The Carlisle United Supporters’ Club London Branch cemented their already strong relationship with the club’s academy this weekend with the purchase of more equipment, all of which adds another layer of professionalism to the overall game day experience for both the players and coaches.
Bespoke corner flags, Respect Barriers and a versatile V Board were in use for the first time on Sunday morning, with members of the London Branch on-hand to see their new purchases being put to good use.
Foundation phase coach Robbie Edgar explained: “I got in touch with Simon Clarkson from the London Branch because I know how much interest they have in how the academy is doing, and they’re always looking for ways in which they can help.
“I told him that we were trying to improve what match day looked like for the academy, and he felt straight away that the Branch would be happy to lend a hand.
“From that initial conversation I put together a presentation of all the things I felt would make us better, with the ultimate aim to help us to look like a Category 1 club rather than a Category 3, and that was received quite well.”
Moving on to discuss the items acquired by the Branch on behalf of the academy, he said: “The acquisition of a ‘V’ board has already made things easier for officials, coaches, parents and players, because they can now check on that as soon as they arrive to see which pitches they’re on, and where they’re meant to be.
“It removes that element of confusion which can often be there when people get somewhere and they’re not too sure what to do next.
“We’ve also been able to purchase corner flags which have the club badge and the London Branch logo on them, and I have to say that they look superb.
“And we’ve also been able to get some Respect barriers which has allowed us to create an area for the players which is separated from the supporters, allowing them to prepare and get ready for the game in a controlled and safe area.”
“One of the reasons for doing this is that if you create the right kind of environment for the players, with a feeling of professionalism around it, then it helps to nurture a mindset that can breed success,” he continued. “If the set-up around the game is a good experience, that can only help, in my opinion.
“I can’t put into words how much it means to get support like this. The Branch has purchased equipment for us in the past and we know they’re there for us to approach going forward, even if they can’t always say yes. That means a lot to us and there aren’t enough ways to say thank you.
“And it’s not just equipment, they also want to help in other ways. For example, going forward they’ll be sponsoring a Goal of the Month competition where we will send them a number of goals from each age group, and they’ll vote on it.
“That’s a bit of fun for the players and there’ll also be trophies for the winners, and that’s fantastic for these young boys to know that’s happening.”
The spend on the academy by the London Branch is now thousands of pounds, with such a positive impact being made every step of the way.
“Prior to this the Branch purchased an extendable camera pole for us, and that means we can now put games on an application we call PMA for the players to watch back,” he told us. “Every player has an account and they can look at the footage, or at clipped footage which is relevant to them.
“Rather than just being told about something he can do, the player can watch it on a video, and that becomes a much better and more efficient learning process for him.
“It’s just another example of how the support we get from the London Branch is constantly helping us to improve the service we give as we look to develop future talent.”
Speaking on behalf of the London Branch, Mike Carruthers said: “We’ve got a long-term relationship with the academy and it’s been part of our philosophy to try and support the young players at the club.
“When we went into lockdown we arranged an event called ‘The Kids are United’ with the likes of Matt Jansen, Paul Murray and Tony Caig who really emphasised the importance of the academy.
“Robbie spoke to us about the equipment he needed and, despite the delays in getting it all together because of the pandemic, it’s great to finally be here and to see the new equipment being put to use.
“Hearing the coaches talk about the level of professionalism going up a notch or two because of the help we’ve been able to give means a lot, and it’s really good to know that's the case. I’m sure all of our members will feel proud in having played a part in that.
“The London Branch as a whole want to continue to support the academy because we can all see the long-term benefits. We hope that somewhere on these pitches around us is the next Matt Jansen or Rory Delap, whether they’re in the U9s or U15s right now.
“I think in the past couple of years we’ve seen that when lads do push on to the youth team and first team that there is an avenue there if they’re good enough. Jarrad Branthwaite is a great example to all of these lads, he’s played in the Premier League at the young age he is already, so there is a route, and ultimately that’s also crucial for the long-term finance of the club.
“Fans love to see local lads who have come through our own system knocking on the door of the first team, and our Branch of supporters want to do what we can to help with that process.”
“A few of us have been able to come down today and it’s great to see the corner flags with our logo on and the different bits of kit we’ve been able to provide,” he added. “A lot of effort and organisation has gone into it and it will give our members a really positive feeling.
“They pay their subscription fees and fans buy copies of Hit the Bar, or pin badges and merchandise, and with things like this they can see that their support is worthwhile and being put to excellent use.”
As alluded to by Mike, the crux of the matter is doing everything possible to create a clear pathway to first team football, and beyond.
“I’ve been at the club a long time now, I’ve seen players like Jarrad come in when they were just nine and I’ve witnessed their journey,” coach Robbie Edgar commented. “I’ve watched the ups and downs that every youngster goes through, and I have to be honest and say that I doubt any of us can pick a player at nine and say they will definitely make it.
“But what we can do is create an environment that allows that kind of thing to happen. If we do that, and we’re patient with our young lads, we’ll continue to see some of them come through.
“The good thing is that even the very young players start to understand the philosophy of the club if we, as coaches, remain consistent, so that has to be our part of the bargain. That’s where help from sources like the London Branch really matters and ultimately has a hugely positive impact.
“We can’t predict, nobody can, but what I will say is that we could possibly see over the next three to five years some players who have a massive opportunity coming through. That’s exciting for all of us.”
So what is it like to see a boy who has worked his way through the age groups go on to forge a career?
“It feels unbelievable,” he said. “I don’t think any of us in the academy do this for anything other than developing players and seeing them go on to get contracts.
“I was at the Newcastle game on Friday and I had everything crossed that Liam McCarron was going to get on, because that would have been magnificent for him.
“We were all sending messages in the Whatsapp group we have as coaches when it happened for Jarrad, because it matters to all of us that these lads do well.
“It’s what it’s all about, and getting help to do it from the likes of the London Branch makes it all even more worthwhile.”