Hi all, I am pleased to introduce another new contributor to georgeweahscousin.com in the form of former Saints trainee Scott Gordon. Scott hails from the Emerald Isle, more specifically Lurgan, Co. Armagh. He is the husband to Joanna and soon to be father to a junior Saint.
He has been a Saints fan for nearly 16 years, which all started when the club plucked him from obscurity as a 13 year old playing in his local league. After a week’s trial he found himself signing a 5 year deal that would change his life forever. He might no longer be a Saints player, but he is still Northern Ireland’s number one fan!
Over to you Scott! – Chris
Saints Academy: Talent Architects…
Bridge. Baird. Bale. Walcott. Chamberlain. Five names from the modern day football world and all with one massive thing in common… they are all products of the fantastic Saints Academy. Skip back a few years and Mike Channon, Matthew Le Tissier, the Wallace brothers, Alan Shearer and Francis Benali are once again products of our enviable youth system.
The ‘Academy’ as we know it today came into formation in the 98/99 season. This marked the start of the new scholarships rather than the YTS system of old. In effect these scholarships were designed to safeguard the future of the young players, if and when, they did not manage to make it in football. As a product of this academy (class of 2001) I guess I am glad the scholarship was offered. I’m now a PE teacher back home in Northern Ireland and without the investment from the club and the FA, this may not have been a reality for me. But this was not exactly the remit of the club.
As with any smaller club the purpose of an academy is to produce fine young players to come through and represent the first team. The five players mentioned in the opening line of this piece all achieved this goal and I might add, performed admirably for the senior side. They do, however, have another thing in common… All sold by the Saints. For a total of £38million.
I guess that’s where I have a problem with our club and the way we handle our younger players. For too long we have been a selling club. You can add Brian Howard, Matthew Mills and Scott McDonald into the list of players that have moved on. I wonder now that we have returned to the Premier League will we still have the same attitude? If we still had the big 5 players with us, would we have gotten back to the promised land a lot sooner? Who knows. My only hope is that we become a keeping club and not sell on our best products. Lallana is still there and that is a good sign and there are many other players coming through (I’m told James Ward-Prowse and Corby Moore are two to look out for).
In my time, Crewe, West Ham and Coventry were the clubs with the supposed best academy set ups. I firmly believed then and now that we have the best. Back in 2000 we were defeated in the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup 2-1 over two legs by a Coventry side that were then chinned 7-1 by an Arsenal side that contained Steve Sidwell. I can remember reading a quote from our then managers Stewart Henderson and John Sainty. They said that yes, we were on a great run in the competition, but this success did not guarantee any player a professional contract or a future at the club (a statement which was made abundantly clear one season later as I was shown the door).
When I left in 2001, two others came with me and only five (Alan Blayney, Ryan Ashford, Chris Baird, Scott McDonald and Brian Howard) went on to represent the first team. In total we had 25 players across our 1st and 2nd year scholars. None are with the club now and very few are still making a living from the game. It used to be said you had to be best in Europe to make it as a pro footballer. Our year changed that to be the best in the world. Players from all over Uk, Italy, Russia, Africa and Australia represented our youth team during my time with Southampton.
We are without doubt one of the best Academy setup’s in the country. My only hope is that we hold on to our talent and let the other teams be envious of us for a while.
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