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Rising Stars: Churchdown Panthers Youth Under-15 Colts

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 09:00

Churchdown Panthers Youth Under-15 Colts Churchdown Panthers Youth Under-15 Colts

Take a quick look at the Cheltenham Youth League Under-15 Division One table and it will surprise few people in the know that Churchdown Panthers are leading the way.

Churchdown Panthers Youth Under-15 Colts, to give them their full title, have won six of their seven league games, scoring 27 goals along the way.

They are clearly a team who know how to win because they have been doing it for the best part of a decade now.

“They’ve been together since they were five,” said manager Fraser Rankin, who was also with them at the start. “They’ve stuck together and grown up together, we’re a real community club.”

And they’re a community club with a taste for success.

“We got to the County Cup final three years ago,” continued Rankin, “that was a great achievement. We played Shortwood United and although we were beaten it was a great experience.

“We won the league that year as well and we’ve also won the league cup, beating Bishop’s Cleeve on penalties.  Our Cheltenham Youth League is very well run and full of talented players and teams, we are very grateful for that.”

That final was played at Evesham United’s ground and Rankin said: “It was a great day. We’d reached two previous cup finals but we lost one and the other was cancelled because of Covid.”

Captain for the day and centre-half Fletcher Knight scored the decisive spot-kick against Cleeve and Rankin said: “He’s a very, very good player. He’s blossomed and is a great footballer.

“He’s a lovely lad and we’re lucky because we’ve got quite a few like him.”

One of the club’s mainstays is Rankin’s son, Findlay, who has just turned 15 and has scored 19 goals in nine games in all competitions this season.  

“He’s a little firecracker, always scores goals,” said Rankin senior with a laugh, “he’s larger than life, big smiles or big frowns.”

So how does the father/son, manager/player relationship work?

“It can be a challenge for both of us at times,” said Rankin senior, still laughing. “But he’s maturing and developing into a fine young footballer. As he gets physically stronger he’s getting more confident.”

There are others who have been with the team for a long time now who are coming along very well too such as Adi Adichareh, Corey Iddon and Ryan Dean, with Rankin describing Dean as an “exceptional young athlete", adding, "it seems wrong not to mention the other boys though, I could talk in glowing terms about all of them."

And Rankin knows what he’s talking about because he’s been playing football almost since the day when he could first walk and talk.

Originally from Scotland – he hasn’t lost his accent – he had trials with St Johnstone back in the day before heading south, moving to Bishop’s Cleeve in 1998.

“I went to the same school as Callum Davidson in Dunblane,” Rankin said. “He was two years younger than me but we played football together a few times. He played for Scotland and is now manager of St Johnstone and doing very well, I'm pretty sure he's copying my style of management, particularly his celebrations!”

Work brought Rankin to this part of the world – he is a director of sales and marketing – but he still had enough time to devote to football, playing for Newton Heath in the Cheltenham League for a good number of years.

“We had some fun together,” recalled Rankin, who started as a striker when he first played football before eventually ending up in goal.

Ask him if his son is a better player than he was and he pauses before saying with a chuckle: “I can’t answer that, it would start a terrible argument,” before adding, “I think he is!”

It’s easy to understand why the players have enjoyed playing for Rankin so much over the years because he certainly hasn’t lost any of his boyish enthusiasm for the game.

“I remember when I was young and playing football,” he said. “It was great fun and everyone just looked forward to being together and playing together.”

And such is his love for the game that he’s got as much pleasure out of coaching, although he knows there will come a time when the team he has nurtured for so long will be too old to play youth football.

So what will Rankin do then?

“I might take a year’s sabbatical,” he said, “but then I think I’d want to be involved again. I get a lot of satisfaction working with kids of a young age, it’s a really enjoyable experience.

“It takes a lot of people to give up their time to make it enjoyable for everyone, and we’re very grateful for a lot of community and parental support along the way. Special mentions to the late Keith Clarke and his prodigy Russ Fulford; Dee Pates, our league secretary, Martin Feighery, who runs our team with me, and our loyal sponsors Any Colour Coatings, and a fair few others.”

The under-15s play their home games on a Sunday at Chosen Hill RFC, kick-off 2pm, and Rankin said: “Pop along and watch a fine young group of players – they are very entertaining.”

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