We are always looking to evolve our youth development programme and the excellence pathway from our Regional Development Centres, to the Shadow Squads, our Academy, the Scholarship programme and our First Team. Whilst stability and continuity have become our bywords over the last 8 years, it is also crucial to recognise when it is the time for change. It is wrong to keep doing something because we have always done it. What was once right doesn’t necessarily mean that it will always be right. Time moves on, circumstances change and once the benefits of pursuing a certain course of action are outweighed by negatives or there are more positives in doing it differently, we must have the strength of our convictions to make the right decision. To allow things to drift is abdication of responsibility. To constantly challenge best practice, to constantly look for ways to improve and to be decisive when the course needs adjusting is what allows evolution not revolution. And we believe constant evolution will bring stability and the continuity required for success.
The start of 2014 has already seen us add to our academy staff with the addition of Stephen Payne. He will help us to improve the coaching provision for our Under 12’s to Under 16’s by overseeing a day release programme that will double our contact time with all the players in these age groups. We now have exceptional talent all the way through our academy. It is crucial that as well as providing them a games programme to rival those players at Premier League Clubs, we also provide the right quality and amount of coaching. Our best players need constantly pushing, constantly being challenged and the maximum contact time with us that is possible in order to fulfill their potential. Stephen’s appointment, to dovetail with Marc Tracy, Tom Pell (in the age groups below) and Mark Bonner (in the age groups above) will make that happen and enhance our academy still further.
For some people a decision that we have made, informed the relevant authorities and I will now explain may seem radical but for us, knowing all the facts, it is entirely logical. This season, 2013/14 will be the last for CRC. The team will be disbanded at the end of the season and we have formally resigned from the Thurlow Nunn League. At this point, before going any further, I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to Nigel Spurling, David Mayes and the entire committee. I would like to make special mention of Merlin Saddleton, an absolute diamond who was so instrumental and helpful in us gaining entry to the league in 2006. In the last eight years, almost 100 young players have taken their first steps into senior football by playing in this competition under the banner of CRC. Eighteen have made their debuts for CUFC, five have established themselves at this level, others are now striving to do the same, some are now playing within the football pyramid on a semi professional basis and there are graduates of our scheme studying and/or working abroad through football. The players that leave us to achieve in different walks of life having spent their formative years having their character shaped through the disciplines and demands of football is something we are rightly proud of just as much as seeing Coulson, McAuley, Berry & Hughes rack up appearances in our first team. I hope the Thurlow Nunn League feels similarly. They are a fantastic competition, superbly administered, always putting football first, committed to upholding high standards and really set the benchmark for all Step 5 competitions. In turn, we hope they feel that we have always conducted ourselves in the right way, on and off the pitch, to uphold and enhance their values.
This decision has not been taken lightly, but it is the right decision for a number of reasons. The strength of the league is far weaker than in 2006. In these eight years, clubs like Lowestoft, Needham Market, Leiston, Wroxham, Dereham have been promoted. They have joined AFC Sudbury, Bury Town and Soham Town Rangers as clubs to have progressed up the football pyramid. Wisbech Town is another big club at this level who now play in the United Counties League. You may dispute that judgment by studying the league table but that does not tell the whole story. From 2007/8 onwards, we played U19’s & U20’s in the team. At one stage when we were competing for the league title in 2008/9, there were hardly any scholars in the starting XI. That team included McAuley, Marriott, Patrick, Ives, Coakley, Eades, Hudson, Hughes & Berry; all development players. We have stopped that policy because the league is not strong enough. Therefore, we have played almost exclusively an Under 18 team for the last two seasons and loaned out our development players, such as Luke Allen, Bobby-Joe Taylor and Liam Hurst, to Step 3 clubs. That leads to other problems. We have to trust the development of our best young players to other clubs, less qualified coaches and their number of minutes on the pitch or the role they play in the team is completely out of our hands. In addition, their training time with us is often compromised and curtailed due to matches they play which do not dovetail with our schedule.
In addition, some of the scholars are not getting the best possible development when they are thrust into this football at 16 years old, some not yet physically equipped or ready to play every week, let alone 30 games by the start of January, which has been the case this season. When we kept the older players involved in the past, they could dip in and dip out. Now, they have to play every game. This can lead to injury or at the very best it compromises their time on the training pitch with Mark Bonner. He ends up doing recovery and maintenance sessions instead of what he is paid to do; making them better players by coaching them! We only sign 18 scholars. That is the right number for the purpose of developing potential first team players but not to cope with the rigors of 38 league games, with the physical demands of playing against men, plus the FA Vase, Thurlow Nunn League Cup, the Cambs Invitation Cup and the FA Youth Cup. It is over 60 games a season, which for so few players, is far too much.
Another reason is that our club looks very different to what it was in 2006. There is now one common philosophy for the football operation from top to bottom. There is a pathway without any obstacles. There is a coaching culture throughout. There is one set of values. There is professionalism at every level. For any player, let alone any young player, there could be no better club. Our young players all know that they might earn more money elsewhere but they won’t get a better opportunity to start a career in professional football anywhere else.
Therefore, whereas the independence of the CRC team was once its strength, keeping a group of young players at the club despite the ambivalence of the first team coaching staff, it is no longer necessary. The entire football operation is now totally integrated so we don’t want a “separate” team. We want our best young players to play with senior professionals. That already happens in training; we also need it to happen in their games programme.
So, please do not mistake the disbanding of the CRC team as the disbanding of our scholarship scheme. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our scholarship scheme will go from strength to strength, especially now, after 8 years of hard work, we have products from our own academy being signed at 16 years old who have spent their entire football lives with our staff and coaches. Two more of these lads, Dylan Williams and Owen Boddey, will be introduced to you tonight. They have both been with us since the resurrection of our youth scheme in 2006. Dylan is a skilful midfielder who lives in Saffron Walden; Owen is a centre back who lives in Haverhill. They are both good players, with plenty of potential, and join Justin Leivers, Jake Chambers-Shaw and Dom Mason as our first true home grown scholars.
The structure for 2014/15 onwards will be an Under 18 games programme that will include playing youth teams of club’s in the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two as well as senior teams in Step 5 & Step 4. We will also create a Development Team, which will vary in strength and personnel depending on the circumstances in the first team, but will have a core of Under 19’s & Under 20’s. Some fixtures will pit them against top clubs to be staged at the R Costings Abbey Stadium, others against their counterparts in the Football League at our training ground and we will also arrange some matches against Step 3 & Step 2 clubs at their stadiums. This structure will allow us to control the fixtures and provide a balanced games programme for our best players from 16-21 years old as well as the opportunity for senior players to get match time when they are out of the first team or coming back from injury.
Our job is to ensure our young players have the right environment to fulfill their potential. That means taking care of their physical, mental, technical and tactical development. The games programme is integral to this aim. The Thurlow Nunn League used to provide the first two facets and we would cover the latter two through occasional friendlies and tournaments abroad. We now have gained a sufficiently good reputation that clubs at every level want to play against us. The first three fixtures for our academy after Christmas has been Brighton, Fulham & Ipswich. We can therefore create our own games programme at U18 and U21 level, just as we do already at our U9’s to U16’s. It also solves problems relating to registrations, contracts and loans that is created by CRC being a separate club to CUFC.
Everything has to progress. This is the right decision and the right time to make this decision. It will ensure that we continue to develop our most talented youngsters especially now that we will have a conveyor belt of Under 16’s graduating from our academy to be scholars each year.
Enjoy the game.