HSC HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE ISSUE 20 - SUMMER 2021
FROM HAMPTON TO HARLEQUINS
EDITOR 2021: JOSH BARTHOLOMEW
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
HSC HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE
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Cover Story: Louis Lynagh tells HSC about starring for Harlequins, making the step up to professional rugby, and his international ambitions.
Sam Colvine takes you behind the scenes of Hampton's most enigmatic competition: Social League. Hear from those who run it, those who play it, and those who referee it.
The Headmaster talks ESFA, memorable sporting moments, and sports scholarships in a wide-ranging interview with HSC.
EDITOR’S NOTE Thumbing back through the HSC archives, I noticed that a considerable number of Editors begin their note with the statement that "it has been a year like no other for Hampton sport", or an equivalent. Indeed, I did so myself in these pages last year. But in the context of Hampton's long, storied history, I think one can safely say that this has been a year like no other. As societal restrictions have continued, sport has largely been curtailed too, despite the considerable efforts of many teachers. It has, I'm sure, been an experience that confirms the importance of sport in our daily and weekly lives; it's a point that Mr Knibbs was keen to stress, too, in my interview with him (page 18). Although trying to maintain a sports website in the absence of any live action has been, to say the least, challenging, the pandemic has allowed us to explore a number of stories in much greater depth than we would otherwise have been able to. In this edition, there is one article on how Hampton's major sports have coped with Covid (page 14), but aside from that, we've tried to avoid the topic as much as possible. I'd particularly recommend reading the impressive interviews with U15 football star Chibby Nwoko (page 24), History teacher and Olympic Gold medallist Mr Cross (page 25), and Captain of Football, Sami Omaar (page 20). This edition is the first without Mr Peter Smith, who retired last summer. He was a founding member of HSC in 2005, and oversaw its digital revolution in 2018 too. It seems right to thank him for his prodigious efforts here - I know that I don't just speak for myself; his impact on HSC and Hampton in general was significant. It's an old sporting adage that one should aim to leave the jersey in a better position than they found it in; Mr Smith certainly did so. Thanks also go to those who have been of great help in producing this edition: Sam Colvine and Fergus Briston on the editorial team, Mr Sharkey from the English department, Mrs Colvine and the Website Office, and all others who have made this magazine what it is.
Football Captain Sami Omaar tells Vishal Saha about senior football, winning ESFA as a 16-year-old, juggling his studies, and more.
On a personal note, this edition is the culmination of my five years with HSC, including two as Editor. It has been a real pleasure to write for these pages and develop the website. I have no doubt that HSC will continue to grow in the coming years; I look forward to watching it do so from afar.
HSC writers, 2020/21: Josh Bartholomew Sam Colvine Fergus Briston Vishal Saha Josh Hood
Jayden Oni Dan Cubbon Josh Freer Billy Hutchings Max Cardosi
JAMIE BENSON Captain of Rugby and School Captain Jamie Benson has enjoyed a glittering schoolboy career to date: having starred for Harlequins and called up by England, the fly-half has signed a professional contract for next season. Benson tells HSC about his plans for the future. See page 10.
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LYNAGH TIME Few sporting careers start in finer fashion than that of Louis Lynagh OH (2019). The Harlequins star sits down with Josh Bartholomew to discuss his rise to the professional game.
BY JOSH BARTHOLOMEW
For those present as Hampton’s First XV beat Dulwich in the most thrilling of Champions Trophy matches in October 2018, Louis Lynagh’s stunning start in professional rugby will come as no surprise. That day, Lynagh – then Hampton’s Captain of Rugby – tore through one of schoolboy rugby’s finest sides, scoring twice as his team rampaged into the Round of 16. One try was particularly extraordinary: starting underneath his own posts, Lynagh side-stepped past one Dulwich defender, before sprinting clear, handingoff another for good measure and diving into the corner. It was a try that few in attendance at Hanworth Road will forget (and nor will those at LEH, who must have been surprised to see the ball that Lynagh launched over the fence in excited celebration land on their fields). Fast-forward two years, and Lynagh has been demonstrating his skills on a bigger stage in the professional game. His introduction to professional rugby could hardly have been smoother, with two tries in six starts for Gallagher Premiership side Harlequins. One such appearance, against last year’s beaten finalists Wasps, was especially eye-catching: Lynagh scored an opportunistic try himself, having earlier set up Danny Care with an exceptional, powerful line-break.
Yet dig beyond the surface, and the start to Lynagh’s professional career has not been natural, and nor has it been smooth – his impressive recent performances are the products of months of persistence and exertion. “Everything was difficult at the start,” Lynagh recalls. “It’s a huge step up: people are bigger, faster, more skilful. When I came in, people were just better than me because they’d been there for so much longer and had experienced so many situations. You have to work hard every single day, take advantage of every single minute. I was ready for my opportunity and I think I took it.” Although Lynagh appears to have now cemented his place in Harlequins’ starting team, his opportunity was initially hard to come by. Having joined the senior squad in July 2019, only a month after finishing School, his Premiership debut did not come until 15 months later, against Leicester Tigers. While he waited for his opportunity in the senior squad, Lynagh was forced to rely on his experiences on the training ground as he sought to assimilate into the professional game, aside from a short spell with thirdtier side Richmond. “It was a tough period, training week in and week out not getting much game time,” Lynagh says. “Going on loan to Richmond helped a lot. Playing well for them was a real confidence boost.”
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Lynagh dives to score against Dulwich in 2018
Lynagh’s work ethic was put to the test soon after Premiership Rugby returned from its Covid-enforced absence. Making his debut as a replacement against Leicester, the Old Hamptonian was tasked with tackling hulking Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, who stands at 6 ft 5’ and 137 kg.
“I’ve only been able to pick his brains and become close with him for these two years. I’d have loved for him to stay, but it’s not my place to know the ins-and-outs of it all. I’m just quite sad about it. He’s been a great mentor and has taken me to new heights with my game. Even when he leaves we’re not going to stop talking.”
Lynagh admits that playing against someone who he had watched since he was a schoolboy was “quite cool”, but it’s a feeling that he is now well accustomed to; alongside him in the Quins ranks is a phalanx of former England stars: Danny Care, Mike Brown, and – until recently – Chris Robshaw. “I was quite starstruck,” Lynagh admits, recalling his first training sessions in the Quins senior squad. “For the first few weeks I was like ‘wow, I’m training with Danny Care.’ It was quite surreal, but you can’t get caught up in it otherwise you’ll look like a fanboy. When you’re teammates, you’ve got to work on playing together and finding each other’s strengths.”
Despite losing his mentor, Lynagh may well find a silver-lining from Brown’s departure: a space will open up at his preferred full-back position. Speaking in April, Harlequins CEO Laurie Dalrymple partially attributed the decision to let Brown go to “academy players developing faster than we’d expected” – it doesn’t take a genius to work out that he’s referring to Lynagh. Does he feel a sense of trepidation ahead of the opportunity to play at full-back?
Having played full-back through much of his junior career, the example of Mike Brown – one of England’s most decorated internationals in the position – is a fine one to follow. Lynagh is quick to highlight Brown’s influence on his game. “Mike Brown’s one of the greatest ever full-backs, so if you can keep up with him, you’re in pretty good shape. I’m really fortunate that I’ve had those mentors in the backs who’ve all helped me in some way, whether that’s a five-minute conversation or a longer call, or doing post-session skills with them. It’s a great environment to succeed – there’s so many resources you can use.” It is here, though, where Lynagh’s previously ebullient expression turns somewhat sepulchral. After 16 years and 340 appearances for Harlequins, his mentor, Mike Brown, will be leaving the club at the end of the season. "It’s quite a difficult thing for me," Lynagh says despondently.
“It’s definitely an opportunity. My favourite position to play is full-back. I am a back-three player, and I’ll play wherever the team needs me, because any game time is game time. I want to play, and it’d be stupid of me to say no to playing because I want to play full-back. I talk to all the full-backs at Quins about how they play so that I can learn from them. It’s all about gathering information. It’s definitely an opportunity and I hope that I can take it.” Brown and Lynagh have both become pivotal cogs in the Harlequins machine in recent months, but their influence was initially somewhat stymied. Quins’ form was disappointing under Head Coach Paul Gustard, before he left in January with the club having won only two of six games in 2020/21. Since Gustard’s departure, though, Quins have undergone a remarkable transformation, winning seven out of their last ten league games to reach fourth in the Gallagher Premiership table. The turning point, Lynagh notes, was a meeting between the players at Quins.
RUGBY Lynagh and Mike Brown after Harlequins' win over Wasps in January
“We had a meeting and talked about the fact that there was no one else left to blame but ourselves, so we could either stand up and be the team we talked about being or we just go into the ground. To see the success we’ve had has turned a lot of heads. No one expected it, and it’s allowed a lot of people to enjoy their rugby again. Even in the league losses we’ve had (Newcastle, Exeter, and Bristol), they’ve all been within three points. We’ve turned a corner.” Yet his string of appearances in the First XV has brought more adversity for Lynagh; this time it is not in the form of a pandemic, but a groin injury, sustained against Newcastle Falcons in late February. Although he insists that it is “nothing serious”, it nonetheless presents itself as a source of frustration for Lynagh at a deeply inconvenient time. His replacement in the team, Tyrone Green, has excelled, leaving question marks over how he will find his way back into the starting side. Lynagh is not concerned, though, seeing it as an opportunity to “come back even stronger. Rotation was bound to happen. Even when I come back, I don’t expect my position to be handed back to me – I’ve got to train hard for it and fight for it. Everyone wants to be playing, and that’s what causes such healthy competition in the team. That’s one of the key parts of our success: competition for places and a willingness to achieve personal success and improve others. It helps the team work harder.” In fact, Lynagh is partially grateful for the injury – because Quins identified it early, he was able to mitigate against more serious damage later in his career. He’s thankful that it came after he agreed to a new contract; despite the reported attention of Leicester Tigers, Lynagh signed a new long-term senior deal in March, committing himself to Harlequins.
