It was almost inevitable that it would come down to penalties. A pulsating final, played out between two fiercely committed and skilful teams, in the end needed that slimmest and most harsh of margins to decide it. Crown House’s goalkeeper, Amie, resplendent in a bright gold vintage Peñarol top, saved twice, and the crowd erupted. Griffin House, beaten after a second epic match – more of that later – were gracious and honourable in defeat, but the moment belonged to Crown House.
The climax of Chatsworth Schools’ inaugural girls U11s tournament delivered everything that a great sporting moment should: tension, skill, and a worthy winner. But the day itself was full of excellence, teamwork, and fun. Expertly organised by HSW’s Head of Sport and Upper School Phil Dockery, the event saw eight teams travel from across England to compete. Andrew Hammond, Head of Hall School Wimbledon, set the tone in his welcoming address, which emphasised talent and stamina and teamwork, but also exhorted the “very determined faces” in front of him to enjoy themselves too.
And there was much to enjoy. From a footballing perspective, the level of skill was high, despite several girls only having had their first training session that very morning. There were so many moments and players to pick out, but it is worth highlighting the excellence of Highfield’s striker Maddie, Praha’s leadership and goals for Beech Hall, and the midfield dynamism and goalkeeping bravery of Pattison’s Nancy and Rhea respectively. HSW’s Audrey showed fierce determination in midfield, while The Village’s Finley and Benedict House’s Amariah both exhibited real bravery in goal.
The day also showcased Chatsworth’s commitment to inclusivity: some clearly excellent footballers took to the pitch alongside others who had little to no experience, but everyone weighed in and the shouts of encouragement and support were heartfelt and resonant. There were some touching moments of sporting behaviour, too: one player, after being on the receiving end of a very hard tackle, found her opponent helping her to get her shin pad back in place!
This spirit of camaraderie and enjoyment pervaded the whole experience. “It feels exciting because we’ve not done anything like this before”, said Griffin House’s Esme. “It’s really nice doing it all with my friends, too. I really like football.”
And Crown House teacher Robert Wallace highlighted the importance of positive role models in football: “It’s been a fabulous opportunity to build on the raised profile of the women’s game due to the success of the Lionesses this summer and improve engagement with the game.” He continued, “The day has been an excellent experience for the players to meet their counterparts from the other schools in the group.” This was echoed by HSW’s Rem Ofori, who said, “It’s been a great experience and a great opportunity to meet the other schools.” Beech Hall School’s Deputy Head, Geraldine Yandell, even took to calling her team the Griffinesses in honour of the England women’s team!
Of course, every tournament must have a winner, and Crown House, expertly coached by Theo Fragus, triumphed in a nail-biting derby penalty shoot-out against Griffin House, led by Alex Lafleur. It was even more joyful for Crown, as their two travelling journalists Dean and Ryan, who had been vlogging the event, were live-streaming the final back to the school.
Other highlights included Beech Hall, who had the longest journey to get to the tournament, winning the Plate competition, while Highfield participated in two of the most exciting games, beating a very spirited Pattison 2-1 and then finding themselves up against the incredible goalkeeping of Griffin’s Charlotte in the semi-final of the Cup.
The day had everything that one could want from a tournament, not least some brilliant football. As Andrew Hammond and football journalist Alex Stewart handed out prizes and certificates to every participant, it was clear that the girls felt they had been part of something special. The sense of togetherness, pride, hard-work, and commitment to fair play was palpable.
Girls who had barely, if ever, played football before were clearly empowered by the experience and the event was a testament to Chatsworth’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and fostering enthusiastic excellence. Everyone who was there will be able to look back with pride and say that they were there at Chatsworth’s very first girls’ football tournament. It certainly won’t be the last, though.
What is football for? As someone who works in the professional game as an analyst and journalist, I often find myself asking this. The landscape of the professional game can, at times, feel quite bleak and unrelenting. The game, especially in its upper echelons, is too commercial, too wealthy, too removed from the average experience of its fans.
And that is why attending an event like this tournament was such a joy. Ultimately, what got any of us who work in football involved was a love of the kind of moments that sport can bring. These come is many forms: experiences of joy or despair that come as fans; marvelling at a piece of breath-taking skill or admiring courage or resilience; or those moments of connection that shared participation in events, especially those that wrench our emotions, can bring with others.
Watching from the side-lines as this inaugural girl’s tournament unfolded, I genuinely felt all that. It surprised me, too. I watch a lot of football and often feel myself a bit impervious to the emotional side of the game; as an analyst, that’s quite helpful. But as Griffin’s goalkeeper kept out yet another thunderous shot from Highfield’s attacker, or Crown House’s goalkeeper (yes, I used to be a goalkeeper and am totally biased) saved two penalties in the extraordinarily exciting final, I felt the joy of seeing the kind of moment that, for me at least, sport can give us. The raucous, but supportive, energy of the crowd was infectious. The pride and tenacity of the players, which never once tipped over, was also remarkable.
Best of all, though, it was clear that here was a group of girls, some of whom had never played any form of organised football before, having fun. Skill and pride and teamwork are all so important, valuable in life as in sport. But so is fun, and the fun had at this tournament will live long in the memory for me and, I hope, all the participants.
Alex is Head of Content for Analytics FC, and has worked for The Athletic and Tifo Football