On Thursday 26th May, Abbey College Cambridge staff and students faced off in an eagerly anticipated and first ever ‘Staff versus Students’ football match. As the players warmed up, the scene was perfectly set; a gloriously sunny May evening and an electric atmosphere that made the occasion all that more special to both teams involved.
With the Abbey Penguin Mascot in full flow willing on the supporters, the staff kicked off and quickly settled into their rhythm, zipping the ball around with some fine early passing. Keeping the pressure up throughout the early stages, the staff created some good chances and managed to open the scoring through some neat work on the left hand side of the pitch, which allowed Mathematics teacher Simon Thacker to slot a calculated finish into the far right bottom corner, sending the staff fans into raptures.
The students fought back tenaciously and began clawing their way into the game. Staff goalkeeper and Senior House Parent Jarrod Taylor had to pull out a number of fine saves to deny the students an equaliser going into half time. The staff held on and went into the half time break with a narrow 1-0 lead.
At half time, both teams were visibly struggling with the hot and humid conditions. The students entered the break with a much needed inspirational team-talk from Captain Hilkiah Adebanjo as he tried to revive their fortunes.
The team-talk seemed to do wonders and the students started the second half with a more determined and aggressive attitude, laying siege to the staff goal. Captain Adebanjo capitalised by hitting a deserved equaliser early in the second half; the scores were all level at 1-1, everything was now to play for. The staff restarted the match seeking to regain the lead, but the students, buoyed by their early breakthrough and utilising the power of their somewhat younger legs, kept up their unflinching pressure.
There was some neat interplay on show and an air of confidence running throughout the students now, and the inevitable came when the ball broke to Aung Thu Rein just inside the penalty area and he calmly slotted past the keeper Taylor from about twelve yards. The students led with around twenty minutes to go at 2-1, and looked the stronger team.
In response, the staff team decided to switch tactics and bolster the midfield area. The game became tighter with chances few and far between, but they created one noticeable opportunity with Alex Johnston being twice denied by heroic blocks from student centre-back Bing Xue Yong when a goal looked all but inevitable.
However the students were still looking dangerous in the final third, and some excellent defensive work for the staff team proved to be a vital platform for the closing stages of the match. On a characteristic break down the right, English Teacher Will Askham crossed from the by-line to the oncoming Peter Manners, unmarked and in space on the edge of the box. Manners, with all the cool confidence that his role as Sports Coach naturally conferred, controlled the ball and stroked it home around the despairing dive of student keeper Dmitrii Ievlev.
With around ten minutes to go, the game opened up as both teams went looking for the crucial third goal. The students had the better opportunities in the closing stages and it was only some heroic last gasp defensive efforts from College Principal Julian Davies and Deputy Boarding Manager Bradley Derrick that kept the students at bay.
With the game still finely poised at 2-2 and time running out, the staff team broke their defensive shackles for one final charge. The ball ricocheted on the left and dropped to Manners, who curled the ball into the students’ penalty box. The ball was heading towards keeper Ievlev and looked to be sailing to safety until deep lying midfielder Richard Stott emerged at the far post with a perfectly timed late run.
Stott had a lot of work to do, but his Physics background and intimate knowledge of velocity, gravity and angles was to serve him well as he met the cross with a looping header that lobbed the keeper and nestled into the corner of the net. The goal sent the Abbey College staff and supporters into ecstatic celebrations, and for the first time the students began to contemplate defeat.
Two minutes later, the referee Matthew Harvey signaled full time and the game ended. The staff had held on for a dramatic 3-2 win over the students. The match was played in a fantastic spirit throughout, with all staff and students having a great time whether they were involved in the match or supporting from the side-lines.
Finance Assistant Alex Johnston, who organised the event alongside Senior House Parent Matthew Harvey, was quoted saying, “The event really was a true success, after lots of hard work from Matthew and me I believe this will be a great memory for the students and staff to look back on from their time here at Abbey College Cambridge. Let’s hope this will now be a platform for more Staff versus Students events and the football match can now become an annual event and be played for many more years to come. I would just like to say a big thank you to all who took part in the match and to all who turned up to support their respective teams. The 3-2 victory makes it just that bit sweeter and I am sure the students will be out for revenge next year!”