Though Lynagh will likely be with Quins for years, his focus is on the short-term: with a Premiership title still up for grabs and the prospect of only a few more games left alongside Mike Brown, you’ll do well to distract him from his task in the coming weeks. It has become something of a cliché, but Louis' sporting skill can be traced right back to his bloodstream: his father, Michael Lynagh won the 1991 World Cup on his way to 72 caps for Australia. Despite being relative rugby royalty, Louis is determined not to let his famous father define him. “I don’t want to be remembered as his son, I want to be remembered as myself,” he says. “Hopefully that’s what I’m building towards.” It raises the prospect of an interesting dilemma for Lynagh that looks as if it may emanate in years to come: his international availability. Despite having grown up in England, Lynagh has an Italian mother, and an Australian father; in fact, his younger brother, Tom, has joined Australian provincial side the Queensland Reds. Lynagh, with typical pragmatism, insists that it is not an issue that he’s overly concerned with currently. “Right now if I got the call to play for any international team that’d be amazing. It’s the highest point of your career – I qualify for three countries, so hopefully I’ve got a decent chance if I keep playing well. Right now I’m not at that level, and I just want to keep working hard. If I get a call from an international team, that’s something I’ll have to consider, whichever one it is, but that’s not here right now.” It's a demonstration of Lynagh’s trademark modesty that was manifest in his time at Hampton, but – if his current form continues – the question of international availability is one he may well soon be answering.
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A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN The Internationals – Social League’s founding team
Each Wednesday hundreds of Hamptonians flock onto the 3G, sporting coloured kit and questionable team names. Sam Colvine investigates the Social League phenomenon. Enjoyed by a kaleidoscope of Upper School pupils, Social League has evolved into an extensive and sophisticated operation that has enabled the School’s sporting scene to gain a unique dimension. Each school year ushers in an assortment of new teams of differing abilities, to put it diplomatically, striving to reach the top of the table and defeat all those who would challenge them; Hampton’s version of ESFA, some would argue. The growing number of Hamptonians eager to participate conveys the importance of the league to the School’s culture. So, what is Social League, and why is it vital to the Hampton of today? In its current form, the League draws teams from the three most senior year groups, producing around 12 to 14 registered teams annually, involving nigh on 150 boys. Spanning two terms, teams play a match a week. This format, according to Director of Sport, Mr Mills,
“gives opportunities for friends to play together, which is great fun and produces a wide range of performances, individually and as teams.” With the introduction of the 3G and the local Power League 5-a-side pitches, the League is now more dynamic than ever before, with matches allowed to continue uninhibited by the less clement weather of the winter months. Although teachers oversee the overarching logistics of the League, it is primarily marshalled by a ‘committee’ of Upper Sixth formers who volunteer to assist in the running of the event. They deal with fixtures and results, assign teams the pitches that they have been allocated by the PE and Sports Department and act as intermediaries between Mr Mills and the players. Instagram accounts documenting the progress of the teams have even emerged in recent years. This organisational role is profoundly rewarding. David Evans OH (2020) organised last year's competition: “The best thing about organising was all the gratitude from everyone who played because it was tough to work everything out with captains and teachers and it meant a lot to see everyone enjoying themselves every week.” Those who volunteer can be sure to learn valuable lessons in patience and tolerance as each captain passionately asserts why their team deserves to play on the best pitches of the 3G. The League has deep roots in the history of Hampton sport, originating in 1996, when a group of Sixth Formers, somewhat peeved that they had not been
One of Social League's 2020/21 Upper Sixth teams
selected for the senior football outfits, formed a team called the Internationals which faced off against a staff team, dubbed the Assassins. This beginning reflects the fabric of Social League: a break away from the status quo of school sport so that all boys can enjoy the hardship and jubilance of football, irrespective of ability. Social League has grown in prominence ever since; even in the 1997-98 season it was a powerful presence, as Mr Sentence, then Head of Football, posited: “Hampton should be proud that, below the top four elevens, nine teams played 64 matches on Wednesday afternoons.”
However, its merits are just as prevalent in its social and mental function; after all, this does form half of its name. It offers a prevailing sense of independence, Mr Parrish observed, permitting boys to break away from the constraints of Lower School football: “Social League allows them to play effectively on their own terms: they pick the team, they choose the kit, they choose where they play.” Furthermore, perhaps its most desirable quality is its inclusivity and the different sporting backgrounds its participants come from: players range from former A team players to retrained rowers.
Social League offers wide-ranging experiences for all who choose to dedicate themselves to it, ranging from the hilarious to the beneficial. For the players, there is the exhilaration of unfettered influence on their team’s formation and strategies in the absence of true managers, leading to some adventurous and occasionally comical outcomes. Lower Sixth pupil Abhi Sundaram, who enjoyed his first foray into the Social League stratosphere this season, revealed: “The conversation always gets really animated and people start to channel their inner Pep Guardiola by discussing elaborate tactics. In reality these plans rarely come to fruition, but nonetheless it is still fun to dream…”
It is this innate accessibility which allows Social League to thrive in the School’s current sporting environment. Sundaram astutely noted: “Anyone, regardless of their ability, can play and enjoy themselves; even if you are not in one of the more competitive teams you can still benefit from the many positive aspects of sport.”
Teachers referee the matches, in what can only be considered an enjoyable and memorable role, observing all the amusing moments that Social League produces. When asked about his favourite moments from his time refereeing, Mr Parrish reflected: “The things that stick in my mind are that every season, there are two or three ridiculously good goals that frankly are often a little out of keeping with some of the other fayre on offer.” In terms of the League’s importance to the Hampton community, it possesses a multi-faceted value to the School. Obviously, it is crucial to the Hampton football programme, serving the physical needs of countless boys: “As we know exercise is very important and this hour allows players to run around, be competitive, work as a team and the opportunity to demonstrate their performances and skills,” said Mr Mills.
Since its inception in the 1990s, Social League has played a crucial role for numerous members of the Hampton community. It has imbued some with useful logistical and organisational skills and engendered a notion of independence in all the players. Undeniably, it has become a social medium for so many Hamptonians, bringing together boys from all parts of the School, constructing a distinct sense of togetherness which transcends year groups and ability. Hence, its importance cannot be underestimated and, as more boys choose to don the shirts of teams with names such as ‘Pique Blinders’ or ‘Crouch Potatoes’, it will continue to grow. The Headmaster Mr Knibbs shrewdly summed up what Social League means: “If you want an insight into what is distinctive about being a Hamptonian, go and watch Social League. When I first encountered it, I thought, ‘What is this?’ But culturally, it is really important at our School and I think that many alumni would say that some of their fondest memories of their time at Hampton come from Social League.”
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THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JAMIE With a professional contract from Harlequins, and an offer from Cambridge University, things are looking good for Hampton First XV and England U18 flyhalf Jamie Benson. He sits down with HSC Editor Josh Bartholomew to discuss his future prospects.
The last time Jamie Benson played a game of competitive rugby was over 15 months ago, when he captained Harlequins’ U18 team in a crunch academy league game against Saracens. Since then, the world – and his world – has changed: Benson has been selected by England U18s and called into the U20 training camp, awarded an academy contract with Quins, and offered a place at Cambridge University to study Natural Sciences. But the pandemic has had a particularly significant impact on Benson. He was due to make his England debut against Scotland in a warm-up game before the U18 Six Nations, only for Covid to intervene; the Hampton team that he was made captain of has been unable to compete in the two major tournaments that it looked well-placed to win (the St Joseph’s Festival and Champions Trophy). 15 months is an extraordinarily long time to be deprived of rugby, especially for someone as archly competitive as Benson, and he is candid with regard to the impact it has had, particularly on the Hampton First XV. “In terms of school rugby, it’s quite upsetting and frustrating, especially because we thought we had a decent chance of doing pretty well in the cup. “The fact that this is it for our year group, and we could’ve done even better than last year, makes it particularly frustrating. We’ve played in three national
cups, reached three semi-finals, and in each semi-final we’ve come really close. We were determined to put that right, which was shown by our attitude to training over lockdown – there was a consensus that everyone would buy into it this year. For us to continually have false hope was really tough.” The three national cup campaigns that Benson refers to are emblematic of his year group’s impact on school rugby. Hampton has reached four national semi-finals in its recent history; three of them can be attributed to the current Upper Sixth. Though all ended in late heartbreak, the one that Benson rues the most is last season’s semi-final loss – a last-minute defeat to Rugby School. "The thing that will stick with me is the feeling in the changing room after the Rugby game,” he says, wistfully. “It was particularly hard for the Upper Sixth, for whom it was pretty much the end of their time in a Hampton shirt. There was something quite special about that group, in that the things we lacked in our age group aligned with what the year above had. We ended up getting pretty close as a unit.” The sense of melancholy desolation was not, unfortunately, a feeling that was new to Benson. Two years previously, having captained the U15s to the national semi-final against Whitgift at Allianz Park,
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Hampton were knocked out in similarly gut-wrenching. fashion. “It was one of those losses that gives you a chill down the back of your spine. When they scored their final try and we realised we’d lost, it gave you a feeling that stayed with us for a few weeks, particularly as we’d led the game,” Benson recalls with a rueful grimace. “It was the last time I’d ever play with everyone as a year group. People had definitely fantasised about the image of us playing at Twickenham, and maybe being able to win it, especially given the calibre of sides we’d beaten. We were building something, and we were definitely in with a pretty good shot. I was quite struck at the end of the game, and not really sure how to react. I remember everyone was pretty distraught and angry after the game, but I was quite subdued. So disappointed, but I didn’t know how to react.” By the end of the 2018/19 season, Benson was firmly established in the First XV: in a block match against a star-studded Cranleigh team towards the end of the year, the fly-half’s last-minute crossfield kick – with his weaker foot – won Hampton the game as Aidan Barry collected it and scored. One could justifiably expect that Benson was aided by the presence of Louis Lynagh – then Captain of Rugby, now starring for Harlequins – in the First XV that season, but he claims that it was not that simple. “Playing with someone like Louis makes your job a lot easier, but it doesn’t make you a better player. It was a remarkable opportunity to have, going up into a team with someone of that quality to draw inspiration from, but it was important not to be overly reliant on him.” Benson and Lynagh’s rugby paths seem cannily alike so far: both began playing at Richmond RFC before playing for Hampton, and then being offered an academy contract with Harlequins. Where their paths separate is in their undergraduate study: Benson has been offered a place to study Natural Sciences at Cambridge. Juggling university with professional rugby is a difficult enough challenge on its own, let alone at one of the country’s finest academic institutions. “I’ve just got to keep my head above water for as long as possible,” Benson admits when pondering the test that awaits him. “It’s hard for them to run in parallel, but I’ll try and do as well as I can. “At the moment it looks like Quins are willing to accommodate this. It’s a tricky one, because both the club and I want the same thing: for me to be as good a rugby player as I can, in as short a time frame as possible. But the more freedom they give me, and the more slack they cut, the slower I’ll be developing, so it’s a really tough balance. I’m well aware that going to Cambridge will hinder my development in the first couple of years. From that point, it’s a balance that Quins have to get right.” There is little precedent for such a move, so much is still yet to be decided as to how he will continue his
