Our academy manager Dave Plant has provided an update on all things academy at the beginning of our youngsters’ 2021-22 campaign.
Dave, tell us what’s changed from last season?
As most people will know, we have left the EFL Youth Alliance due to the club playing outside the EFL for two seasons. With that came the loss of grant funding but, thanks to the wonderful financial support of the owners, coupled with increased fundraising efforts led by the OSA, we are continuing our development programme for players from Under 9s to 19s.
Our oldest age group now play in the National League Football Academy North Division, which is an Under 19s competition. As such, we no longer have an Under 18s side. The theory behind this is that it gives players an extra year’s development. Lots of lads are still growing and learning about themselves when they’re 18 and probably aren’t quite ready for men’s football, so it bridges the gap a little better.
Tell us about the transition into the new format?
This season, our Under 19s side is made up mostly of first-year scholars so we’re essentially a brand-new team. With the loss of funding and the impact that has on scholarships, we unfortunately weren’t able to carry over any first-year scholars from last season. This year’s team is made up of last season’s Under 16s along with some new players we’ve recruited.
Recruitment was difficult over the summer. Things happened a little bit late due to the pandemic and we of course had to wait to find out the outcome of the first-team’s season as that may have led to us remaining in the EFL Alliance.
Whereas in previous years we’d have a blend of age, experience and maturity, this season we’re a really young side who will be coming up against the likes of Fylde, Chester and Chesterfield who have been in this league for a number of years now. They’re more established, with squads made up of primarily second and third-year scholars.
It’s going to be a tough challenge for the Under 19s but it’s one they’re relishing. It’s a really competitive games programme and the lads are going to be coming up some experienced, physical players. It will certainly be a good test this season.
In terms of the wider academy, nothing has really changed other than the league we play in. We’ve gone into the Midland Junior Premier League, which is seen as a strong, competitive league. In the EFL games programme, I feel some matches can lack that competitiveness, and we have the best of both worlds now as we can arrange our own fixtures against some of the academy sides we’ve faced in the past.
What would represent success for the academy this season?
We’re fortunate that the head coach, Ian Burchnall, takes a big interest in what we’re doing and is keen to give opportunities for lads to train with the first team and be around that environment.
It’s always nice to pick up victories and win leagues, like we did last season, but we will always be focused on development and the more lads who can experience what it’s like to work with Ian and his squad, the better.
Where and when can supporters watch our Under 19s in action?
Home games have moved from Highfields to Keyworth United. It’s a great surface there – a brand-new 3G – and kick-offs will be at 2pm every Wednesday. Click here to find our upcoming fixtures.
How else can people support the academy?
We’re continuing our close work with the Official Supporters’ Association to raise additional funds which will help us be the best academy we can be.
We want to continue to offer a brilliant programme for everyone from Under 9s to 19s and it’s not just about the football – we want to deliver excellent physical and analytical sessions for all the boys.
Thank you to everyone who supports us, including our new sponsors Light Source.