Football League academies treat players like ‘just a name on the team-sheet’ as Matlock Town Academy strikes a perfect balance for player development.
Jack Bradley, goalkeeper for Matlock Town ADS and Royals says of the academy’s competitiveness: “All the lads push each other. They don’t look to replace you as quick.” This contrasts with his stints in Chesterfield academy, as he continues: “You’re not just another name on the team-sheet, you’re actually a player to them. They want to improve you and you matter to them. I think that helps massively.”
Since joining the Blues, Bradley hasn’t looked back. “After I was at home at Matlock I didn’t even think about going back to Chesterfield.”
Recently announced Matlock Town Academy captain Harry Wood said on football league academies: “Everyone is very competitive. There is a lot of pressure on you to get a contract, everyone is trying to get the edge on you.”
Academies also focus too stringently on physical attributes instead of technical abilities. This is indicative of English football’s more physical style of play compared to more technical leagues such as Italy or Spain and players in English academies getting picked to reflect this.
Bradley was aged 11 when he was told he was ‘too short’ and was released from Chesterfield F.C. He said: “I didn’t realise at the time how much (being released) can affect other lads.” Bradley was displeased with the ambiguity of the situation: “I think clubs look for an excuse. They didn’t have a real reason why” (he was released). I’d rather them tell me honestly, and tell the player that they have no chance straight away.”
Wood also spoke of a similar situation. Wood said: “I was told I wasn’t tall enough or big enough at the time. I’m bigger now. Academies should give people more time, but they don’t have the time to watch people progress.” He continued: “I think it was unfair for it (the decision to be released) to be based on physical attributes.”
On Matlock’s relaxed environment, another Blues player Aaron Hill says: “I think its relaxed. But not in the sense of lackadaisical. It’s more like a family. They give you chances, and you can move on if you’re good enough. There’s not much pressure on you.”
Further highlighting that a calmer environment doesn’t necessarily mean less quality, academy manager Jamie Yates said on being complementary to an advantage: “Absolutely it does come naturally, (to focus on being positive) we try and give them that extra push to perform in training and in games. Very rare I will be negative.”
Yates continued: “‘We understand the needs of the player at that level. Some academies don’t see that, they see the player as a number and we don’t – we see them as a person and we want to make sure at the end of those two years we get the maximum we can out of that player.”
Matlock Developmental Manager Justin Tellus says: “Sometimes it’s hard for these young lads when they are released by league clubs.”
Tellus says he cares about more than just the football with the young men he encounters: “What happens to our lads when they finish is very important to us.” He continued: “We want these young men to learn. We try and get our lads working in not just football but also education. They are currently studying a BTEC Level 3 but we are in conjunction with a university about studying a sports science degree and also sports management.”
Such a philosophy undoubtedly attempts to better the person, a more well-rounded individual with a diversified skillset can also lead to a player being more focused and effective on the pitch too.
Unsurprisingly this approach has lead to an improvement in performance and things are on the rise at Matlock Town academy; they are currently fifth in the Evo Stik NPL Premier League as the MTFC Academy Blues sit pretty at the top of the table.