Tonight we welcome several guests to the R Costings Abbey Stadium who help us to fund our academy and scholarship programmes. As you well know, despite the fact that every big club in the country plays us, we are not permitted membership to EPPP (the elite player performance plan). Effectively that means no funding, no protection and no games. We have already played Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Coventry City, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Brighton this season from U9's to U16's and they cannot believe that we are excluded such is the quality of our young players.
They also can't believe that we can have such good young players and a thriving youth policy with none of the above. What could we have done with funding of £1m+ over the last seven years? How many players do clubs produce who do receive the funding? It is great credit to all concerned that we have found a way to operate with the issues we face but it also shows that having money does not necessarily mean you will be successful. How you spend it, the quality of people involved and the philosophy that underpins a club will always determine that more than money on its own. That ethos now epitomises the club. Our willingness to be innovative in how we operate and a bloody minded refusal to give up and fight against the odds, are fundamental qualities that are now prevalent throughout the entire football operation.
We are hosting all of our academy player sponsors in the John Ruddy Development Room tonight and the combined total of £15,000 that these individuals contribute to our academy is one of many income generators that are absolutely crucial for our survival and continued development. The last part of that sentence is the key. What we have done well in the last seven and a half years is to constantly evolve. We haven't survived for the sake of surviving. We have grown, improved and developed in all aspects so the scheme is almost unrecognisable in terms of size and quality from when we started. Our fixture programme now compared to then would best indicate our fantastic progress.
If the first team is the tip of the football pyramid then the scholars are the tip of the youth development pyramid. It would be wrong to judge what is happening throughout the youth scheme and the quality of our scholars by CRC's position in the league or one result in the FA Youth Cup. Since we started in 2006, whilst we had the long term vision of growing our academy over 10 years by recruiting the best 7 & 8 year olds each year, we have needed to make quick gains in producing players for the first team by recruiting 16 year olds released by other clubs. Without a doubt this has been achieved and without many of the 18 debutants from our scholarship scheme, this club would have been relegated in 2011 and not able to field a team in the second half of the following season. They did the club proud when we needed them. If you need any reminder that history and size of club counts for nothing on the field, just look at Stockport County.
Recruiting 16 year olds can lead to unbalanced groups of scholars and peaks and troughs regarding the quality of the group. The basis of our strong teams in the past has been the likes of Coulson, McAuley, Marriott, Patrick, Ives & Berry; players already within the scheme at a younger age. Whilst we work unbelievably hard every year at exit trials and contacting clubs for their released players, we sign them without having any input to their development, all of them will have some technical, physical or mental frailties, and we have two years to succeed where others have failed.
From this season onwards, we will be signing players primarily from our own academy. We will still have some years stronger than others, but topping up a squad with 16 year olds released from other clubs and targeting specific positions is a lot different to having to find an entire squad. Players like Jake Chambers-Shaw have been with us for eight years. We are responsible for his development.
We have some exceptional players from U9 to U14. We have already offered our best U15, Matty Foy, a scholarship. We also have some talented scholars. The FA Youth Cup result last week showed what can happen in a one off game. The better team does not always win. Matches can be decided on mistakes. We must not read too much into individual results when the job in youth football is always to take the long term view. Thursday may have highlighted some of the shortcomings of a group but we knew them anyway. Our job is to develop individuals to play in the first team. There are some scholars with the potential to do that. FA Youth Cup runs are usually dependant on having no weaknesses in the team rather than how many strengths. As Richard always says, teams stop you losing; individuals win games. We are looking to produce individuals not teams, so however disappointing it was on Thursday, we should never lose sight of that aim.
I should also say that we could not have a better man or a better coach than Mark Bonner to oversee that process and develop these players. He is absolutely top notch, a great coach, unbelievably hard working, committed and passionate about his job. The scholars could not be in better hands. They could not have anyone more knowledgeable or honest to develop them as players and if they do not succeed, they will all know they have been given the best possible chance.
We should also be brave and honest in reviewing how we develop players from 16-21 in terms of their games programme. As I said previously, things evolve and what was right once doesn't necessarily mean is still right. More about that another time...
Another welcome visitor tonight is Ashley Gowing from Sports Travel International. His company sponsors our Coaches Association, which aims to help all the local managers and coaches of Colts & Mini League Teams with ideas for training and general education to develop young players. We host a series of different events, ranging from injury prevention advice and information on issues relating to growth to suggested practices, drills and an insight into our philosophy at different stages of each player’s development. We even invite them to our academy fixtures so we can show them the learning environment we create for each young player so they can be empowered to play with freedom, enjoyment and no fear. It makes me laugh when I am told that 7 & 8 years old is too young for the “pressure” involved of being at a professional club when all I see the happy young faces who love playing for CUFC at these age ages. I contrast that to some of the language and behaviour that is prevalent amongst managers and parents at some Colts & Mini League matches. It is like chalk & cheese. That is why we must try to educate as many people as possible to the right way in allowing children to develop and maximise their potential.
One of the many fantastic experiences our youngsters enjoy, and Josh, Rory & Luke have spoken about it recently, are overseas tours. Not only do the youngsters enjoy different challenges on the pitch against a variety of styles, formation and interpretations from referees but they also have opportunities off the field to experience different languages, food and cultures. I think travel broadens the horizons, helps to educate and makes people more tolerant of others. It also takes youngsters out of the comfort zones and teaches them to do things for themselves. It is a fantastic way to help create self thinking, independent, confident and respectful young people. That is our ethos throughout the Youth & Community Trust. All the participants in our activities, including the academy, will not become professional footballers but we can help them to become good young citizens.
We have used STI to organise our tours since the youth scheme re-formed and hundreds of our young players have benefited from the excellent service, value for money and professional approach of Ash and his team. From training camps to tournaments, from our academy to RDC’s, I would recommend STI to anyone wishing to take any team on a tour.
Finally, in the last few weeks one CUFC has partnered with another CUFC! Through initial talks with Graham Daniels, we have agreed to coach the Cambridge University Blues team this season and hopefully beyond. They were extremely successful last season, gaining promotion to the top national league and winning the varsity match. Many of their team are here tonight and over the coming months and years, we will try to develop this link so that we can attract greater numbers of students to our games on a regular basis and make a real contribution to football at the university. I will get their home fixtures on our website so that we can reciprocate their support by cheering them on at Fenners on a Wednesday afternoon. I am sure that their skipper, Anthony Childs, and all the players would appreciate it. In the meantime, I am trying to convert them to become U’s diehards! Talking of which, you are all welcome to see our young talent on a Sunday morning at our training ground. On Sunday we host Norwich City. Kick offs are 11am – you will be shocked by the quality on show…
And finally, Richard and I would like to thank every one of you who travelled to Bury on Saturday and then had to turn round when you heard the match was called off at 11.30am. We both appreciate the sacrifices that you make week after week to follow us all over the country, the cost involved and your unbelievable loyalty and commitment to the cause. The players are extremely grateful and love the fact that anywhere we go, you either turn it into a home game or at the very least, always outshout the home fans. The drummer also deserves a special mention! Postponements are always inconvenient and frustrating for staff and players but that pales into insignificance compared to the fans. All we can do is promise that we will do everything possible to get the right result next Tuesday. We also hope to see as many of you as possible at Barnet on Saturday.
Tonight is another tough test. Please recreate the atmosphere from our previous midweek home game this season against Nuneaton. You have to realise how important you are. When you are loud and really get behind the players, it makes a big difference.
Enjoy the game.