Saturday 12th June was a great day for Cray Wanderers as Flamingo Park played host to the Youth Teams Presentation Day which saw all of the youth section, players, coaches and parents take part and enjoy a marvellous afternoon/evening celebrating the successes of all the teams across the age groups.

The 2020-21 Youth season has been a difficult one for all clubs in Kent, South-East and across the country with the pandemic bringing to an abrupt halt to the 2019-20 season. Then a delayed start to the new season which began but with the country going back into tiered lockdowns and then a third lockdown in December – March meant the season was put on hold until the Spring.  That our clubs, coaches and players and especially the administrators were able to juggle around training and pitch requirements, the leagues being truncated and shorter with fewer teams but more games crammed in is testament to the skills around the club and dedication to getting the young players to enjoy playing football in a safe environment in difficult times.

The event itself at Flamingo Park took place on a very warm afternoon-evening and all Covid protocols were observed in the playing areas and in the clubhouse and social distancing and everyone’s safety was adhered too perfectly.

Over the last few seasons the clubs’ youth section has grown to an impressive array of teams across all age groups from U7s up to U18s. Despite the disruption caused to the season and the changes at first team level at the club from 18th March great respect needs to be given to all the teams and especially the Kent Youth League U18s who after the restart to the season went on a remarkable scoring and winning run and if gone on a bit longer may have given champions Glebe more of a run for their money.

Every player from every team were each presented with a special trophy and award from the club and special awards presented by the team management for Player of the Year, Most Improved and Players Player of the year. The club thank Supreme Trophies & Engraving for the impressive array of awards and trophies provided for the day.

As well as trophy presentation there were plenty of amenities to keep the kids entertained and the parents a bit of quality relaxation time including a large inflatable dartboard for which the kids could kick a Velcro ball at, and other bouncy castles, a chance to dunk the manager in the stocks with wet sponges proved popular as did the large sandpit brought along especially for the day. An added bonus for everyone was the appearance of SE Dons goalkeeper Big G who provided a tough barrier for a penalty shoot-out/beat the keeper competition. If you add the great sounds of DJ for the event, Barry Husthwaite who played some great tunes and a top class spin master which went on into the evening.

Something very special for a fan like me of the club is to see so much amber and black being worn by so many players (and occasional away strips) and the players being proud to do so. On a hot, sunny day the combination of amber and sunshine made for a very bright sight indeed.    

The presentation went from ascending age group order starting with a special recognition for Alex Warner and his incredible set of young players just below the U7s age group. Earlier in the month of June, the Cray Wanderers U8s Sharks and U9s both won their respective Selkent Vase Finals and brought with them the trophies and medals and had a great time showing off their successes. Also the U10’s, and Selkent U15s and U16s had reached Selkent Cup Finals this summer.  

The awards were presented with short breaks in between to the following clubs and teams:

Cray Wanderers U7’s Lions, U7’s Wolves; U8s Lions, Piranhas & Sharks; U9’s; U10’s; U11s and Lions; U12’s Lions & Piranhas; U13s Lions, Sharks & Kent Youth League; U14s Kent Youth League; U15s & Kent Youth League; U16s & Kent Youth League; U18s Kent Youth League.

Each manager gave a post season speech and pep talk to the players as well as their assistants and each one emphasised strongly how proud they were of the players in this difficult season and how much they love playing for and representing the club.

As well as these presentations there was a hark to next season and one of two new Girl’s teams coming to the club, the U15s were presented with their year-end trophies by their current club, Junior Reds. Cray Wanderers has never had girls teams representing the club but from next season most definitely will.  The U12s played their first match in Cray colours the following day. Also there was a special speech from an Academy coach who encouraged some of the older age groups of the importance of joining an academy and aimed at perhaps getting some tougher games for the players.

The club would like to thank the following managers for all their hard graft in this difficult season but put in such incredible efforts and got the best out of their players      

James Berwick. Brett Cheesman, Joseph Clark, Vinnie Cristiano, Nick Desanges, Ricky Dunn, Tom Ellery, Jason Ellis, Gerry Fisher, Darren Grover, Barry Husthwaite, Gary Murphy, Taiwo Pereira, Gary Russell, Steve Owen, Steve Redman, Owen Roberts, Eddie Rowe & Lewis Thompson. Steve Owen back in March was presented with a special award by the Kent FA celebrating 25 years in Youth team football.

Also to every player who did the club so proud during 2020-21 we thank you for being part of this remarkable football club.Special thanks though also and perhaps most of all to the following: Gill Neville, Stacey Whitehead, Claire Jones and Sam Wright who not only helped put the event together but their sterling work over the last couple of seasons getting Flamingo Park in top shape for the kids to play but also continuing the success story and laying the groundwork so that every Sunday competitive youth team football can take place and safely and all rules are implemented and respected.

Also we couldn’t do what we do without the dedicated sponsorship and the continued support that Acorn give us, we certainly wouldn’t have been able to offer our players the opportunity to play for free since the return to football after lockdown. We thank Acorn who continue to sponsor the Cray Wanderers Youth section and have done since 2017 and their support has definitely enabled us to create the sustained growth of our youth section. 

The 2021-22 season it is envisaged the club will have over 30 teams at all age levels including the Girls teams. This is not some plan for world domination or a monopoly at this level but all about giving the community and the players a dedicated platform to show their skills and hopefully as part of the clubs future going forward some of these players could be future first team players playing at the new stadium at Flamingo Park.  Tied in with the excellent work of the Cray Wanderers Community Scheme which in 12 years has become very much part of the furniture in the local area in providing social skills as well as football and sports to so many youngster in the area, the success and growth of the youth teams section will provide the club with the confidence to produce our own players and down the line the England team.  Just a look at Marc Guehi at Swansea City and the captain of England’s  U17s World Champions who started out as a Cray Wanderers Youth player show that gems are found and there may be more to come.

In closing, this was such an enjoyable occasion, the only shame was that there could be no first team  presentation this year but this time next season all facets of the club will be celebrated and Cray Wanderers will continue to move forward.