This season sees a real transitional period from U16s to U21s Level with the focus of developing Elite players at 15/16/17 years of age. As much as we understand the importance of educating players on how to win football matches, this next stage will hopefully have a positive long term effect for the football club. We thank several coaches for buying into this vision with notable mentions to Duncan Halsey, Dan Beaman, Kelly Meagan, David Dent and Luke Carr for whom it has affected the most so far this season.
We will have 60 full time Future Lions players within the academy (40 UK, 20 International) starting next week with opportunities to test themselves in the U19s National Youth Alliance, U19s SCL Development and friendlies against Professional/ Semi Professional sides. On top of this we will continue to have the U21s side in the Midland League, our successful U18s side in the Midweek Senior Youth League and our U18s FA Youth Cup side. 
The new philosophy of the club now means if you are “good enough you are old enough” with our U16s players being encouraged to train/ play for our U18s/ U21s sides and to take the opportunities they now have at the football club. Our U21s side won’t be containing players older than 19 years old. Our u18s will be full of 15/16 year olds. Our U19s will be full of 16/17 year olds. Results will suffer and all the league tables won’t have us sitting pretty at the top but our players will either “Sink or Swim”. Over the coming years we should have some very strong U18s/U19s players as a result of a stronger mentality, early experiences against older players and an appetite to progress to Men’s football.
I was reserve team captain at Northampton Town at 16 years old playing against seasoned Professionals. At 17 years old I went on “work experience” to Billericay Town under current Leyton Orient manager Justin Edinburgh in the National South and then at 18 I managed to hold a first team place with our “mighty poppies” all the way to our heartbreaking National North Play Off Final defeat to Altrincham in 2005. I was good enough so therefore I was old enough!!
Clearly with many of our young players being loaned out to first team clubs like Jack O Connor to St Ives and Ben Bradshaw to Corby, it may appear to be a lack of youth players around the first team squad at the moment. However, the gaffer has been great with buying into the youth set up and the U21s are now regularly training side by side with the first team. We will not send players up to the first team to look good and produce success stories. They have to be ready to fight for a place in the squad and understand what it takes to “make it” at first team level. 
One good example of player development this week was our young Romanian player Razvan Mocanu, who at 19 years old was the man of the Match for Sileby Rangers against Wisbech in the FA Cup last Saturday. The International players have added a real competition to our English players and as a result the senior youth academy is benefitting. Some come in the hope of playing at a good level in England and our u18s/U19s/U21s provide a credible pathway with then links to first team clubs. They are told in a ruthless way by myself, Paul White and Craig Mander the standards needed to make it in England. Typically the Physicality and Pace of our game is a culture shock. Whilst some will fly home with their tails between their legs, others provide us with real encouragement.
Finally, the first team have made a fantastic start to the season which has certainly gave the youth section a real feel good factor. I have no doubt that this “our year” and in Paul White the club has a real role model on and off the field.
Up the Poppies
Luke Graham