Isthmian Youth Champion of Champions Final Thu 9 May Parkside
  • Royall (38')
  • Berry (41', 48')
Cray Valley PM
  • Egharevba (2')

Yes, when a team from Sussex meet a team from South-East London in a final, the obvious neutral venue would be one where both teams have to go north of the Thames. Despite the rather bizarre choice of Aveley FC as the setting for this season’s showpiece event, Parkside was in fact a welcoming and well-appointed modern ground.

This game was a repeat of the 2023 final, when the Millers had prevailed 4-0, and Worthing had also been defeated in the last game in 2022, so could this be third time lucky? It didn’t look like it when Cray Valley took a very early lead, Jones finding Egharevba, who was able to evade the attentions of the Worthing defence and rifle the ball home after only two minutes. The Rebels refused to panic, though, and gradually set about their business, beginning to control possession. The holders were seemingly content to sit in, protect their advantage, and look to catch Worthing on the counter. The pressure steadily grew, however, and on 38 minutes, a trademark mazy run from Luca Allen ended with him being brought down just outside the box. Ben Royall stepped up, and fired the free kick beyond the wall into the bottom corner for the equaliser. Three minutes later, Stan Berry was sharp enough to pounce on a loose back-pass, and scooted through to roll the ball into the unguarded Cray Valley net. The Reds had their tails up now, with both Ben Cheverton and Evan Hoarty shooting just wide from 20 yards or so.

The one goal lead was doubled early in the second period, Stan again capitalising on a defensive error, and then showing great tenacity to wriggle away from some close attention to smash home Worthing’s 3rd. And now things began to open up, as the Millers went in search of the goals they needed. Somehow, the Rebels’ defence remained unbreached – a combination of fortune (one shot hitting both posts), desperate last-ditch blocks and some resolute goalkeeping from Will Tillman kept Cray at bay. As the game became more stretched, Worthing had chances of their own to put the matter beyond doubt, but could not find a way through.

After what felt like hours, the ref finally called a halt to proceedings having added on 9 second half minutes, and the Rebels had avenged last year’s defeat (and also last month’s League Cup final reverse). This was a fantastic team performance from the lads, against a very talented Cray Valley outfit, and crowned an excellent season – league winners, league cup finalists, and now Champion of Champions.

Whatever the future holds for these players, it has been a pleasure to watch them this term – they have demonstrated spirit, togetherness, skill and determination in spades, and have been outstanding ambassadors for the football club.