Thriving Academy offers Pompey hope for future

114305-748_FA_YOUTH_CUP_SR_7/12/11'Pompey Academy vs Bristol City Academy at Fratton Park in the FA Youth Cup.'George Colson (left) celebrates scoring Pompey's third goal.''Picture:Steve Reid 114305-748
114305-748_FA_YOUTH_CUP_SR_7/12/11'Pompey Academy vs Bristol City Academy at Fratton Park in the FA Youth Cup.'George Colson (left) celebrates scoring Pompey's third goal.''Picture:Steve Reid 114305-748
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Pompey remain very much living for today.

It’s a hand-to-mouth existence brought on by a second administration in two years.

At this precise moment the future is bleak.

Yet, should the club survive, there remains a yellow brick road to follow amid the most gloomy of circumstances.

Namely, the Academy set-up which is continuing to impressively soldier on.

Before today, Andy Awford’s youngsters had won three successive matches.

It’s a run which had seen the 4-0 thumping of Crystal Palace and triumphs over West Ham and Fulham.

Of course, they also suffered five consecutive defeats earlier in the campaign.

They remain second from bottom of group A in the Premier Academy League.

Important statistics which add a degree of realism to these whole proceedings. However, recent progress demonstrates there is at least a crumb of hope.

A floating piece of wood to cling on to as the ship continues to sink.

Through all the mess the club finds itself wading through, the Academy is the way forward.

That and the desperate need for a reserve team to be reintroduced to assist any young player development.

If Pompey are to thrive in whatever league at whatever level, it is essential the club is self-sufficient to a large degree.

Of course, the key to such a scenario would be a flourishing Academy hand-in-hand with a functioning reserve set-up.

In the here and now, though, the Academy is battling against all the odds.

The administration cull has resulted in youth facilities slashed to the bone.

A necessity, let’s not forget, the survival of the football club is the overwhelming priority. Sadly, there have to be casualties.

However, the set-up lost 23 full-time and part-time members of staff on February 22.

These ranged from scouts and coaches to physios.

It also consisted of Dave Hurst, the club stalwart who had returned to assist Awford in resurrecting the scouting and recruitment network.

There are now just two youth scouts on the club payroll.

Under-18 coaches Awford and Paul Hardyman remain – as do under-16 coaches Alan McLoughlin and Ian Buckman.

But the quartet have now added schoolboy coaching in the evenings to their existing duties, effectively doubling up.

Everybody mucking in during the club’s hour of need, something Pompey staff are well used to.

What’s more, those associated with the Academy have also deferred a proportion of their wages until the end of the season.

It’s a stark reminder how administration affects the club on all levels.

Let’s not forget it is not just first-team footballers who have done their bit for the club’s survival.

And that is not meant to belittle the contributions of the Pompey squad in the current battle.

Their attitude and behaviour on and off the pitch has been absolutely impeccable during the past few weeks.

Back to the Academy, though, irrespective of such cut-backs, it remains an integral part of Pompey’s future. What’s more, it continues to thrive.

Jed Wallace, Alex Grant, Ashley Harris, Dan Butler, George Colson and Elliot Wheeler have been training regularly with the first team since Christmas.

It is recognition of their talent and Michael Appleton’s faith in them.

Of the group, local lad Harris was named on the Blues’ bench in last Saturday’s visit of Leeds.

The attacking midfielder/forward is one of those who caught the eye during the Academy’s FA Youth Cup run.

Meanwhile, Dan Thompson has recovered from an ankle injury and this week returned on loan to Havant & Waterlooville.

Signed from Hampton & Richmond this season, Appleton will be watching his development at the Blue Square Bet South club with interest.

Of course, the path from Academy into the first team has been trailblazed recently by Ryan Williams, Adam Webster and Sam Magri.

Williams was sold on transfer deadline day as Pompey seek to recoup precious income to keep afloat.

At least Williams made six appearances before his sale to Fulham for a disappointingly-low £295,000.

Fratton youngster Magri has yet to achieve his dream of representing his boyhood heroes.

For now it appears he may be staying, though.

Webster has three substitute appearances so far and possesses a burgeoning reputation among the club management.

Yet, with income streams still required, quite how long that will be the case remains anyone’s guess.

Still, Awford and his team will keep doing their best, churning out potential Pompey players for tomorrow.

Interestingly, the Elite Player Performance Plan is in the process of being introduced, designed to improve player development.

Academies will be independently audited and given a category status of one to four, with one being the most elite.

Up to 10 different factors will be considered in the grading, including productivity rates, training facilities and coaching, education and welfare provisions.

An application has to be submitted on April 30, at which point the Football League will decide what category Pompey will be classed in.

Inevitably, it will have a massive bearing on the effectiveness of the Blues’ youth set-up.

As would suggestions of a return for the reserve team for next season.

When it was scrapped on the basis of cost-saving and a lack of squad numbers to fulfil such duties, it was mooted that friendlies would be employed instead.

Well, in the subsequent two seasons there have been just five of those friendlies – only one of which occurred during the current campaign.

The gulf between Academy and first team is a massive one requiring a long period of negotiation.

Yet Pompey’s youngsters continue to be robbed of such a crucial development route and an important warm-up to first-team football.

The likes of Joel Ward, Matt Ritchie, Marlon Pack, Asmir Begovic and Marc Wilson all featured heavily for the reserves as they moved through the Fratton ranks.

It certainly didn’t do their progress any harm.

Reserve-team football is a natural route for youngsters to follow, yet for far too long it has not existed at Pompey.

Hopefully, that too will be addressed very, very soon.

Of course, let us remember the football club is battling to survive beyond this month, let alone into next season.

But if it can, and that remains a big if, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic if the Academy keeps making its strides under Awford & Co.