rugby development alongside his studies. Quins have proposed a number of suggestions, including playing for a loan club nearer to Cambridge, or playing for the university at the weekend; he will return to Harlequins in the holidays after Cambridge’s short terms. Although playing for the First XV in Fifth Year is a formidable feat, being picked for an academy U18 team as an U16 is even more impressive – in January 2019, Benson was selected for Harlequins’ U18 side in a team packed with future Premiership players. He admits that “it was a daunting experience. I’d only trained once with the other guys, I was two years younger than everyone else, I knew the calls but hadn’t really been exposed to how the team worked. I didn’t know how other players responded to pressure, so it was hard to call the shots, which is what I was expected to do. “There’s a huge amount of pressure in those games. So many people are watching: England coaches, academy coaches. Everyone reacts to the pressure of playing academy rugby differently: some thrive, others are very prone to pointing the finger and diverting blame. As a 16-year-old trying to manage the game in U18 rugby, I was often the victim of that. It was tough, but I definitely got better over the three games I played, and it helped my school rugby the next season.” Benson’s reference to England coaches watching is an apt one – his performances with Harlequins caught the eye of national selectors, and he was selected for the England U18 squad in February 2020. Fittingly, Benson was in the car with one of his Hampton teammates when he received the call-up. “It was shock, more than anything,” he recalls. “I had no idea they’d been considering me. When you play academy rugby, you know that the big eyes are watching, but at no point do you think about it personally.” Benson was called up for the training camp ahead of the U18 Six Nations. “I was very nervous going into camp, because it’s another step-up. Yes, I’d done some good things in academy rugby, but so many of the players were unknown to me. If I’d played a bit more academy rugby first, that familiarity would’ve given me a lot more confidence. I was pretty nervous, and the U18 Six Nations were around the corner, which everyone at camp was focussing on.” But despite his success in being called-up, a cruel intervention would prevent him from making his debut against Scotland in March last year, as Covid forced the game to be cancelled. “I knew that there would be more opportunities, and I’d hopefully get the chance again, but it was still difficult because it didn’t take away from how special the opportunity I’d been given was and how it might’ve been my only chance. I was literally 12 hours from something that every schoolboy rugby player aims for, but then it got taken away. I was also looking forward to the England tour to South Africa, but that obviously got cancelled too.” It is a stark reminder of the challenges that a number
of young sportsmen have faced this year, both at Hampton and beyond. Though Benson’s rugby career will continue apace, the pandemic has meant that he will not get a chance to atone for last season’s defeat in the Champions Trophy; he will not play in the Rosslyn Park 7s again. Benson’s next challenge is to break into a Harlequins senior set-up that features one of England’s brightest young fly-halves, Marcus Smith. It is, though, not a challenge that fazes him unduly – he rejected interest from an Irish province that may have provided a clearer route into the first team. “It’s so rare that you go into a Premiership club and there’s not a great fly-half. It’s a challenge you have to face wherever you play. First of all, Marcus’ quality means that there’s more for me to learn, which is good as a young player, and he may well spend time away with England too.” Benson's point is a salient one - fly-half is a position where English clubs are often well-stocked; those who aren't spend significant amounts of money on an overseas player, such is the position's importance to the game. Having played in both centre positions on occasion in his schoolboy career, another option for Benson is moving positions. “At U18 level, I do have a skillset that allows me to look at playing at centre. If I get to the point in my career where I haven’t developed as much as I wanted to, because Marcus is still ahead of me, or
I’ve moved on, and I need to look to move position, I think I’m in a fairly good position to be able to do that.” Accepting his university offer has, in some ways, made Benson’s life considerably more difficult, especially in the short-term. But he insists that he wouldn’t trade his situation for any other. “I want to play rugby as much as I can, at as high a level as I can, but regardless of that, I think you still have to be open-minded enough to realise that there’s at least 25 years of your working life after rugby. “While playing for Quins straight away would be a great experience that’d make me a far better player, I wouldn’t trade the university offer. Part of the reason I want to go to university is because I doubt I’d play much in the first few years anyway, but there’s also still so much of your working life beyond rugby. Rugby isn’t always going to be everything, as much as I want it to be and as much as it seems like it will be at the moment.” It is this kind of confident pragmatism that shines through in Benson’s game and has made him one of the most sought after schoolboy players – NextGenXV, who cover the schools' game extensively, named him their Top English U18 prospect. Regardless of his route into the professional game, if his time at Hampton has told you anything, it’s this: you wouldn’t bet against him.
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COPING WITH COVID
BY JOSH BARTHOLOMEW, BILLY HUTCHINGS, FERGUS BRISTON AND SAM COLVINE
For Hampton's sportsmen, it has been a year like no other - but how did they deal with a season of restrictions, frustrations, and lost opportunities?
RUGBY Given the need to restrict close contact, a sport as physical as rugby is not particularly conducive to a Covid-friendly game, writes Josh Bartholomew. It has thus been a challenging season for Hampton’s rugby players: where most other sports have been able to organise some friendlies against other schools, rugby was largely curtailed by national restrictions. For the First XV, the St Joseph’s Festival and Champions Trophy – two competitions in which they harboured great hopes of winning having come close last season – were cancelled early in the year; the Rosslyn Park National 7s tournament had been planned to be played over the coming summer, but it, too, was cancelled. Motivation, however, has never dwindled – although Captain of Rugby, Jamie Benson, admits that it has been “upsetting and frustrating”, to miss out on their final season, senior players have still turned out for training in their swathes. Numerous block fixtures have been booked for the summer term, for most teams, with impressive victories over Epsom College, Whitgift School, and Wellington College the highlight for the First XV. The younger players were also thwarted by Covid, with no matches against other schools until the summer term. That has not stopped vibrant training sessions happening in their stead on a Saturday morning, when restrictions have allowed it. In addition, a new inter-year competition was launched in October: Hampton Super Rugby. HSR, as it quickly became known, pitted three franchises against each other (the Titans, Bandits, and Hulllabaloos); each team was coached by a senior rugby player: First XV players Alex Taylor, Jesper Hartikainen, and Jamie Benson were the three men in charge. The 2020/21 season began with teams holding high hopes of silverware and block fixture victories, but it has ended with something perhaps more special: the camaraderie and spirit that defines Hampton sport can only have been strengthened by this interrupted season.
FOOTBALL It is fair to say that this season of Hampton football has been unparalleled in recent history, writes Billy Hutchings. Whilst we are accustomed to seeing our sports fields filled with Hamptonians of all ages enjoying the beautiful game, the past three months have provided no competitive action for our squads at a period of the season where usually teams will be battling to be involved in the latter stages of cup competitions. Instead of this, after the worsening of the Covid pandemic at the end of last year, ESFA Cup tournaments have been cancelled. This proved a huge shame as our talented First XI did not have the opportunity to build on the triumph of 2019. Alongside the latest version of e-Hampton, it was inevitable that friendly block fixtures, which filled the bulk of our squads’ calendars, were also cancelled. However, over lockdown, Hampton footballers had the opportunity to maintain fitness thanks to our football ‘Lockdown Challenge’. This encouraged footballers from the First XI to the Under 12s to stay active by completing football based activities in order to win points not only for themselves but for their squad and year group. The challenge, created by Mr Burke and Mr Hurst, involved tasks ranging from ‘bin shots’ in the garden, to analysing a half of football, to recording 55 hours of sleep in a week. Director of Football Mr Burke said that he and Mr Hurst “were particularly pleased that players of all ages across all squads took part.” Regarding the more tactical tasks, Mr Burke said he hopes players “will begin to look at the game as a student as well as a fan. As boys get older, 'game understanding’ is an area in which they can make big gains and thus improve their decision-making in fixtures.” The senior season has been extended to incorporate more fixtures after the Easter break and the First XI have been competing in the HUDL League during the summer term. We shouldn’t see much long-term change in the sport that many Hamptonians love. Training for all year groups has resumed and there are already events to look forward to such as the annual Colchester pre-season tour which will take place at the end of the summer.
ROWING Rowing is a sport that is always heavily geared towards training rather than time spent on racing, but the past 18 months have been particularly extreme, writes Fergus Briston. During a period in which schools would typically be battling it out in neck and neck races, the highly competitive regattas were all put on hold. The main challenge in the meantime for Hampton rowers has been to maintain fitness and strength in order to hit the water at pace as soon as sporting restrictions are lifted. The training programme was very flexible. Arranged challenges within the Boat Club and against other schools were encouraged, with the 5k run fixture versus Radley being a highlight; Hampton emerged victorious. Inevitable are the ups and downs in motivation. The first of these came when Henley Royal Regatta was cancelled last year. This was especially testing for the J18s, who had been clinging on to the hope of one last race together. However, Miss Taylor, First VIII coach commented, “it is testament to them and
their commitment to the Boat Club that they continued to take part in training and in the fixtures.” The second big challenge was the recent lockdown, with winter bringing darkness, snow, and rain. Characteristically, the squad kept going and Hampton’s rowers were able to return to the water in the spring term in good shape. “The period allowed everyone to develop attributes such as responsibility, adaptability, and selfawareness. It also highlighted where individual enjoyment and challenge can come from and what rowers value from the sport and from each other.” The National Schools’ Regatta will take place in August and will be the first side by side regatta since May 2019 for most of the squad. Following this, Hampton rowers are looking forward to competing in local regattas and fixtures. Ultimately, the priority will be Henley Royal Regatta in July, which will be a fitting end to a most challenging two seasons.
