WHICH one of you wants be the next Gareth Barry or Steve Cook?

That is the challenge being thrown down to these Ark Alexandra Academy footballers as they bid to follow in the footsteps of two former Albion prospects and reach the final of the English Schools Under-16s Cup.

Ark Alexandra’s Year 11 side take on Richmond’s Hampton School today at Hampton School, Richmond (2.30pm).

The Academy was formed by the merger of Barry and Cook’s old Hastings school William Parker and Helenswood last year.

Barry, the Premier League’s record appearance maker, and Cook both enjoyed national success with William Parker as youngsters while beginning their careers at the Seagulls.

Currently none of the players in the Ark side are with professional clubs but they have progressed through to the ninth round.

Coach Jimmy Elford revealed the achievements of West Brom’s Barry and Bournemouth’s Cook are being used as a carrot for his players.

Elford, a former Hastings United player who appeared alongside Barry as a youth, told The Argus: “We are asking the kids who we are going to be talking about in ten or 15 years’ time?

“Is it going to be the Ben Ward year group like it was the Gareth Barry year group and then the Steve Cook year group?

“We are asking, ‘which one of you is going to go on and make it?’. There are a lot of them who can.”

Ward is Ark’s leading scorer in the competition along with Nathan Corke, both with four goals.

The Hastings academy, who started with a bye, have won seven games to get to this stage against state and public schools.

A total of 537 schools entered the prestigious competition.

Elford says his squad have come through some tough ties, including winning on penalties twice.

He said: “We played All Hallows away and they lost in the final on penalties last year.

“Lots of these teams have lads who play for Crystal Palace, Reading, QPR and Ipswich while none of our boys are attached to a professional academy team.

“One of our lads was at Albion for a while but is no longer there, while another had trials at Gillingham but nothing was offered to him.

“So we are playing against teams with academy boys and have managed to get through.”

Hampton’s under-18s won the national cup last season while their current Under-16 B team won the Under-15 B team trophy last year.

Elford said: “They have a rich history of football success. We know they have three players who play for England Independent Schools, so we know they will be a very tough proposition but we shall do our best to get the result we desire.”

He added: “It is an amazing achievement to get to the last four.

“It’s an incredible achievement and we hope we can get through to the final and follow in the footsteps of Steve Cook and Gareth Barry, who were both students who went on to win the national cup with William Parker in years gone past.

“Gareth’s year won the trophy in 1997 and Cook’s year then won it in 2004.”

Elford, who played futsal for England, has memories of playing alongside former England international Barry, pictured.

Former Sussex cricketer Michael Yardy is another former William Parker pupil, who played central midfield alongside Barry in the 1997 national cup winning side.

Story updated at 12.50pm with change of venue. 

Game now takes place at Hampton School, Hanworth Road, Hampton, Middlesex, TW12 3HD.