BARNSLEY Schoolboys have a team in a national final for the first time since 1998 and the first time ever at under 14s level.
They beat Wirrall 4-3 away in the semi-final this week and will now take on reigning champions Aldershot and Farnborough in the final which is due to be played at Stoke City’s ground in late May.
Barnsley Schoolgirls under 12s are also due to compete in the finals there after winning 7-0 at Swansea in January.
They are the first teams to reach a national final since 1998 when an under 15s boys’ team featuring future Barnsley FC players Antony Kay and Neil Austin shared the English Shield with Bristol.
Jimmy Whitehead, who coaches the under 14s boys, said: “People at Barnsley Schools are telling me this is the team they have been waiting for for years.
“We got to the semi-finals last year which was a massive achievement but to go one better is unbelievable.
“I have been coaching them for four years since they were ten. It was my first ever coaching role.
“I was a bit emotional when they got to the final.
“They have grown so much. We have a really good team spirit.
“I am really proud of all the players. They are a great set of lads and hopefully they can become the national champions because they deserve it.”
There are some players in the squad from the academies of Barnsley, Rotherham United and Sheffield United.
The team won all three group games then beat York 4-3 in the last 16 and Rotherham 6-1 in the quarter-final.
At the Wirrall, George Bedford put Barnsley ahead but the hosts were 2-1 up at half-time.
Captain Charlie Redfern equalised then Blaydon Heritage put the visitors in front with a fine header from a corner by Jake Scargill who continued his excellent season with a fourth goal. Wirrall pulled one back with two minutes left.
Whitehead said: “We were behind at half-time but the lads stayed calm and had a great second half.
“Some of our academy players couldn’t play so we had 11 fit players.
“Then one got injured so Joe Darnbrough had to come on even though he wasn’t fully fit. It was a really heroic performance by all the lads. They ran so much and tackled so much.
“The Wirral team was very tough and their support was hostile.
“Our lads showed a lot of character.”
Steve Gates, chairperson of Barnsley and District Schools, said: “I am proud and humbled.
“Lauren Williams, who coaches and jointly manages the girls with me, has worked tirelessly to get them in shape.
“Jimmy Whitehead – with help from Macauley Shillitto, Ian Shirt and Andrew Denton – have done the same for the boys.
“I have never felt so proud in my life and this is the first time under my stewardship that a school district team has reached the national finals.
“I can now even think about retirement if the teams go on and become national champions.
“Helen Knight, our secretary, spends most of her time raising funds to support these school teams so it is so rewarding to see her hard work reap some rewards.
“All we need now is some local business people come forward and support the teams for the final stage”
Many of the boys’ team attend Horizon School, whose under 14s have qualified for the Boys Elite National Final and lost in the semi-final of Schools Cup 4-3 at Tranmere on Tuesday.
Teacher Ryan Copley said: “We probably have the strongest schoolboy side that Barnsley has ever produced.
“They are the first male Horizon team to reach a national final.
“We are kindly sponsored by Easyway and Lifetime Financial Management but would welcome sponsorship for training tops for our final which will be live of the English Schools Football Association’s youtube channel.”
“BARNSLEY SCHOOLBOYS UNDER 14S SQUAD: Horizon: Jake Scargill, Logan Yould, Ben Guirey, Charlie Redfern, Charlie Gledhill-Carr, Luke Broadhurst, Blaydon Heritage, George Bedford, Joe Darnbrough. Kirk Balk: Jhy Bowler, Alfie Denton. Netherwood: Rio O’Loughlin. Darton Academy: Marley Jobling.