CRICKET Naturally, the ability to play cricket across the country, both in the professional and schooling worlds, was drastically curtailed by the rise of Covid cases, with the darker days of the pandemic leaving pitches devoid of the rousing appeals and riveting shots that characterise a typical British summer, writes Sam Colvine. As such, during a summer term of home learning, government regulations stipulated that no school cricket was permitted. Mr Banerjee (Director of Cricket) and Mr Parrish (First XI coach) attempted to manufacture some semblance of a season once schools reopened after the summer break, after the summer break: “We negotiated several year group T20s with local schools who were in a similar position to us,” commented the latter. This enabled competitive fixtures against the likes of RGS Guildford, Reed’s and St George’s College to take place. These later arrangements had a number of advantages, most notably that it granted boys a reasonable amount of school cricket, thus maintaining their enthusiasm and love for the game and preparing them for the following summer: “They have played a little bit of school cricket and enjoyed it immensely,” Mr Parrish added. Despite the shortened season, the coaches are certain that interest in cricket at Hampton has not diminished owing to these games.
A further positive that emerged from the Covidstricken 2020 cricket season is that it allowed the coaches to reconsider the general length and logistics that the school cricketing calendar takes in its current guise. These games in September proved to be a great success, conveying that the nation’s ‘summer game’ can be played in the early days of autumn. Mr Parrish suggested that “playing cricket in September is an opportunity for more cricket further down the line when the weather is still good,” thus augmenting what is widely perceived by schools to be a rushed season. In the long-term, this could see cricket grace the fields of Hampton for an elongated period in the coming years. For a School with such a rich and productive history with bat and ball, this can be seen as an advantageous legacy from an unlikely contributor: Covid.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
BY JOSH HOOD
Nick Jupp OH (2007) won the ISFA Player of the Year award while at Hampton, helping the First XI to an U18 Cup win: since then, he's won silverware again, helping Chertsey Town to glory in the 2019 FA Vase. He talks to Josh Hood. Nick Jupp left Hampton School in 2007 as an idol to the next generation of aspiring footballers. His various contributions to life at the School included: penalty shootout heroics, winning ISFA player of the year, which is an astounding feat for a goalkeeper, and years later, returning to the school to further support and coach young goalkeepers. His professional career has seen him work alongside some of football's biggest names such as Ben Foster and Edgar Davids, yet it arguably reached its true heights in Chertsey Town’s dramatic FA Vase win in 2019, in which Jupp played a key role in inspiring his team in extra time, as a sense of nostalgia from his Hampton days. Jupp’s footballing endeavours officially began from a very early age at Halliford Colts. Surprisingly, his earliest experiences did not involve him standing between the sticks, but instead outfield – that is until one week, when the goalie didn't show up. Jupp recalls, “My Dad just stuck me in goal, and it turned out I was quite good.” Having uncovered this new side to his game, he then stuck with it. Arriving at Hampton, aged 11, he still officially played outfield and was put in the U12C team. At a fixture away at Wilson’s, however, he was subbed off within 90 minutes and put into the A team, where he would then firmly hold rank for the next seven years. Given this relatively late change of position, Jupp never really had a goalkeeping idol when he was young. However, while he played at Watford U18s for a few years, he gained a lot from the experienced influence of Ben Foster. It was both on and off the pitch that he claimed to have developed during this phase as he said that “there was an aura about him that was different to what I had come across beforehand.”
He also learned about the various aspects of being a goalkeeper – it wasn't just pulling off saves. Particularly at a higher level, it becomes the role of the goalkeeper to have a presence and to be at the heart of communication as you can always see everything that's happening. In accordance with his 100% victory rate in penalty shootouts over the years, Jupp said he would probably characterise spot kicks as the strongest area of his game, or at least the area in which he has built up the biggest reputation. Saving penalties was a speciality of his when he was at Hampton: in 2005, Nick – aged only 15 – was in goal for an ISFA semi-final against Repton. He caught the eye of the Times reporter sent to cover the match. “After an uninspiring goalless semi-final in front of 700 pupils,” reported Russell Kempson, “the Repton captain had to score from the spot to prevent his team from losing… Yet it was Jupp who seized the moment, handing the ball to [Repton’s] Duggan and chirping: ‘You don’t want to miss this one, otherwise you’re out of the competition.’ It had the desired effect,” The Times reported, and Hampton duly made it through to the final.
While at Loughborough University, he managed to win a Silver medal at the 2011 Universiade (student Olympics) in Shenzhen, China. “It was an amazing experience which involved staying in the athletes’ village for three weeks.” Breaking through yet another boundary, Jupp played a big part in granting Team GB their best finish at the time. Despite the final loss against Japan, it provided him with yet another wonderful experience that can only be shared by the top athletes from around the world. Moving onto Barnet FC for the next stage of his career, Jupp played alongside Graham Stack and under the management of Edgar Davids, who were also two influential figures for him. The former, who of course was also a goalkeeper, personally guided Jupp through this time. He stated,”He was another idol of mine because he was a really nice guy, and of course a very good keeper.” On the other hand, he found playing under Edgar Davids was a surreal experience. As he and all of his coaching staff were old Ajax players, they had their individual and unique training methods and tactics, brought over from a Champions League winning side in Amsterdam. It entailed entirely ball-based work, even from day one of pre-season to try and implement this complicated, but effective culture. “While it has become extremely normalised in the Premier League today, a decade ago it was unheard of.” He observed that they were the people that truly brought this style to England and introduced a mindset in a new generation of managers.
JUPP'S CV ISFA Player of the Year (2007) ISFA U18 Champion (2007) Student Olympics Silver medallist (2011) FA Vase Champion (2019)
Moving on once again, he reflected upon his time at Chertsey Town with an equally strong sense of fondness and achievement. Their dramatic FA Vase win, made possible by yet another penalty shootout victory in the semi-finals and an extra time win in the final capped off a great season. It also held a great deal of personal importance to Jupp since he had been denied the opportunity to play the first game at the new Wembley with ESFA school boys there years earlier due to delays in its construction.
Having doubted he would ever get the opportunity to do so, it was perhaps most fitting that it was his contributions against Northwich Victoria in that shootout that sent Chertsey to Wembley to fulfill a lifelong dream. Now with over a decade of experience under his belt, Jupp has grown to become very familiar with the industry, and as a result, aware of the many different roles that are present. Although he does not possess a particular interest in becoming a manager after retirement, his return to Hampton as the goalkeeping coach a few years ago has certainly provided him with an idea for the future. That said, at the moment, he is still eagerly fighting for silverware, and a long way off undergoing a change to his job. Chertsey fans are not able to generate as much noise as a celebratory chant in The Kop. An average attendance at the Surrey club of about 400 people places them at the more popular end of clubs in their league, compared to Barnet FC’s general attendances of 5,000 people. Needless to say, the largest crowd he has ever played in front of was a roaring 25,000 at Wembley for the final of the FA Vase. I’m sure there aren't many stands in the Premier League that would create as great a sound as the one that was produced when the final whistle blew to crown Chertsey winners of the FA Vase. Perhaps what was most special about Jupp's many achievements was the nature in which they were won. Winning both the ISFA Cup and the FA Vase fulfilled a dream that he had been denied on several occasions beforehand. Virtually every game that he has played in, in the latter stages of a competition, has gone to extra time or penalties. His invincibility from spot kicks, his commanding voice from the back, and as proof of all of this – his achievement as ISFA player of the year, which is virtually unprecedented as a goalkeeper. Jupp’s goalkeeping heroics while at Hampton will be remembered for many years to come and his achievements as a professional footballer with Chertsey Town continue to bring him silverware. A considerable legacy to a footballing career of great significance.
Hampton Sports Chronicle meetings take place on a Friday at 1.15pm. See Mr Sharkey in the English Department for more details.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
AHEAD OF THE GAME
BY JOSH BARTHOLOMEW
The Headmaster, Mr Knibbs, is renowned for his passion for sport, as any Hamptonian will know. He talks to HSC Editor Josh Bartholomew in his study. At the 2019 ESFA semi-final, when Hampton’s First XI travelled to Gordon’s School, a lone figure made his way round to the players’ area opposite our supporters. This éminence grise was not an intruder infringing on the Hampton squad’s privacy at a crucial stage of the match; instead it was our Headmaster, seeking to pass on some insight to the First XI coaches, Messrs Mills and Ritchie. It does not take an especially keen observer of Mr Knibbs’s assemblies to note that he is – to put it mildly – quite keen on sport; an assembly without reference to his beloved Arsenal is a rare occurrence (to my surprise, he only mentions them three times during our interview). He doesn’t recall exactly what he said to Mr Mills, but insists that he tries to avoid overstepping the mark: “I attempt not to do that to the football coaches here, but I don’t always succeed,” he tells me, chuckling. “I’m much better at being an unobtrusive Headmaster on the cricket boundary, the rugby touchline or the rowing towpath. “One of the worst experiences that I’ve had as Head was sitting in the MK Dons Directors’ Box as we lost the ISFA final in 2015. It was really tough to watch that defeat alongside all the ISFA executives and the Ardingly College Head. We’d beaten our opponents 5-0 earlier in the season, but in the final they’d devised a plan to hit us on the counter-attack; we didn’t adapt and I could see disaster unfolding on the pitch, but without being able to do anything about it up in the stand. It was an awful feeling of impotent rage.” For someone so evidently passionate about Hampton sport, Mr Knibbs is normally a remarkably temperate observer. Yet there are some occasions on which he understandably cannot contain his excitement - the ESFA final in 2019 is a well-known example. When the First XI equalised in the dying minutes of the game, an ebullient crowd of 800 travelling Hamptonians went into raptures. Yet the expressions of joy were not restricted to pupils: video footage subsequently emerged of our Headmaster’s highly enthusiastic celebration of Louis Install’s successful penalty.
