Awford ready for the tough challenges ahead

Andy Awford
Andy Awford

Pompey boss praise for riding out defensive storm

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Andy Awford’s Pompey passions have been stirred.

The news arrived last week that the man who turned out 341 times for his one-and-only league club is to return to Fratton Park as the club’s new Academy manager.

To speak to Awford, left, is to feel an awakening.

The 38-year-old has a love for the Blues seeping out of every pore.

Combine that with his knowledge, experience and drive for the game, and it makes for a potent mix.

His enthusiasm can barely be contained as ideas flow forth about the way forward for the club in terms of their youth development.

Not that he’s entering the job he started on Friday with any illusions.

Finding that young quality and harnessing and developing it is going to prove a tough task.

But it’s one the former defender from Cowplain is excited about tackling.

‘It’s going to be a huge job,’ said Awford.

‘There’s so much to do – but I’m really excited about what lies ahead.

‘I’m going to be responsible for overseeing the whole Academy and also coaching the youth team.

‘It’s important I do that.

‘I think Steve (Cotterill) sees it as important to appoint a football man and have someone with a football background doing the whole thing.

‘There was obviously a feeling that there was a need for change.

‘I had a conversation with Steve and we were both talking on the same wavelength.

‘It’s not going to happen overnight but there are things which could change immediately.

‘I’m looking forward to getting things moving and getting stuck into the job.’

Having an association with Pompey spanning 23 years will prove an undoubted asset for Awford as he goes about his role.

As the man says himself, he knows what makes the club tick. He feels the heartbeat of Portsmouth Football Club.

That’s why when the team he served so faithfully came for him once again, the pull was irresistible.

Awford could have taken the security of his role as a teacher and remained in the comfort of the press box in his post as a matchday summariser for Radio Solent.

But when the clarion call arrived, Awfs was never going to be able to ignore it.

Awford said: ‘It’s going to help that I have a Portsmouth background, definitely, but I don’t think I was given the job because of that – but because I can do it.

‘It will help knowing the club and how it works. Having that association is an added bonus, really.

‘It’s going to be a long process. There are areas that can be improved immediately and others that won’t happen overnight.

‘I’m going into it with my eyes wide open.

‘I’ve had a conversation with Steve, David Lampitt and a few other people.

‘There’s no quick fix and there are areas which need attention – but I’m going to work 24/7 and give it 120 per cent to achieve things.

‘I don’t think the club are in a position to compete with the Arsenals and Chelseas at youth level at present.

‘But we can certainly be competitive in and around the local area to produce kids.

‘We’ve not had a presence in the community and we need to pick that back up.

‘We need to become far more approachable and pro-active in the local area.’

Pompey’s Academy has taken a battering as it felt the brunt of the club’s descent into administration.

The outrageous spending policy once in place is a thing of the past. No more teenagers on thousands upon thousands of pounds a week.

People lost their jobs along the way, too. Good, honest Pompey folk.

Now Awford is at the helm to oversee the resurrection, and that means stripping things back and getting the basics right.

And he is not accepting any excuses for a failure to deliver a steady flow of talent into Steve Cotterill’s, below, first team.

‘A lot of staff went when the club went into administration,’ said Awford, as he reflected on what took place.

‘That had a big impact on the youth department.

‘Now the club is slowly getting itself back on to its feet again.

‘We need to get it back to where it belongs, and need to slowly put the right measures into place.

‘We need to improve things locally.

‘That’s an area where we can get it right as a short-term goal and start attracting young boys to the club.

‘I read that we haven’t got good facilities and that has held us back.

‘Well, we produced footballers with worse facilities not so long ago.

‘Gary O’Neil, Asmir Begovic, James Keene, Marc Wilson, Rowan Vine, Lenny Sowah and Joel Ward have all come through into the first team which played in the Premier League.

‘Then there are players like Shaun Cooper, Lewis Buxton, Jason Pearce, Anthony Pulis and Matt Ritchie who have all got careers in the game.

‘We have produced them, so I don’t see a lack of facilities as an excuse.

‘It’s not good enough to say that.

‘We can get things right to develop players now and improve along the way.

‘When I first came here they didn’t have gyms, domes and astro-turf pitches.

‘We trained at the Mountbatten Centre. It never did me any harm.

‘To be an Academy you have to have certain things in place. We have to strive to have that status.

‘We want the infrastructure and we have to improve as we go to have that.

‘When we are all gone we want something to be there for the future.

‘At the moment there is no investment in the youth department.

‘We want to improve along the way. I just don’t see why we can’t produce with the current facilities.

‘The youth team should be a vehicle into the first team.

‘There aren’t really any players making that progression into the first team from the current crop. It’s not happening.

‘We will all be working our backsides off to change that.’