Wilson’s Wisdom: There’s plenty of talent in non-league

Chris Burns was spotted playing for Gloucester City
Chris Burns was spotted playing for Gloucester City
Matty Kennedy. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey 1 Southend 0: They said what

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Nigel Atangana spoke with passion about his journey from non-league football to Fratton Park this week.

To most, the French midfielder has shown enough this season to suggest he can make the grade as a professional footballer and become a success at Pompey.

He will admit himself he has yet to do it on a consistent basis – yet he’s not alone in facing that accusation this season.

But alongside his ability is the dedication and belief he showed that he would get his opportunity to play professional football.

At the Hawks last season, he certainly caught the eye.

But it still needed someone to take a punt on him.

And Andy Awford felt he could thrive at the higher level.

Away from covering Pompey, I report on a fair amount of non-league football and have seen Gosport Borough and the Hawks on a several occasions this season.

At times, there is little difference in the quality of the players who ply their trade at Fratton Park to those who turn out at Privett Park or Westleigh Park.

That’s not derogatory towards the current batch of Pompey players and it’s also not a suggestion everyone who plays in Vanarama Conference South is capable of going straight into Awford’s side.

But non-league football is dismissed by some. Many of those players have been judged prematurely and released before the pro clubs switch their sights to the next crop of youngsters.

Based purely on the numbers involved, some must have slipped through the net.

These players still have talent – but now it just takes time to spot it and that bit more effort to work with it.

The problem is they are probably not the men to deliver instant results.

They need time to adjust to the extra physical and mental demands, the expectation, the scrutiny and the intensity.

And, understandably, few managers have that time or will take that risk when their job is on the line.

But plenty of players have shown the traditional route of joining a professional club as a youngster and working through the age groups to eventually forge their way into the first team is not the only way to do it.

Down the years at Pompey there have been plenty of players plucked from relative obscurity to prove they are good enough. I have seen Guy Whittingham, Chris Burns and Lee Bradbury take their opportunities.

Before my time (and with thanks to those who joined the discussion on Twitter), there were the likes of Jimmy Scoular, Ernie Butler, Reg Flewin, Tommy McGhee and Ray Hiron, who all got their chance from non-league roots. There are others we’ve all forgotten.

But perhaps times were different in those days without the same kind of attention paid to the youth development.

In recent times, we’ve seen Ryan Bird handed a chance and let’s not forget that Jed Wallace was first spotted playing non-league football.

The talent is out there.

It just needs to be found and nurtured in the right way and given an opportunity.