Youth boss Darren Edmondson spoke to us this week about next season’s under-18 players as he confirmed that his squad of 18 had been finalised, with ten second years and eight first years coming together to make up the group.
“We now have our squad of 18 players complete ahead of next season,” he confirmed. “I think the good thing for the football club in that is that six of the eight boys who are our first years have come through our own Academy.
“That shows us that this football club is doing things right further down the scale, and there are a lot of coaches in our Academy who have helped these lads with their development. It's a great benchmark to get six through and we've now got to improve the Academy even further, and the coaches have got to work harder to get more and more through.
“That’s a big ask from us of them because it isn’t easy to come to us after a full day at work on a Tuesday and Thursday night only to then face a group of lads who are looking at them for what to do next. It's sometimes a thankless task so we have to say a big thank you to them for the way they conduct themselves and for the energy and motivation they bring to their sessions.”
On the crop of new first year players, he said: “The good thing for the local lads within that group is that a lot of them have had some good game time with us already, mostly because we suffered so many injuries last season.
“A few are almost in double figures of appearances for us so hopefully that experience will set them in good stead. One or two were involved in the FA Cup run as well, so they've had some good experience and have been given a real taste for it already.
“Other than the six local lads we’ve added a striker from Newcastle [Belchior Papa] and a keeper from Sunderland [Regan Ward], so we’ve been able to spread the net a little bit. We did look at others but they saw other football clubs as a better pathway.
“I'm hoping that the four players we got through to the next stage this year will be the catalyst for players both from inside and outside the area to look at us and see us as a good option and opportunity for them to potentially get a professional contract ...
“I'm hoping that the four players we got through to the next stage this year will be the catalyst for players both from inside and outside the area to look at us and see us as a good option and opportunity for them to potentially get a professional contract. Rather than going to a club like Wigan or Blackburn, and sitting in their U21 and U23 squads and not achieving much, they can come here and get close to the first team ... as long as they’re good enough.
“The way we see it is that parents can take their son to Newcastle or Blackburn at 13-years-old or they can stay with us and work hard to progress. As we say, if they’re good enough we’ve demonstrated at all age levels that we have the beginnings of a definite pathway.”
“Most of the lads who will be second years next year have already played lots of football because of those injuries we mentioned,” he commented. “That means we're going into next season with a strong group of older lads who are also slightly better educated than we would otherwise expect them to be.
“It bodes well, but we have to wait and see how all of these lads settle, develop and grow into the roles we expect them to fill. It’s a very demanding environment and the first years have to contend with adapting to life as a scholar, which isn’t easy.
“At the same time as that our second years are turning their minds to completing their education successfully and to making enough of a mark as a footballer to be considered for a contract.
“There are pressures on all of them constantly but that’s the same in any line of work. The difference here is that they have to grab the opportunity they have in front of them or it will pass them by very quickly. As coaches our job is to help and guide them and hopefully we’ll see successful outcomes.”
Click HERE to see the U18 squad list for the 2017/18 season.