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What I saw when I was invited to have a look inside Newcastle United Academy

6 years ago

The government are on a bit of a drive at the minute to get ex-teachers to become teachers again, or persuade people to train in the first place. You might have seen the adverts.

And one of the first things that they tell you when you train, is that you should have high expectations of the kids, without setting glass ceilings or making excuses. You can see where this is going.

My previous article on the lack of players making it through the academy prompted an offer from the Education Officer, George Scott.

Now, in the interest of being up front, I’ll tell you now that I worked with George while I was training to be a teacher, and in my first two years of plying poetry and analysing articles about football.

I’ll also tell you that I utterly disagree with the way the club is run in terms of transfer policy and the way it handles itself publicly. Yet another week or so has passed where we have allowed ourselves to be dragged through the mud. Thankfully, the on the pitch performances are improving.

Anyway, George invited me to the Benton Newcastle United Academy to see what goes on.

First of all, George and Darren Darwent of the Education Department, have high expectations of the lads. And in return, every player who walked past George that morning was genuinely pleased to see him, asked after him and shook his hand. George was proud of them, and they were proud of their relationship with him.

I’ve seen loads of kids in the last eighteen years hold various relationships with those who are, in essence, telling them what to do, which no one really likes. Those relationships vary from openly antagonistic and hostile, through passive indifference, to the respectful warmth that you hope you will develop when you idealistically start out as a teacher. All of the lads were at this end of the scale. It was great to see.

As a young ‘un, I’d like to think that your expectations of yourself are high. You dream. You aspire. No one thinks to themselves, “I would love to score a goal in a 2-2 draw at West Somewhere Rovers, ensuring another season of averageness and a stroll for the last eight matches in the warming spring sun.”

We dream of Finals and last minute League Championship wins. Hat-tricks and overhead kicks. And we all know kids who have a tale to tell of broken dreams. I’m not trying to gloss over their experiences. Nothing is going to be perfect. I’m just trying to rationalise what is going on amid the fug of nerves and Last Chance Saloon cigar smoke.

I’d like to think that the excellent report the academy received from the Premier League will have a positive effect on these young players who are brought in from all over the North-East on afternoon release from school. The report means the club can scout the talent at other clubs. Each of the academy players have their own targets and know what they need to do to develop. At the moment, they are also trying to help players who are to be released to find other clubs or courses.

They’re also sorting out the Challenge Piana Trophy won in France last year, beating the likes of Marseille, Evian, Guimares, Lyon and Servette. This, after winning the Fair Play trophy won at a tournament the year before. These are good things.

George’s work has been reported by The Northern Echo and during what has been, at best, a difficult season, it’s good to have some positive news about the club. It’s a shame I couldn’t find a link to it on the club website…

So why aren’t many of the lads coming through to the first team? George suggested that geographically, we struggle to have much variety in opposition. It could be that when we –or any other club- buy a player, there is pressure to play them above the intangibly costed players from the academy. And players change as they develop. Some slow down or don’t retain the physical dominance they had when they were in their early teens. Some lose interest and develop the, erm, ‘bad habits’ enjoyed by the rest of us to the detriment of our footballing aspirations and abilities.

I thought it would be interesting to do an analysis of the percentage of players from all of the academies who make it in the Premier League. When I read the back of football stickers as a kid, I remember being amazed at the number of players from Newcastle and the North East who played for teams miles away from the area.

And interestingly, the same can be said of managers. Bob Paisley? Howard Kendall? It took Bobby Robson a tour of Europe and a couple of World Cups to find his way back home.

So I did a bit of research. According to a BBC report in 2015, (you can read it yourself here) Newcastle United are 8th in terms of the percentage of the team who have made it through their own ranks, at 14.3%. Spurs are top with a whopping 32%.

Interestingly, there are four London clubs in the top ten, and Watford, who are just a jump across the M25 circle of Hell away from the capital. The other teams are Aston Vile (huge conurbation of potential talent to draw upon, as is the case for Everton); and Southampton. I’m guessing there aren’t that many clubs on the South Coast with their infrastructure.

The report goes on to say that the percentage of academy players who go on to play for another club –and for the sake of the player and argument, we could call that ‘making it but not for who we want’- has fallen from 51% to 47.6%. I’m guessing that a lot of these players are playing in slightly lower leagues, judging by the regularity of goals scored by former Newcastle United players.

And the Premier League, as suspected, does have a higher percentage of overseas players than many of the other footballing power houses. Mind, I don’t seem to remember too many people complaining when Ginola was playing. This will always be a huge cause of debate.

Debate away; I’m not saying it’s good or bad. I’m thinking it’s sad that if I was 17 and the club I love and play for bought another player in my position, I might have to play somewhere else. But… “DaveeEEED!”

So statistically, not many of the young lads who greeted George so enthusiastically will make it in the Premier League, but there’s more  chance than at twelve other clubs.

I want them to play for Newcastle United. I want them to overcome the naysayers and the hurt.

I want them to overcome the glass ceiling which may or may not have been created by the need for instant talent and big name signings.

But if they don’t make it, at least they can hopefully look back and remember people who tried to make them into even more than their dream; someone real.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby



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