Clad in Hampton black-and-yellow, he could not resist joining in the jamboree, repeatedly punching the air with glee and with a relieved grin on his face. Unsurprisingly, Mr Knibbs initially highlights the ESFA Cup win as the most memorable moment during his time watching Hampton sport. But upon further examination, he identified other candidates for that accolade. “The obvious one would be ESFA. The result was obviously the icing on the cake, but everything about that day felt special and serendipitous. I felt unusually emotional after the game, because that day was the embodiment of everything that I want our School community to be about. Shared whole-School experiences like the ESFA final are priceless – the video clips of the fans on the terraces and also those watching the live feed in the Hammond speak louder than a thousand words about what it means to be part of Hampton.” “Just before I became Headmaster in 2013, I stood on Hammersmith Bridge – my usual station – for the Schools’ Head of the River on the Tideway. I was surrounded by parents and alumni from lots of boarding schools renowned for their rowing – Radley, Shrewsbury, Eton, Abingdon, and so on – and we all watched Hampton’s boats storm through and win every category. That was a deeply satisfying afternoon.” Mr Knibbs insists, though, that Hampton sport should not be judged on its top-level successes but rather on its depth, which is equally impressive. “I get as much enjoyment from seeing the U12Cs, Ds, Es winning a game as one of the senior sides. I remember a few years ago that one of our junior B rugby squads had won every match going into the last game of the season at home against Whitgift – they came out on top after a really close contest and their parents were all going nuts with joy on the touchline. It was fantastic to see how much it meant to everyone." But alongside Hampton’s sporting successes, there have inevitably been some gut-wrenching losses too; it’s a by-product of playing at the highest level in the schoolboy game.
“Shaun-Chris Joash and George Maxwell were both brilliant players, but they’d been with us for seven years and they also got strong A Level results after following the same curriculum as everyone else. I don’t agree with the Sixth Form sports scholarship model and while I’m Headmaster our approach won’t change.” Though scholarships are the issue on which he had most to say here, as national Chair of the HMC Sport Sub-Committee, Mr Knibbs is required to contribute to various debates. One such subject, regarding player safety, has become particularly prevalent in recent months as a group of former professional rugby players began legal proceedings against the sport’s governing body due to early-onset dementia. It is important for the response from those overseeing school sport to be proportionate and evidence-based, Mr Knibbs argues: “I’m all in favour of anything that makes sport safer and thus more enjoyable. There is an emerging body of scientific information about head injury-related issues for ex-professional rugby and football players, so it’s entirely appropriate to discuss the implications for schools even though the context is different. Mr Knibbs celebrating ESFA victory Yet one such heartbreak – a last-second defeat at Rugby School in the Champions Trophy semi-final last season – came with something of a silver lining, Mr Knibbs says. “I travelled all the way to Rugby last year. While it was obviously a devastating result, the way the First XV played that day and the dignity they showed at the end despite such bitter disappointment, said a lot about them and the sporting values of our School.” Discussion of the First XV’s Champions Trophy campaign means a natural segue into the perennial debate around sports scholarships. The blue riband RFU schools’ competition limits the number of scholars allowed per team, but other sporting competitions have no such equivalent. The Headmaster has very clear views in this area: “When I was interviewed for my job, among the toughest questions I faced were those from the School Captains’ team,” Mr Knibbs remembers. “They were particularly keen to know whether I’d want to bring sports scholars into the Sixth Form, but I was able to reassure them that I wanted Hampton to go in the other direction. “I feel passionately about this because there’s a very simple reason why over 800 people went to the ESFA final: the players were other pupils’ longstanding friends and they’d grown up together at Hampton rather than arriving in the Sixth Form just to play senior football. Younger boys who watched our First XI win the trophy that day can genuinely aspire to doing the same thing themselves in the future, knowing that players won’t be imported at 16+ to take their place in the team. It’s the equivalent of homegrown players in the Premier League – every supporter feels more affinity with those players at their club.
“But what I wouldn’t want is for young people at Hampton, or in society generally, to be prevented from having the opportunity to enjoy these sports and benefit from them as so many previous generations have done. The challenge over the years ahead will be to identify ways of adapting and evolving junior rugby and football sensibly and intelligently, without stopping schools or clubs from offering them altogether. You’d lose much more than you gained if these hugely popular sports were changed too radically or even banned.” Beyond the discussion of complex sporting issues, for Mr Knibbs, sport’s place within our School community is simple: it is a fundamental part of Hampton life. One of the most challenging parts of the last year has, he admits, been the effect of lockdown periods on sport (“I missed its vibrancy greatly”), although Hampton battled to continue with its programme in the autumn term. “We did everything we could to keep as much sport as possible available during the autumn and spring terms, even when other schools may perhaps have viewed this as less of a priority. For us it felt essential for both physical and mental wellbeing, and a huge amount of credit has to go to Mr Mills, Mr Davieson, Mr Morris and the grounds staff – along with all the squad coaches – for their efforts in enabling us to keep some weekend sport happening safely during the pandemic.” The lengths to which everyone has gone over the past 14 months to keep the programme going, speaks volumes about the importance of sport at Hampton. For the hundreds of Hamptonians who swarm onto the resplendent playing fields and 3G sportsground in black-and-yellow swathes on Saturdays, this approach augurs very well indeed.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
OMAAR WORD Football Captain, Sami Omaar, has starred for ISFA and the Hampton First XI since Fifth Year. He talks to Vishal Saha about his career to date.
Upper Sixth pupil Sami Omaar already has quite the footballing career. After writing himself into the Hampton history books by winning the ESFA Cup in 2019, Omaar is now Hampton's Captain of Football, and has also been chosen for the Independent Schools Football Association (ISFA) U18 National team.
You would be mistaken to think that Omaar’s footballing days were limited to Hampton, as he was recently selected for the ISFA U18 National team. This is an outstanding achievement, because Omaar is being placed among some of the best players around the nation.
As a Fifth Year, Omaar was given big shoes to fill, as he was selected to play for the Hampton First XI. Of course, this meant lots of pressure - being the youngest in the squad, and the only Fifth Year, he would have to prove his footballing talent and show he was worthy of taking up a spot in the team. Fortunately, for Omaar, he was quick to settle into the squad and did so with ease. This was largely possible because he was met by an encouraging group of boys. He recalls, "I was really lucky because the group of players that were in the First XI when I joined were really accepting. It didn’t even feel like we were in different year groups to be honest."
Omaar looks upon his selection for the ISFA team with great pride, saying "it was absolutely such an honour to make the U18 team despite being an U17 player at the time. Playing with boys from all over the country and different backgrounds was really amazing." Omaar did not disappoint, with a particular highlight being his first ISFA match - an emphatic 5-2 win over a strong Wales Colleges team at St George’s Park.
Omaar’s ability to gel with his teammates quickly proved invaluable - his left-back position requires him to communicate frequently with the rest of the team during matches, in order to play balls out from the back to the midfield or wingers, creating more chances and advancing the attack. Omaar explains, "I think that if you are able to get on with your teammates, it definitely makes a huge impact. You begin to play for your teammates not just for yourself." But playing as left-back is not a straightforward role either. For example, an aspect of playing left-back that Omaar says he "loves but hates at the same time" is 1 vs 1 defending. On one hand, Omaar enjoys having a personal battle with the winger from the opposite team: he tells me, "I love to try and get into the opposition's head and try and get them off their game." Yet this can also be quite stressful for Omaar, especially when he is up against a talented winger who can cause problems. "You can play a whole game well - but for a full-back all it takes is the winger to get one goal and it feels like you are losing the battle." Arguably Omaar's greatest success was in 2019, during his Fifth Year at Hampton, where he played an instrumental part in winning the ESFA Cup. It was not only the final itself where Omaar shone, but also Hampton’s previous encounter. In a semi-final victory over Gordon’s, Omaar impressed with a manof-the-match display in central defense after Noah Hanley’s late injury. The ESFA Cup is the biggest school tournament in England; winning such a prestigious competition - and at a young age - is something Omaar is immensely proud of. "Obviously when we won the [final] it was incredible, but it wasn’t until the few days after when I really began to realise what we actually achieved. It was an amazing feeling knowing we had made history at our School."
Omaar was also lucky enough to be asked to trial with some clubs throughout his time at Hampton. For Omaar, although of course they are an exciting opportunity to represent a club at an elite level, the trials also provided him with a valuable learning experience. "The trials helped me realise how much work it takes to play in these academies and how they keep such a high standard in everything they do." This year, Omaar was chosen to captain the First XI. When asked about the skills he needs for this senior role, Omaar says the most important aspect he has to learn is communication on and off the pitch. "It not only allows you to galvanise the team, but I think the captain plays an important role as a link between the coaches and the team." Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic meant Omaar was unable to fully embrace this new role of captain. The lack of football matches across the past year has definitely taken its toll on all Hampton players, as it is disappointing and disheartening when you cannot compete as usual. Despite this, Omaar still feels it is his obligation to rally the squad together, especially throughout these strange times. He remarks, "it is hard to stay focused when you don’t even know when your next game is. The best way to stay motivated, especially when you are in lockdown, is by using your teammates to push each other to stay fit." Omaar wants to show hard work to his teammates so they can "reciprocate the same mentality." Omaar’s future is certainly one to keep an eye on and he has demonstrated what it really takes to play this extremely competitive sport at this remarkable level. Omaar wants to carry on football after Hampton - he is seeking a professional contract for next season, after which he hopes to play football in America. "Hopefully there will be many more opportunities for me to carry on playing for a high-level team like Hampton in the future."
