26 September 2012

2012 Victory Shield preview

Last year's crop of England schoolboys lift the Victory Shield.

The 2012 edition of the schoolboy football Victory Shield competition gets underway tomorrow night.

If you are unaware of the Victory Shield, it's an Under-16s competition contested by the four Home Nations (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) towards the end of the year.

Each nation plays against each other once, with the team (or teams) with the most points at the end of the competition winning the shield. In this competition, there is no tie-break to determine the winners, so if the top teams have the same number of points, they share the shield.

The Victory Shield has been pretty much dominated by England in recent years. They have won or at least shared the shield every year since 2001. In terms of overall winners since the end of World War II, they are way out in front, with Scotland some distance behind. As for Wales and NI, they have just one outright win each, and the Welsh have shared a few times.

This is not just some kids' football tournament where everybody gets a medal - this is real competition, and the alumni of this event reads like a who's who of British footballing greats. Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Kenny Dalglish, Billy Bremner, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Harry Gregg - they all started their international careers in this very competition.

When Sky Sports started broadcasting the Victory Shield (they now sponsor it as well), we were introduced to some of today's biggest names when they were schoolboys. Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney both started out here, as did Darren Fletcher and Craig Bellamy. In the late 1980's, England had a tricky winger called Ryan Wilson in their team - he would later represent Wales under the surname Giggs.

In more recent times, a dominant England team has featured players of the ilk of Daniel Sturridge (who was excellent in the first Victory Shield that I watched in 2003), Danny Rose, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell, Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling, to name just seven of them.

The Scots' most promising talent to have come through the Victory Shield in recent years is arguably the Chelsea striker Islam Feruz, who I've tipped for greatness since his 2009 bow on this stage. Current Wales captain Aaron Ramsey was from the class of 2005, and during the same year, Jonny Evans' brother Corry played for Northern Ireland.

This year's crop were all born on or after 1 January 1997, making them 15 going on 16 at the oldest. It is far too early to judge just how good players this young are going to be at their peak, but there's always room for one or two to make names for themselves, like Mason Bennett did last year with England. Shortly after scoring his first Victory Shield goal, he made his senior debut for Derby County.

This year's fixtures are as follows:
27 September: Northern Ireland vs England
5 October: Scotland vs Wales
26 October: Scotland vs Northern Ireland
1 November: Wales vs England
23 November: Northern Ireland vs Wales
29 November: England vs Scotland

All of these matches will be screened live on Sky Sports, and The Daily Transfer Request will publish match reports for all six games as some new British footballing talent is unearthed.

If one of the players from this year's tournament goes on to become a football superstar, you read about them here first.

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