Can kids win anything?

Cod Almighty | Article

by Rich Mills

20 December 2016

The signing of young striker Ahkeem Rose is heartening. But will he get the chance to progress at Blundell Park?

Last week the Grimsby Telegraph reported that youth team trialist Ahkeem Rose could have a future at Grimsby Town. Now, having scored five goals in four youth team games, Rose has been offered an 18 month contract by the Mariners. 

Academy boss Neil Woods says, “We don't bring players in just to strengthen the youth team. We only bring in players that we feel have a chance of breaking through into the first team." As a Town fan, this is great to hear. But when did we last see a youth team player do just that and establish themselves as a first team regular?

Back in September, then manager Paul Hurst announced that first year pro Harry Clifton would be joining Grantham Town on a month-long loan in order to get some much-needed match experience. That month became two, then three months, and is now a whole season.

When Clifton joined Grantham, Hurst told the Telegraph that he’d also like to see Clifton’s peers Max Wright and Josh Venney heading out to gain that same experience. To date Wright and Venney have stayed put but following Saturday’s game at Doncaster, Town tweeted that manager Marcus Bignot was looking to get some young players out on loan to pick up some experience; new manager, same message. Consistency? I’m not so sure.

The consistency we are getting is consistent disappointment as young hopefuls depart leaving no trace

I should declare an interest. With fellow-Cod Almighty contributor Peter Anderson, I sponsor Harry's kit. Peter indeed wrote about this issue more than two years ago, after another youth team graduate, Dayle Southwell - now playing in the fourth flight with Wycombe - had been released to Boston. The consistency we are getting is consistent disappointment, as young hopefuls depart the club leaving no trace. 

When Clifton was leaving, and Hurst was advertising the availability of Wright and Venney, Town brought in seasoned centre-back Danny Collins along with loanees striker Shaun Tuton, midfielder Brandon Comley and England under-20 keeper Dean Henderson. Now, the worth of Collins is clear to see. Comley too, when on form, offers a combative but skilful edge in front of the back four. Tuton though has dropped down the pecking order and with defender Dan Jones inspires only the thought "Are they still with us?" (although both made fleeting appearances as subs at the Keepmoat). Henderson offers cover for James McKeown but is yet to make a first team appearance.

Right about the time of all that loan activity, the Mariners Trust polled supporters on their willingness to contribute to funding the youth setup at the club. My thought at the time was, and still is, "Just what is the point of the youth team and academy?" When will we see some young, local talent make the breakthrough into the first team? Will more funding via the trust, on top of the money already contributed (and in addition to the Football League funding we get now), actually lead to us seeing the next Dave Moore or even the next Danny North regularly pulling on the black and white shirt?

The trust has talked about the need for additional funding for accommodation for new players. But is this source of additional funding actually leading the club to take less care? Wouldn’t they be more careful when choosing and paying for such prospects if the youth system had to be sustainable? Certainly we are not seeing much return on their investment.

Naturally, Town should be looking to tap into talent - like Rose and Ty-Rhys Paul Jones who has also been on trial at Cheapside - wherever we find it. But is there really such a dearth of local talent that we need to look to the West Midlands for new prospects? Where are the Moores, the Lunds, the Fords or the Drinkells of today and why aren’t we discovering them? I refuse to believe that there is no decent talent in the town. We need to find it, develop it and - more importantly - give it a chance to shine.

This is not meant to be cynical; no fan's heart - mine included - doesn't quicken at the thought of a new young goalscorer like Rose. But the lack of discussion about why so many young players leave Blundell Park without getting the chance to prove their worth breeds cynicism. We need the debate as to how we can improve the opportunities for our young players.

As it stands, we might as well be inviting the backroom staff of Grantham Town and Boston up to Cheapside to check out Rose, because if it plays out true to form, that's where he'll be heading once we’ve developed him. I'm asking the question because we are desperate to see Rose, and Clifton, Venney and Wright progress and stick around at Blundell Park.

Is there anything the club, the trust and fans should be doing differently to improve the chances of young players establishing themselves in the first team? Let us know what you think.