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
BANKING ON SUCCESS
BY FERGUS BRISTON
Moving from professional football to banking is not an especially common career path, but it's the one taken by James Connor OH (1993). He talks to Fergus Briston. James Connor’s first binding memory of Hampton was catching a glimpse of all the sports facilities and being blown away by the ‘carpet’ football pitches. As an individual who was naturally talented at a myriad of sports, Connor did not in fact play in a proper football team until the U14s: “I was a latecomer to football and my first involvement was for local Sunday league side, Teddington Athletic. I found it really weird with the whole spatial awareness aspect of the game and kept switching between sports. By the age of 15, however, my dad encouraged me to focus on one sport – football.” At the time, Barnes Eagles was the main club in the area with a number of the players playing at the likes of Chelsea and Crystal Palace Academy. Connor's father called the manager explaining his son’s skills and aspirations and was asked to come along to a practice match. Clearly impressing, the local side grabbed him straight away: “I was a rapid learner and had to adapt fast,” he recalls. As an U16 and during the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, Connor suffered a severe cycling accident, whilst racing home to get back for Ireland vs Romania on TV. Breaking his forearm to the extent that he could not play any sport for a year, this was a huge drawback for Connor, especially at a time when his football opportunities were quickly evolving. But there was hope for him. His Grandma lived in Aldershot and Aldershot Town, who were at the bottom of the fourth division, were running a trial: “From the Geordie heartland to the Cornish coast, over 100 aspiring footballers had travelled from across the country hoping to gain one of the seven places. A series of mini matches were played and everyone was called in. The Youth Coach then asked if anyone was not interested in taking an apprenticeship and everyone laughed. Following the whole experience of breaking my arm and my reluctance to leave school, I put my hand up. To my astonishment, they explained that I was first on the list so after deep thought, I decided to take a gamble.” Connor joined the Aldershot youth team during the Lower Sixth at Hampton and got a job in McDonald’s in Kingston during his summer holidays in order to earn enough money to get the train to Aldershot each day.
It was a huge commitment for Connor, who had to balance A Level work with his passion for football. Aldershot Town is situated in army land in the Rushmoor district, where the green Hampton pitches were now replaced with sand dunes. Connor played in the youth team there in the second tier of PL2 (the Premier League’s reserve competition) but the side were losing every week: “it was really getting me down. I had never been very confrontational or vocal but was turning up to a team who had a losing mentality,” said Connor, who was in search of the next chapter in his fast-evolving career. Connor's coach knew the interim manager at Millwall and suggested that he may benefit from coming along. The youth coach at Millwall was one of the best youth coaches in the country, a Welshman named Tom Wally, who had previously won the FA Youth Cup at Watford. David James, John Barnes and Tim Sherwood were three of his youth prodigies. Behind the successes was a really hard and driven environment, where Connor recalls it as “survival of the fittest both mentally and physically.” Making the first team at Millwall was a realisation of his dream, Connor explains. “It was a reserves vs first team training match on a Friday afternoon and I was asked to exchange bibs with the first team opposite number. I couldn’t actually believe it and it was so hard to hold my emotions together.” Debut day arrived arrived for Connor that Saturday, and the nerves were creeping in: “whether it was playing for Hampton or Millwall in front of 20,000, I would always feel apprehensive prior to the game but would feed off that energy. I will never forget when the bell went in the dressing room but of course you can’t actually see the pitch. I felt claustrophobic and confined in the tunnel and just needed to walk ahead to soak up the atmosphere. As soon as I saw the pitch, I could breathe and focus on the game.”
Connor in action for Millwall
“My most memorable match was drawing away at Sunderland at their old home, Roker Park. It was an experience like no other”, Connor said. “As we approached the ground, we were greeted by an extremely hostile environment with locals throwing pints at the team bus. I quickly realised that Sunderland football club was a religion to the fans – a team that people would worship and do anything for. People looked at you as if you were an enemy if you came from the south and it was most definitely an eye opening experience, particularly because of my background.” Connor's first season at Millwall was in the new Den. “Millwall had and still has a hugely passionate fan base who love to voice their opinions”, he recounted. “Despite their infamous supporters, I adored the fact that 14,000 Millwall fans would always make more noise than 30,000 fans from most other clubs.” In 1997 and after only twelve games, Connor suffered a severe knee injury which abruptly ended his footballing career. After being told he would never play again, Connor passionately described it as his “love and livelihood taken away at the age of 21. From the age of 14, it was my dream and I knew I wanted it. It was a bitter pill to swallow and once you get dumped from a professional world like football, there is no support network. People don’t hear about the unhappy stories, only the successful ones.” “You quickly realise that you have to carry on. I was eager to get to the top in something else and I was determined to do so with the principles I had gained from my happy time at Hampton and my short yet enriching years as a footballer.”
Many people might not realise that clubs deeply care for their players and Peter Mead is indicative of this player-club close relationship. With no insurance cover, the Millwall chairman offered Connor the lifeline of a job in advertising at his agency, Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV), which gave him a start in the commercial world. In 2001, Connor decided to leave the advertising world behind and start a career in personal financial advice, which he described as a “natural calling. As a footballer, I had bought my first house at 18 and had always had an interest in this field.” As a result, Connor started a fresh career as a trainee financial advisor and quickly built a reputation as being amongst the best in the field. In 2007, James co-founded Connor Broadley, an independent, owner-managed company based in Mayfair, specialising in wealth management for private clients, and employee benefit consultancy for corporates. The company now manages the money of singers, music stars and Oscar winners. It’s a remarkable career change, built upon Connor's considerable resilience from his time in football.
Hampton Sports Chronicle meetings take place on a Friday at 1.15pm. See Mr Sharkey in the English Department for more details.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
BY JOSH HOOD
Alongside his impressive performances for Hampton, U15 footballer Chibby Nwoko has starred for Fulham, ISFA, and England. HSC writer Josh Hood finds out more. Chibby Nwoko plays a role as a composed, ball playing midfielder for the Hampton U15A team and Fulham Academy. His contributions to football at the School have continued to be significant and impactful since his debut in First Year, over three years ago. From extra-time winners, to beating the opposition with his footwork, his creativity is undoubtedly a key part of both his game, and that of the teams he plays for. Although only a fraction of the way through his Hampton career, we discussed the principal events of his footballing life, and what the future may hold in the coming years. Chibby's first interactions with football came at the age of four when he attended a Brazilian soccer school. These early experiences were predominantly based around footwork and skills development, which has gone on to be a pivotal part of his game. Nwoko explained: “The fact that I got the technical side of my game so early has made me more comfortable on the ball now.” Although in and around the radar of various Premier League academies for a while, he only signed with Fulham relatively recently - in June 2019 - which has provided his footballing development with a new challenge, but also a greater breadth of knowledge. That said, the similar, passing-based mentality of both Hampton and Fulham has been noticeable as he remarked: “At both training sessions, the coaches like to get us into shape and set us off with some passing drills to work on our creativity.” This can also be shown in pre-match warm ups, as Nwoko expressed how his various coaches all stress the importance of passing, both short and movement based, and over a greater distance before a game. Although both roles require this range and swiftness of creativity, one significant difference between his experiences at Fulham and Hampton is his position. His more offensive based contributions at School allow his dribbling ability to be fully utilised, but playing for the Whites has seen him develop into a deeper, holding player. He said: “I have rotated between playing with two men ahead of me in a three-man midfield, and playing in a two in the centre, with wing-backs on either side.” Although obvious difficulties could arise, related to the vastly differing amounts of freedom available in the roles, Nwoko shed light upon the fact that both midfield positions require similar attributes, and so playing a different position is only deepening his understanding of the game, not distracting him from his different priorities in the other.
A professional player whom Nwoko has drawn inspiration from is Thiago Alcántara. Having arrived in the Premier League last summer, the player has shown the quality that was also on display during his performances for Bayern Munich last year in the lead up to their Champions League victory. He observed: “Thiago is a player I watch because he’s able to spread the ball and find attackers quickly, and that's what I look to do.” In the holding position, he explained that a player is required to keep the game ticking, the ball moving and to find those passes. While the Covid pandemic has proven difficult for everyone, its disruption to Nwoko’s training regime has been equally notable. He reflected upon the fact that the usual fitness that comes with training multiple times a week could no longer be achieved, and so it's harder to go out and motivate yourself when there's nobody else around. He went on to say: “Throughout this last year or so, we’ve constantly kept in touch via Zoom to analyse our matches, Premier League matches, both position specific and collective at Fulham, and also athletic development sessions with cameras on.“ When asked where he sees himself in five years time, Chibby said that he would love to be playing at the highest level. “Playing as a number eight for Liverpool or Barcelona would be incredible. A combination of the two roles I play at the moment, at clubs that I have supported my whole life.” Now that would be some story.
FROM OLYMPIC GOLD TO HANWORTH ROAD Mr Cross (far left) celebrates his Olympic Gold medal win
Hampton History teacher and rowing coach, Mr Cross, won Gold at the 1984 Olympics - he talks to Jayden Oni about punditry, rowing, and teaching. From claiming an Olympic Gold medal at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles to becoming a current History teacher and coach at Hampton, Mr Cross has had a successful life so far – a vivid story to tell. In his youth, Mr Cross never thought that his rowing talent would ever lead to his fulfilled life today, yet he trained hard to achieve his goals. Even after retiring from his rowing career, Mr Cross began working as a History teacher and rowing coach at Hampton, which maintained his connection with the sport he used to play. One key moment in Mr Cross’ youth was when he was first introduced to rowing at his school by his father, who worked there. However, Mr Cross soon ran into one major obstacle through playing the sport. “It would be a very long journey from a schoolboy to becoming a professional rower,” he says. “There were many people better than me at the sport in my school, and I couldn’t really figure out why.” However, he had an inspiration. He was inspired to join a rowing club; this forced Mr Cross to train with people better than him, which was eventually what helped him to excel in his sport. After turning professional, he had three unsuccessful years, which Mr Cross says pushed him to become more competitive and determined. But from loss came victory. In the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Mr Cross won a gold medal with the men’s coxed four. This was a momentous event in Mr Cross’ rowing career and also an educational one. “The biggest lesson I learned about my win is that Olympic Champions are just ordinary people who do extra-ordinary things. In my youth, I did not particularly believe I was a good rower.”
