CLUB OF THE WEEK: Swindon Youth's success story
5:30am Tuesday 22nd April 2014 in By Tom Bassam, Chief sports writer
THE Football League serves to provide different standards of professional football and generally speaking the right players end up at the right level. In youth football there is a void.
In the middle ground between the elite professional academies and the youth leagues their is a gap where players considered not quite good enough for a career as a future professional and the big fishes in the small ponds of their Sunday age-groups find themselves. This is where Swindon Youth sit.
Set-up four years ago this is a club made and drawn from the young players of the local area but that plays almost all its games far further afield.
Under 15s team manager Aidy Wilkinson explained to the Adver how his team came about and what the club is aiming to do.
“We’re trying to build a club that’s a different idea to an academy, academies are all about making money and looking at players who are going to be professionals, some of them fall by the wayside and to be honest these lads would do but they won’t any longer,” said Wilkinson, gesturing to the group of teenage lads going through their paces at Supermarine Sports Ground behind him.
Swindon Youth play in the The Help Harry Help Others Midland Junior Premier League where they take on sides like Mansfield Town and Birmingham City, they train twice a week and play a development standard football.
Wilkinson got involved the club after his own son was released by Swindon Town and they wanted to find an outlet where he could still develop as footballer outside of the professional academy system.
Knowing the age group well he was able to come into the fold at Swindon Youth and put together an 18-man squad of players in a similar position, those who had been released by professional clubs or were playing in league representative sides.
Wilkinson’s team are currently second in the table as the season nears its conclusion and on May 17 head to Mansfield Town’s Field Mill to play Romulus in the major cup final of teams drawn from the top half of the division.
Despite their success Wilkinson is keen to stress that the club’s philosophy is not win at all costs.
“It’s not about winining, they’re totally free to play football, we don’t give them a hard time, don’t get me wrong if they muck around we have a word,the bottom line is that they’re encouraged to play the game and they’re not in an environment where there is any threat to them at all.
“The ethos is attractive football, pass and move, we have people come and watch us who are nothing to do with us and just like watching attractive football.
“My intention is that we work with them so long that when they leave they will be good enough to play at semi-pro level, maybe more.”
It might seem odd for a team in Swindon to be playing as far afield as Mansfield on a weekly basis but Wilkinson explains there is good reason behind why they do not play closer to home.
“It’s basically that big a gap between academy and grassroots. We assessed the two leagues there’s a southern version of it and we looked at the sides, and played a couple of the sides in it and in fairness we’re a higher standard.
“Though the travelling wouldn’t have been so bad, I felt that I needed to put these boys up against really strong opposition to give them a test and we didn’t think we’d get the test we needed in the Southern League. We put them in the Midlands, which is arguably the strongest league we knew about.”
Wikinson and his team, Lee Spalding, the coach and Gary Donnelly, assistant manager, are all volunteers and the club runs not for profit. The players monthly fees and annual subs cover costs with help from their sponsors Gibbs Surfacing and they want to keep it going.
Wilkinson has one more year with his current crop and having seen the benefits the club can bring to young players is looking to take on another group at the end of next season.
That will be new a challenge for Wilkinson and the club as he admits he will not have the knowledge of that new age-group as he did with his current team. He is hoping that the club’s work will speak for itself and parents will want their kids to to try out the Swindon Youth option.
“This is what we want to see is if we can do it with another age group. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this.
“What we want to do is make sure, if lads coming out of Swindon at the end of the season – which they will be – Mum and Dad are saying you’re off to Bristol, Cheltenham Oxford, I’d say take a little breather and have a little look at what we’re doing and what we’re doing is exactly the same thing that Glenn Hoddle does in La Manga, he goes down and takes lads and brings them back into the sport.
“I’m convinced that two or three of those lads will come back through the system.”
“What I wouldn’t want to happen is if that at the end of next season that I’m suddenly looking that we haven’t done it. This is a golden year but who’s to say that there’s not more out there?”