting a difficult game.
“A couple of their players played for our younger teams. I’ve watched them several times this year. They are an excellent team, who work very hard for each other.
“This will be a very difficult game, but it’s a challenge we are all very much looking forward to,” he said.
Admission to the final will be £5 for adults, £3 for concessions (over 65 or in full-time education) and £1 for children under the age of 12.
A souvenir programme, priced £1, will be on sale inside the ground.