Home is where the start is for Awford’s Academy

Andy Awford does not want to lose out on youngsters from Pompey's own doorstep
Andy Awford does not want to lose out on youngsters from Pompey's own doorstep
Matt Clarke celebrates his goal at MK Dons. Picture: Joe Pepler

Five questions Pompey fans will want answered

Have your say

Andy Awford has pledged to get Pompey scouts back on local parks pitches.

And the Blues great believes it’s a policy which will ensure the area’s top young talent are no longer allowed to slip through the net.

Before Awford’s arrival as Pompey Academy manager at the end of January, the club did not have a single youth scout.

Savage financial cutbacks and the regime under former director of youth operations Paul Smalley had accounted for that.

Without a recruitment programme in place, the likes of Southampton, Brighton, Reading and Chelsea have been free to plunder in staunch Pompey territory, often unopposed.

Today, Awford possesses 18 scouts across Hampshire, among them former youth development officer Dave Hurst.

What’s more, they are giving their services on an entirely voluntary basis.

It represents a fresh drive led by Awford to identify the area’s most talented youngsters and bring them to Fratton Park.

For too long they have been vanishing off Pompey’s own doorstep, while the club have often fixed their gaze abroad.

Now it is Awford’s priority to put an end to it.

He said: ‘Recruitment is everything in Academy football. If you haven’t got recruitment in place then you are stuffed.

‘That is an area we will continue to improve in. We have improved it already since I came in.

‘It didn’t take much, we didn’t have a scout. So we have improved that 100 per cent already.

‘We have got people who are looking and trying to unearth the next gem. They will carry on doing that for us and we are grateful to them for that.

‘If I get any extra budget – although I doubt if I will – that will go towards recruitment because that is the area we need to hit to make sure we have covered all bases.

‘We are up to 18 scouts now, but they will do it for a ticket and a coat, they are not being paid.

‘Let’s not worry about getting kids from France. It is on your doorstep we should be concentrating on.

‘Let’s get that right first because there were too many local boys wandering. We have managed to get a couple back, which has been good.

‘If one becomes available from France or Australia or Ireland or Romania, we will take him if he’s good enough.

‘But we have certainly got to concentrate on local.

‘I wouldn’t say we have neglected our local area, but when you don’t have a scout then that’s hard.

‘You are relying on mums and dads picking up and phone and saying “can you come and look at my son”.

‘We will still cover certain bits abroad, but the main priority for me is to get our own areas right first.

‘Let’s get our own patch sorted first and then widen as we get bigger and better, hopefully.’

When Paul Hart was director of youth operations, Pompey were bringing in highly-regarded young players from France and Belgium.

There has also been an agreement in place with Irish club Home Farm to act as a feeder.

In addition, a steady influx of Australian footballers have landed at Fratton Park over the last few years.

For Awford, though, it is very much back to basics, with a focus now on Hampshire. And he has praised the impact of Hurst, the man who once signed him for Pompey and now serves with Awford.

He added: ‘It is good having Dave back heading the scouting team, from my point of view.

‘It has been good to ask his advice and he has been superb, he really has. He has been everything I thought him to be and probably more.

‘He has been there every step of the way with me to help me along.

‘Under him, we have 18 scouts in the local communities within Hampshire. A couple also stray into Dorset.

‘Realistically, you want more areas covered. You want your hour-and-a-half full and you want your satellite centres.

‘The satellite centres obviously went when the club went into administration. Rightly so, probably.

‘But they need to be reintroduced over the course of next season to allow us to pick up kids from a little bit further away.

‘The main priority at the moment is to get Hampshire sorted out – then you dot around Surrey, Dorset, Sussex.

‘There is no point having a youth department if you haven’t got recruitment. I don’t see how you are supposed to get boys.

‘And we have to improve that even more.’