This time of year is always amongst the busiest for the Youth Team as a number of cup competitions continue alongside both our league campaigns.
It was fantastic to see Harrison Burke make his full league debut for the club and put in such an assured performance. Harrison is an immensely talented player who no doubt has a bright future ahead of him.
We have had a real stop start campaign in the National League Academies Division. We have seen an enormous amount of fixtures postponed due to FA Youth Cup commitments, progression in the National League Academy Cup and in the case of Fylde and Blyth Spartans as a result of Covid-19 outbreaks within their respective camps. This means we have 16 league games remaining between now and the end of April. We are obviously among the youngest sides in the division this season with what is predominantly an Under 17 group. A busy schedule awaits over the coming weeks with plenty of weeks where we will be playing two fixtures within 48 hours. This will be really demanding for the boys but is part and parcel of this level of football.
On a Sunday afternoon, we continue to take part in the North West Youth Alliance. Owing to the fact we only have five Under 18 players at present, this again has seen us name what is generally an Under 17 team. The boys development is probably best illustrated in this competition as we didn’t really get going and were no better than most sides we played against. Since October time, the boys have been outstanding, owing largely to the work they are doing on the training ground and their commitment off the pitch.
We currently lead the league table although it is immensely skewed as a result of a disparity in games played. We have the three toughest fixtures remaining between now and the end of the season with home and away fixtures against favourites AFC Fylde (who would top the league should they win their games in hand) and a tough away assignment at Altrincham in our final game. These are really challenging games and creates an exciting end to the season for our young players.
We are really proud of their efforts this season and to be competing against the sides that are significantly older is huge for their development as we look to get them closer to the first team. We remain in the North West Youth Alliance Open Cup having progressed with a 4-1 win away at Atherton Town and await the draw for the next round as well as the commencement of the NWYA Premier Division Cup.
One particularly exciting competition we entered this season is the ESFA Under 18s Super League. It is the first time we have engaged with the England Schools FA competitions but felt this year this competition would give us yet an even greater variety of competition for the boys. The competition is available to a mix of Colleges and Clubs that offer a football programme.
Our relationship with Warrington and Vale Royal College and our full-time education programme made us eligible to enter. Having won through a local group stage, we progressed to eliminate Myerscough College (an established football development programme in Lancashire) and most recently beat Repton School (a private school in Derbyshire) to progress to the last eight of the competition. It is really exciting for the boys to be in the last eight of a national competition and we await the draw with some excitement.
It has been really pleasing to see the successes of our young players out on loan. Ollie Heywood got a good taste of senior football earlier this season at Runcorn Linnets whilst Sam Turner is well amongst the goals with Widnes FC having been recalled from his loan with Lower Breck having impressed there earlier in the season. Drew Lowe is getting really good feedback from Glossop North End and Sam Hughes was man of the match last week for Runcorn Town. It is superb to see these Under 19 boys progressing in senior football. This model of encouraging those boys over the Under 18 bracket to play senior football is proving really beneficial, rather than adopting some club’s approach of having them remain with their parent club to allow them to dominate Under 19 football.
An exciting end to the season awaits and we are delighted with the progress and the efforts of what is the youngest Under 18 group we have ever had. The Under 18s host AFC Fylde in the North West Youth Alliance on Sunday. Kick off is 2pm at Helsby Sports Club.