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Friday 09 May 2014

School's hat-trick hero enjoys 'unbelievable' day at Stoke

Michael Fearnehough's pride at helping St Francis Xavier claim Premier League U16 Schools Cup

St Francis Xavier, of Liverpool, triumph over Whitgift School, from Croydon, in thrilling match at Britannia Stadium

St Francis Xavier College's Michael Fearnehough called his day at Britannia Stadium "unbelievable" as the striker's hat-trick and winning penalty helped the school claim a first Premier League Under-16 Schools Cup.

In a thrilling match, Whitgift School, from Croydon, came from 3-0 down to lead St Francis Xavier 4-3 with three minutes remaining. But Fearnehough was given the chance to take the match into extra-time with a penalty.

"I was very nervous because I knew it had to go in," said Fearnehough, whose goals had given his school a 2-0 half-time lead. "I nearly missed it, too!"

Despite the Whitgift goalkeeper getting a hand to the ball it squeezed in to make it 4-4. After no more goals in extra-time and with two Whitgift players missing their kicks, Fearnehough had the chance to win the trophy, even he was not entirely aware of the ramifications of his spot-kick.

"I wasn't sure it would win the match but I put it in and looked around and I ran," he said. "I just couldn't believe it. I saw all my mates in the crowd and ran to them. They helped us a lot, especially when we were losing."

For the St Francis Xavier coach Kenny Glover replacing his goalkeeper late in extra-time paid off with Tyrone Lewis saving one penalty before the next one crashed against the bar and out.

"We are proud to have been able to have been a part of such a wonderful culmination to a tournament that matched any Barclays Premier League match for excitement"
Martyn Heather

"Tyrone had saved a penalty for us before in a shootout so that is why I brought him on," he said. "He's good at penalties and did the business again. I'm made up for him.

"At 4-3 I was thinking, 'Oh God, we've thrown it away.' Luckily we got that penalty to put us back in and it gave us belief that we could do it.”

For Glover, the trophy was reward for an improvement in the way his players have behaved over the years and any pressure they might have felt was helped by a stop on the way to Stoke City's ground on the morning of the match.

"They have great attitudes, which have improved over the past few years on the pitch, in terms of being gentlemanly, knowing how to win a game and how to get stuck in but be fair," he said.

"On the bus to the ground we stopped at a service station and got some packs of Match Attax and that was all the players went on about so it helped us to relax and alleviate the pressure."

Steve Kember, the Whitgift coach, was left to lament what might have been, but ultimately he was proud of his side.

"If we had played like we normally can in the first half the result wouldn't have been the same," Kember said. "I changed the formation at half-time but we went 3-0 down. At half-time I said to them, 'It's your last game for the school'. Many of the boys will be leaving, going to other schools or Andre Coker going to Crystal Palace academy. So I asked them, 'Is there any chance you will show me you want to win the game?'

"They did, battling back to be within three minutes of winning the trophy before we conceded a silly penalty. So I am satisfied because they showed me what they can do and they produced a really good game for people to watch. This is one hard tournament to win, with 10 hard matches to do so, so we fell short but I am proud of my team.

"The boys loved it at the Britannia and Stoke were very welcoming so in all it has been a brilliant day for my team and the tournament."

For more than two decades the Premier League has been supporting the English Schools FA, which organises the competition, but it is the first time to sponsor the Under-16s cup.

Martyn Heather, Head of Education at the Premier League was pleased to watch a fitting finale to a tournament in which more than 700 schools took part throughout the nation.  

"We are proud to have been able to have been a part of such a wonderful culmination to a tournament that matched any Barclays Premier League match for excitement," Heather said. "Schools, like the 20 Premier League clubs, are the sporting hubs of many communities and bringing the two together is what our partnership with the ESFA is about.

"I'd like to thank the ESFA for their organisation of the competition and to Stoke City for their generosity in providing a wonderful stage that was matched by the attitudes and spirit of the two teams."

  • Fearnehough with the ESFA's Dave Woollaston, left, and Premier League's Martyn Heather

  • Fearnehough slots home the penalty that won the trophy for St Francis Xavier

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Key Points

  • St Francis Xavier College's Michael Fearnehough talks about his unbelievable day winning the Premier League U16 Schools Cup
  • Striker, who hit hat-trick in 4-4 and winning penalty in shootout, enjoyed experience at Stoke's Britannia Stadium
  • SFX coach Kenny Glover's late goalkeeper substitution pays off