Wolverhampton Wanderers U21 4-2 Nice U21 (Premier League International Cup)
The city of Nottingham has been officially announced bankrupt today. Which is why it seems so many are blocking the A453 out of it tonight. Traffic is a nightmare as I try and get across Midlands from East to West and to the Worcestershire town of Kidderminster where Wolves are playing Nice in a tournament I know little about.
The Premier League International Cup has been going since 2014. Apparently designed to give English clubs the edge, from an early age in Europe, I get the feeling it’s also a shop window for UK scouts looking at overseas talent and with all games played in England it’s very one-sided as the best from the continent get to play at the likes of Aggborough in front of a few hundred football nerds.
I’m taking the back roads to the M42 in attempt to miss some congestion and join ahead of Tamworth before trawling for a good hour at 30mph.
Finally I’m routed off onto the A38 but go right instead of left into Bromsgrove. I’m through a lovely village called Belbroughton before passing some millionaire mansions on the Hackmans Gate Lane, driving over the dark country humps and into Kidderminster, a quaint, quiet place with a football ground high up on a hill.
The floodlights glisten below the clear frosty dark night sky, the stadium on an otherwise residential route named Hoo Road. Set back and well gated opposite some semi-detached houses. I’m parking on Stadium Close where I ask a steward ‘where can I stick my car’. “In here’s fine” he replies. “It’s free tonight”.
It’s my first visit to Aggborough, home of Kidderminster Harriers Football Club, but I’m impressed with the modern looking red seated arena. A proper place to play football. Certainly, league level. It’s remarkable to think that of its 137-year history, Kiddy have only ever spent five seasons in the football league.
I’m walking through the turnstile where I’m scanned in by a nice young girl, straight to the kiosk in the left hand corner between the Main Stand and North Stand which is behind the goal. You can’t see for sizzle and smoke as I order a burger and a brew. I’ve not eaten all day. It’s average but it certainly fills a gaping void that would otherwise have been taken by over priced garage grub.
Inside the arena the green grass is flat and immaculate with a slight bump in the middle of the goal. The four stands almost equal in height, two at the side, seated, two at each end, terraced. One (the South End) with a small scoreboard on the middle of its roof.
I’ve bumped into an old boy who’s a Wolves fan sitting a few seats down from me as I fill out the teams from the team sheets given to us by an old lady. He’s been watching Wolves since the sixties and seventies and goes to nearly every game from first team to kids… “You’ve seen a few relegations” I say as he chuckles. He collects programmes and his earliest is a copy from the 1920’s. For some incredible reason he knows the last game of every club that’s played in league football. He tells me Workington’s was at Newport in 1977, Bradford Park Avenue’s last league fixture in 1970 was v Aldershot. A great memory installed and a bloke who has real love for the game. I ask him if any of tonight’s team look like going on to good things. “Chiwome up front is a good lad. He’s only 17” he replies in his black country accent.
There’s around 2-300 in attendance with only one stand being used, a few dad’s and kids, it’s a cheap night out at just £4 an adult ticket and the football is good. High intensity from minute one as both teams press against each others progressive passing styles.
Wolves look bigger, more solid, they attack well down the left and have pace and power. Everything is touch, pop, crisp and firm, you can hear the clatter of the ball thud in the clear air.
Nice are more technical, smaller, skilful, Skipper, no10 Reda Belahyane is tiny but classy, he makes them tick and glides along the frosting surface with Gaelic grace in the middle of the park. No11 Daouda Traore has skinny legs, thin but tall frame, he’s giving me the ‘Bambi on ice’ glimpses as he often runs into trouble and gives the ball away after a few failed step overs. He’s just back healed a ball out of play for a throw in under no pressure at all, then suddenly he picks it up with space in front of him, runs at full speed, cuts in to the box and plays in his opposite winger Hernani Mendes Vaz who smashes home. Maybe that’s why Traore is in the team? He certainly has talent, and when his direct but ungainly style does come off, it’s worth the wait in gold.
That lead is a bit against the run of play as Wolves have missed a few guilt edged chances and have spent most of the half attacking, but a second booking for Belahyane on the far side for what looks like a poorly timed foul, has the French side reduced to ten men. An uphill task from here.
That task gets harder when Wolves reply with a leveller. Chiwome has already scuffed a couple of sitters before seeing a deflected shot loop in to equalise on the stroke of half time.
In the second half the home side push for a second goal as Nice stay compact by playing a 5-3-1 which see’s midfielder Alvarenga often helping out across the backline. But against the run of play the French side have a corner and Nahounou heads home. It wasn’t meant to be this way but Wolves must now do it all again.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of time and there’s plenty of opportunity to see Wolves back on terms as they pepper the Nice defence with crosses in from the left. Hesketh is denied by a brilliant save by the goalkeeper before levelling things up again. He prods home from close range after twisting inside the area, then they take the lead on 79, Jordao who I’ve been impressed with in midfield, who I’m told the club are likely to get rid of, he half volleys from inside the area after chesting down to himself.
Late on, Kandola prods home from a corner to put the match beyond doubt. Nice’s gallant effort thwarted, in the end Wolves are just too strong, bigger, fitter, a man advantage, it was always going to end one way.
Nice with the red carded Belahyane were certainly a better team than without him, he might not be able to tackle but boy can he play, with eight first team appearances already, the nineteen-year-old French U18 international should be good enough to make the grade.
Other prospects include full backs Nake Youssouf and Mousslim Youssouf who I presume are brothers and of French/Comoros descent. They were both game and gutsy and Nake in particular, kept Wolves dangerous looking left side quiet. The pacey Owen Falmer and Aaron Keto-Diyawa often doubling up, but the youngster held his own. Laurenzo Monteiro Alvarenga also a player to look out for. He battled for everything and put some decent steps in from midfield, often covering back in defence, he was everywhere and put a shift in for his side.
For Wolves, whilst Leon Chiwome did impress me, I really liked their centre back Kam Kandola and right back Marvin Kaleta who got forward well. Bruno Jordao played some lovely cross field passes and the direct running of Owen Farmer on the left hand side caused Nice a lot of concern.
Who knows who’ll be the cream that rises? As the old boy next to me said “It’s all about attitude” and those with the best ability might not be the ones necessarily making the grade in two or three years time, but plenty of promise on show, the good thing about football at this level, it opens a new shop window to those that otherwise wouldn’t get chance to see through it… A few Premier League scouts might have seen something from Nice tonight that can potentially earn them millions.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: James Storer, Marvin Kaleta, Aaron Keto-Diyawa, Bruno Jordao, Kam Kandola, Justin Hubner (Temple Ojinaka 90), Josh Esen (Mason Rees 75), Matt Whittingham, Leon Chiwome (Ethan McLeod 83), Owen Hesketh (Leo Lopes 90), Owen Farmer.
Nice: Bartosz Zelazowski, Nake Youssouf (Ebroni Gnoan 84), Mousslim Youssouf (Sami Wattel 56), Rayan Jerbi (Ilyes Benlebsir 84), Yannis Nahounou, Issiaga Camara, Hernani Mendes Vas (Lucas Rousseau 46), Laurenzo Montiero Alvarenga, Jah-Mason Tellusson (Nandy Bony 46), Reda Belayane, Douda Traore.
7:00pm Kick Off. Wednesday 29th November 2023, Aggborough Stadium, Kidderminster (att 320).