Youth development is a funny kind of thing for the ordinary fan. We all like to know that it is happening, but often we’re not completely sure what it is that is going on. Of course, we know that there are players and training sessions and matches, but how does this all fit in with the rest of the club?
Of course, The Blue & White has looked at the youth setup in the past (in issue 2 which is now available for £1 in our shop – nothing like a good plug eh?) and in its embryonic stages it all seemed to be going well. And, after popping down to the Mold Alex Reserves v Chester Youth game, it appears to be going even better.
The youth setup is definitely run in the right way. The Mold Alex friendly is a great example of how the guys who run the youth setup do things. The team that Mold Alex put out was a reserve team that contained a lot of adults. This was exactly what the Chester youth guys wanted as it allows the under 18s to experience playing against Mold’s tough (to put it kindly) tackling and have a taste of playing against players who are a lot bigger than they are. After all, if they break into the first team within the next year or two, they’ll be playing older and bigger opponents anyway.
It was great to see the youth team comfortably outplay Mold. The 4-1 scoreline actually flattered the Alex a bit as the Blues completely controlled the game from start to finish and had a devastating 15 minute spell early in the second half where they scored three of their four goals. The team has evolved into a much more coherent unit since the last time I saw it; the effort the youth guys have put have put in to continually improve standards has clearly been paying off.
Yet, this doesn’t quite answer the question I posed in the first paragraph. The youth setup at Chester is extremely good and being run in the right way, but is it fully linked into the club?
I think that it is fairly obvious that at boardroom level it is a vital part of the club. Mark Howell, who sadly has stepped down as a director of the club, but will carry on his involvement in the youth setup, has been intimately involved and done a fantastic job in getting fantastic people involved with Chester FC youth. It’s not just the CVs of those involved that is often impressive though, but the enthusiasm they have for Chester FC and youth development. Go to any youth game and you’ll not just see those running the age group there, but also the coaches from other age groups too.
But, to go back to the question and stop digressing, what level of integration is there with the first team? Well, it’s not too bad at all. Currently there are four players who train with the first team from the youth team (off the top of my head it’s: Joe Ormrod, Jordan Grace, Sean Miller and Dave Griffiths – but I might be wrong) and there are several more players who look like they will be able to get there within a year or two. So, there are lots of incentives for the youth team players to carry on progressing.
As for players breaking into the first team soon, that’s a little bit more unclear. Of course, there’s a lot of hype around Ormrod after his screamer against FC United and trial for Fulham, but it’s up to Neil Young (and his coaches) as to whether he’s ready or not. I’d like to see one player (at least) be a fairly regular by the end of the season, but I’m probably being unrealistic. There have been murmurings surrounding a reserve/development squad for a little while now, so what we might see is that announced towards the end of the season. This will allow us to keep our best young players and give them a smaller step up, before making another step up to the first team.
But, of course, it’s always difficult to say why one player makes it and another doesn’t. It’s dependent on injuries, form, timing and luck. Ideally we’ll develop a youth system and club philosophy similar to that of Crewe, but it takes time to enact these things. The short term always rules in football and with the club aiming for another promotion, we might have to wait until the team is more settled in a division to see a Crewe-like model emerge.
Hope you enjoyed my ramblings. (I should point out that we actually edit the fanzine so it reads a lot better than this blog does!)