After Mr Cross’ rowing career, he was keen to find another job that would still keep a connection with the sport he loved. He fortunately found a job at Hampton, where he could simultaneously teach History and coach rowing. He started well: “In my first year here, Hampton won so many titles, and I was very proud to have my name on the notice board thanking me for my coaching.” He also stated that he focuses on Hampton boys’ selfbelief whilst he coaches. Mr Cross believes that if you tell someone they are good at something when they are not, it pushes them on to try harder yet to not give up. Mr Cross, despite his weekly schedule being already busy enough, also frequently appears in the media, whether it be for a sports game show or even just to commentate on rowing. He was the BBC Radio 5Live Rowing Correspondent, giving reports on rowing races and sometimes Olympic regattas. In the summer, Mr Cross currently does a lot of television commentary. He spoke of his interest in media. “I really like the media because it keeps me connected to rowing, but the disadvantage is that it takes up time, so I have to balance my time throughout the week.” Mr Cross also wrote an autobiography, detailing his self-proclaimed Olympic Obsession, despite his belief at school that he was not capable of writing for a living. Our interview ended with some apt wisdom from a man who’s achieved vast amounts in the sport: “I believe that the one thing you can take away from my life so far is that you can always improve at anything regardless of how bad you are at it.”
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
TRAVIS’S LIFE AND TIMES Olympian, British record holder, and Commonwealth Games Champion, Dave Travis OH (1964), has enjoyed quite the athletics career with the javelin. Interview by Sam Colvine. Participating in multiple Olympic Games, Dave Travis is one of Hampton’s most successful sporting alumni. Talented in a plethora of disciplines, he specialised in javelin, winning gold medals in the 1967 World Student Games and the 1970 Commonwealth Games. During his time at Hampton, Travis immersed himself in the sporting side of the curriculum, excelling in athletics and rugby, as well as dabbling in basketball and weightlifting: “I got through lessons to get out on the field or to the gym and participate in all those sporting activities I loved.” He fondly recalls the tutelage of Bill Foster and Johnny Watterson, members of the PE department, who helped to nurture his sporting talent and had a lasting effect on his attitude to his passions, being Travis’ “inspirational force” while he was at School. The annual Sports Day was the highlight of the School calendar in Travis’ eyes. Competing for Pigeon House, he was able to exhibit his supreme sporting ability in front of hordes of boys and watching parents: “a chance to show off,” he jokes. Whilst studying, Travis began to take his talents to more notable platforms, achieving national status in javelin, decathlon and rugby by the time he left Hampton. The vast array of disciplines in which he engaged himself were all available to Travis at the School, and he became proficient in any sport he attempted:
“I had such a mix of sporting opportunities at Hampton, from rugby in the winter and athletics in the summer and many other activities too such as basketball, weight training and Fives.” Eventually, he made his English Schools' Championship Debut in 1960, placing second in the U15 shot, a first experience of success that would be a constant feature of his career. Simultaneously, he began to thrive with a javelin in his hand, garnering two consecutive titles in 1963 and 1964. However, this was not the limit of his sporting ability as Travis won England Schools' Rugby caps in 1964-65. Yet this left him at a crossroads when his tenure at Hampton came to an end: it was clear that he could make a career out of any sport he dedicated himself to, but which one was it to be?
While becoming a major figure internationally, Travis dominated the domestic arena, winning seven Amateur Athletic Association javelin titles between 1965-74. This prolonged success was only possible due to hard work and determination. Under the tutelage of Colin Smith, a stalwart of the javelin scene and previously Britain’s most successful javelin thrower at international level, Travis dedicated ample time to gym work: “I just became fitter and stronger and everything went up a level.”
Travis with Queen Elizabeth II
Describing himself as “a bit of an individual and not particularly ‘clubbable’”, the team mentality, and collective cultures and traditions of rugby, held no appeal for Travis; it was athletics, specifically javelin, that was his calling. Here, he was able to rely solely on himself to achieve, enjoying the cutthroat nature of selection: “You set a performance and you are either good enough or not.” Places at major events would not be conflicted by personal preference or chemistry with other team members as was the case with rugby. It was down to him and the javelin, a distinct sense of individuality which enticed Travis as he journeyed into the sporting world. The notion of adventure and travel was also a factor in his decision. Pursuit of javelin glory would take him across the globe whereas rugby would confine him to the mundanity of game cycles at Twickenham, Cardiff and Edinburgh. As he departed Hampton, javelin endeavours seemed entirely more exciting: “I was potentially heading for the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, 1967 Student Games in Tokyo and the 1968 Olympics in Mexico and I could see quite a good career ahead of me.” Travis made his senior international debut in 1965, the first outing in what would prove to be an exceptional time on the global javelin scene. An initial landmark success would arrive at the 1967 Tokyo World Student Games where he won Gold, a performance which would earn him a place on the team for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Nonetheless, his best was yet to come; in 1970 he set a British record of 82.22m, an effort that would stand for four years. In the same year, he won Gold in the Commonwealth Games which took place in Edinburgh, the zenith of an already monumental career. Travis was thriving: “I could now hold my own at a world class level. It was a great year.” Finally, in 1974, he won a Silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A particular highlight of Travis’ time on the international circuit was the chance to mingle with javelin royalty. The Russian-born Jānis Lūsis was a pre-eminent thrower at the time and one of Travis’ sporting heroes. In fact, one of his most treasured possessions is a photograph including himself, Lūsis and the 1972 Olympic Champion, Klaus Wolfermann: “I knew them well on the circuit and it was great to see myself with two of the greatest in the sport.” It is obvious that the relationships and experiences Travis amassed during his time as a senior javelin thrower are of enormous importance to him, something all Hamptonians should consider when choosing their future profession. Travis enjoyed further education at Loughborough College and when he left in 1968, he was thrust into an amateur sporting environment which forced him to enter the workplace. He became a teacher and worked for 23 years in London and Coventry, finding posts at many different schools. According to Travis, Hampton was another notable influence in this aspect. The varied views and backgrounds of the pupils instilled a sense of tolerance and understanding in him: “I strongly believed that it helped me to fit in late on and feel comfortable with myself and others…and look more deeply at what made people tick. Important skills for a teacher!” The only way this piece can be aptly concluded is with some erudite advice, from a man well acquainted with sporting success, for any current Hamptonians who wish to embark on a similar career: “Seek out a mentor, an advisor, a coach. Listen to the wisdom that they’ve got and try to feed off them on the way you might move through life.” However, he also places emphasis on the importance of independence when working out what is best for yourself: “Then, when you have worked out what you want to do, work hard effectively.”
Hampton Sports Chronicle meetings take place on a Friday at 1.15pm. See Mr Sharkey in the English Department for more details.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
BY VISHAL SAHA
Hampton Fourth Year pupil Rex Booth is a talented athlete: with a European Silver medal in Gymnastics, he's certainly one to watch for the future. Vishal Saha interviews him to hear about his career to date. Rex Booth is not your usual 15-year-old schoolboy – he is an elite-level gymnast, who has already won a Silver medal for Great Britain in the Acrobatic European Championships and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down this sporting success. Booth picked up the sport aged eight, after trying out one of his sister’s training sessions. He now trains at Richmond Gymnastics Association, where he trains for about 20-24 hours a week, depending on the time of the season. Booth is also an all-round athlete: he performs at swimming, football and long-distance running at high levels. "I keep up with swimming by doing this in the morning. I wake up at 5am and train first thing, with gymnastics after the school day has finished. I play football in the evenings, when I don’t have gym. Long-distance running is not something I train in but is something I am involved in at Hampton, this is because I get the endurance needed from swimming." Although these hours would be impossible for most to handle, Booth says that "once you get used to it, it becomes more manageable." In the summer of 2019, Booth entered the Acrobatic British Championships in the men’s 11-16 age group along with his teammates, held in Liverpool. This was the qualifying competition for the prestigious European Championships later that year. Although Booth highlights that "there was a significant amount riding on this competition," his team still managed to take first place – an achievement Booth is extremely proud of. When October finally arrived, Booth’s team travelled up to Israel to represent Britain in the Acrobatic European Championships. Booth describes the experience of travelling with the team, preparing for a big competition abroad, and being surrounded by some of the best at the sport, as "incredible in itself." You imagine the anticipation. Waiting for the moment you step up, in front of the audience. Hours and hours of practice all for this three-minute performance. Up against strong competition from all over Europe.
At last, the GB team of four steps onto the gymnastics floor to perform their routine. The upbeat intro to the song I’m Still Standing starts booming through the speakers. Booth and his team begin their lively and dynamic performance. From tumbling and handstanding in synchronisation with the music to creating gigantic human towers, the performance is dazzling and energetic. The score, from the judges is finally announced: 27.050 points – enough for a Silver medal. For the Hamptonian, this is certainly a high-point in his sporting career so far and Booth found the experience nothing less than surreal and spectacular. "It was an amazing achievement for my partners and I to achieve this in a European Championship. We were elated moments after we realised the score in our final routine, and I remember vividly the happiness I felt; it was an incredible feeling and something I had never experienced before. "I think the difference was not the hours of training we put in, but the effort within that time: to get there took a lot of practice and fine-tuning, but in the end, it was all worth it because we were working for something we desired and enjoyed simultaneously." Although it can be easy to get caught up in the next training session or next major competition, Booth is still a regular, 15-year-old schoolboy at the end of the day. He must balance sport and academics, especially with his GCSEs fast approaching. A question many would ask is whether sport interferes with his school work. For Booth, he admits "it is a busy schedule, and it does take some time to get used to it." He added that "once you stay organised and get used to it, it becomes a habit, rather than a struggle. To balance it all, it is about being organised and prepared." So it is clear that Booth has learnt to juggle sports and school work, but how does he keep motivated to continue with sports? There seems to be a common phenomenon that many teenagers often decide to step away from sports, especially as they get older.
life. "At the moment, with the current Covid situation it is all slightly uncertain, but we are just continuing to train and work hard so we are ready for competitions that have been delayed due to restrictions, so it has been a strange year," he reflects.
Overall, it is remarkable to see how Booth’s hard work and dedication to his sport and the high levels he has reached in gymnastics. I ask Booth to share some of his advice for young people thinking about doing gymnastics or indeed any other competitive sports. "I would say to anyone doing any level or high level of sport is to make sure you enjoy it. I think this is because internal motivation is very powerful, but this only comes from your desire and care for something." Booth makes the candid point that, "as you get further into it, some people may lose this enjoyment" but that if you keep working at something, improvement will come. "I would advise people who are trying to balance sport and school to just try, that’s it. It may seem hard to manage it but if you are making the extra piece of effort in what you do, it becomes a lot easier."
Booth, on the other hand, is quite the opposite and it is his ambitious attitude that keeps him driven to improve. "What keeps me motivated is something that I have developed over time. Essentially, I have always been a very competitive person, whether that be an important competition or a Monopoly game, I have always wanted to win. I believe that anyone who is in competitive sports has this, otherwise they wouldn’t be there." Booth adds that the feeling when you achieve something that initially seemed "unrealistic and difficult" and you get to do it again and again, it fills you with a "small sense of pride and satisfaction each time." When doing acrobatic gymnastics, one thing Booth has had to learn to deal with is nerves. As well as learning your specific routine by heart, there is always a high level of risk that an individual somersault, lift, jump or turn could go completely wrong – not only ruining the performance, but potentially putting your teammate in actual danger. "It can become very nerve wracking and often you cannot control the nerves but you can control how prepared you feel. So it is better to focus in training and be the most prepared you can, as this will increase your confidence on the day of competition," Booth says. "In addition, you have to remind yourself that the only thing you can do is go out and do your best, so you should try and not worry about the outcome, but the task at hand." The outbreak of Covid also presented another challenge for Booth, as the majority of sport was cancelled. This has had an ostensible impact on Booth’s gymnastics as well, as exercise is such a vital element of his day-to-day
Booth has clearly demonstrated what it really takes to be an elite-level athlete. We often don’t see what lies behind the scenes when creating a sporting champion. Whether that be waking up at 5am in the morning, or juggling school work with hours and hours of training, the tenacity, grit and determination of this teenage schoolboy can really be an inspiration for us all.
HAMPTON SPORTS CHRONICLE - ISSUE 20
KING OF FULHAM
BY DAN CUBBON
Hampton Third Year pupil, Josh King, has cemented a place in Premier League club Fulham's Academy. HSC writer Dan Cubbon finds out more. Upcoming Hamptonian talent Josh King, 13, has enjoyed his footballing story so far, impressing for both Hampton and Fulham. Playing in the middle for the two outfits, he has impressed for both club and school, captaining the U14A team and also being the vicecaptain for Fulham. Josh first signed for Fulham at 5-years-old, and has only improved since then. He has enjoyed many successful moments playing for the club, and thoroughly enjoys the atmosphere and attitude towards the game created by his teammates and coaches, even saying, “it is like a second family to me.” The club has helped Josh develop as a football player mentally, but also physically and technically. The intense and serious coaching from the academy have helped him improve over time. “Physically at Fulham there is a gym which I would work in before Covid. I would get support from coaches, helping me physically develop.” Whilst improving as a player is one of the most important factors of the game, success is another the best players will crave. Josh looked back to his favourite game in a Fulham shirt with thousands watching overseas. “My favourite game I have played for Fulham was against Roma in France in the semi-final of this particular tournament. We had worked extremely hard to make it to that position. The score was 2-2 at the end of the game and it went to penalties. After both teams had scored nine each, I stepped up to score the winner after the Roma player smashed his over the bar. I had sent us to the final and I felt ecstatic.” Whilst Josh has improved as a player, he makes sure to not get too overwhelmed over the future. “I believe that as a footballer, you can’t think too far ahead and you have to try and keep your feet grounded. Whilst I think I have what it takes to make it, there are still obstacles I have to face. However, I do dream about playing for Fulham at Craven Cottage with the crowd cheering my name.” Josh has also thoroughly enjoyed his first three years at Hampton, recounting his favourite time in a Hampton shirt. “Beating Beths Grammar School was a huge highlight for me as we showed our strong mentality to come back in a game we were down in. Being 1-0 down with five minutes left and going on to win was a great feeling as we moved on in the cup.” Whilst playing football at Hampton may differ compared to an academy, Josh also enjoys other co-curricular activities
at School. “In some aspects sport is similar at Hampton, but as Fulham is an academy the standard is a little higher and intense. However, I enjoy a lot of different sports at Hampton; my second favourite sport other than football is table tennis.” Away from sport, Josh has experienced many academic improvements, which has also helped him grow as an individual academically but also in a sporting sense as well. “Throughout the years I have worked hard, and it has paid off for me. I have met new people and have learnt life lessons along the way. Hampton is a great place to learn and also develop as a person.” Josh has worked very hard along the way to be at the position he is now, but he wouldn’t have been there without the right mentality. “As a footballer I would describe myself as hard-working, humble and a leader. I’m hard-working because it is the best way to improve in my eyes and I have been brought up to be that way. I see myself as humble and unselfish as I don’t mind not scoring many goals, because the best players don't need recognition of how good they are - how they play on the pitch shows that - I think I’m personally the loudest on the pitch and I see myself as someone who teammates can rely on if they are struggling. My dream in football is to play for Fulham professionally and be a role model who people of the next generation look up to, and I don’t think I can be that unless I have the right mentality. “If I was to give one piece of advice to a player aspiring to go pro, I would say to not beat yourself up when things go wrong. Don’t be complacent when you’re needed most and things are going well. I also have these three values which I try to be like which were given to me by Fulham: be honest, hard-working and humble. These values help me in football and also in day-to-day life. “The aspect of the game I love most is the team spirit. Winning games with the people who you love is fantastic. As I said, it is like having a second family. You have a strong bond with your mates and they push you on, trying to get you to play the best you can. When you have people like that around you, together you’ll go a long way.”
TRIPLE EFFECT Few schoolboy teams can claim to be national finalists for three consecutive seasons: Hampton's current U17B side can. Fergus Briston, a member of the successful squad, details their historic triple. The last few years have been a highly exhilarating, and at times, profoundly nerve-racking journey for the current Lower Sixth B team, who have reached their respective EFSA final on three consecutive occasions. From pure jubilation to deep despondency, such an experience has been accompanied by a myriad of emotions whilst learning lessons for life. It all started back in Third Year. Following a last-minute extra-time winner in North London, a road trip to Devon in Arctic temperatures was the scene for the semi-finals. Hampton came out victorious with a 6-2 win against St Luke’s Science and Sports College and on the four hour journey home along the M4 in the dark, there were feelings of amazement and bemusement at the prospect of playing in a professional stadium: Stoke City's Bet365 stadium. It proved to be a nail bitter against Sandbach School, After a slow and tentative start, Hampton quickly found themselves 2-0 down. In the second half, however, Hampton dug deep and started to find their true rhythm, keeping the ball and moving it quickly – characteristic of the Hampton style of play. Deservedly, the team brought it back to 2-2 in quick succession and with the absence of extra time in the competition, penalties it was. In any match, ‘stressful’ is an understatement for a penalty shootout but in a final, doubly so. With nothing between the sides from the spot, the atmosphere in the ground was eerily quiet and tense, and on the final penalty, the ball struck the crossbar and Hampton hearts sunk. Typical of true Hamptonian grit, the team picked themselves up and set off on the ESFA journey again as U15s. The first few rounds went smoothly with relatively easy wins and having progressed through seven rounds of the competition involving 75 teams from across the country, a second final against Sandbach ironically awaited Hampton. However, on this occasion, the match was to be played at the home of West Bromwich Albion, the Hawthorns. Coach-loads of Fourth Year pupils, parents and staff travelled up to the West Midlands, to offer the U15Bs their full support. Despite
a strong performance in what was a very competitive match, the U15s succumbed to Sandbach who took the lead in the first half with four goals. Unstinting encouragement and singing from the Hampton supporters kept spirits high from start to finish despite being on the losing end of a 4-0 defeat. This was an exceptional year for Hampton football, with the senior players taking the U18 ESFA trophy earlier in the season. At the U16 level, the semi-final against St Aloysius’ College was undoubtedly the toughest game of the season. It was an extremely tight contest, and, on many occasions, it looked as though Hampton would inevitably concede. However, the defence held firm throughout the first half. During the second half, the team lived even more dangerously, with a heroic display of last-ditch defending to keep the clean sheet intact. Eventually, Hampton were able to break the deadlock well into the second half through a quick counterattack. Despite the pressure on the Hampton goal mounting further, the side held out to take a 1-0 win and advance to their third consecutive ESFA Cup final. The hope of making it third time lucky against Sandbach School once again was frozen as a result of the growing pressures of Covid. The honours were therefore shared in a somewhat anticlimactic manner. Nevertheless, each finalist received a winners’ medal and the team can still rightly hold their heads up high after a successful campaign, in which they became joint winners of the ESFA U16B Competition. After reaching three ESFA finals, the journey has been a thrilling and unforgettable experience for each of the Hamptonians involved. The team has learnt about the key principles of resilience, team spirit and perseverance during challenging games and picking themselves up again. As Mr Burke, Director of Football, commented, “To reach the ESFA Final is a wonderful achievement. To manage this on three consecutive seasons at U14, U15, U16 is outstanding. This achievement is testament to the hard work and commitment to training and fixtures from the boys and it is thoroughly deserved. All of us at Hampton are very proud of this group of players.”
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