“I see people all the time commenting on Facebook, Twitter and even on the radio, TV etc, saying managers should ‘give youth a chance‘ and that ‘they’re fearless’, and ‘will give you 100% effort’. Well I tried that today; I put a 17-year-old lad in who is regarded to be one of best prospects in our county - well that lads attitude is not good enough. After arguing with the management, he was pulled off after 30 minutes! I don’t think we’ll see him again.”
Those comments were from Whitworth first-team manager James Mallows last week after their 5-2 home loss against Yaxley.
Whitworth have had some strong Under-18 teams over the years, mainly during the Dean Gwiliam era, but their youth system hasn’t been great in recent times and they folded their Under-18 team a few months ago.
It got me thinking – are the attitudes of young players changing, are the attitudes of clubs and managers changing, or is it down to modern society?
When I re-launched the Under-18 set-up at Irchester United nearly eight years ago, I purposely went out to sign young players that wanted to play for our reserves and first team on a Saturday, rather than just anyone that just wanted to play youth with their mates and didn’t have an interest in progression or the club as a whole.
I scoured the Under-16 leagues in the county and spoke to the majority of the managers, and signed players based on feedback from their bosses on their attitudes, not just their ability.
Any decent player with a poor attitude, I didn’t bother with.
Out of my Under-18 squad that season and the following campaign, over three quarters of my squad played for the reserves and first team at some point, with around half playing regular UCL football on a Saturday.
When I took on the reserves I continued that trend, and I preferred to play a raw young player who I hoped to develop into a first teamer, over someone who would never make that level (we were in the Premier Division at that time).
Over the years, circumstances often changed and players were promoted before they were ready, but the young lads were always itching to play and had no fear of pitching themselves up against the likes of King’s Lynn, St Ives or Spalding United.
I think the Under 18’s leagues (midweek and Sunday) were a lot stronger then, and I’ve seen a gradual decline in standard and attitude.
There still are some very decent Under-18s around, but they are few and far between compared to a few years ago.
There could be many factors for this - a change in attitudes in society, more and more Under-18 and reserve teams folding, players not getting regular youth games during the winter when games are called off every week, a lack of discipline in schools (which transfers to the football environment), the emergence of college football and kids now staying on at school until they are 18 rather than 16, and training five days a week with their colleges - the list is endless.
Whitworth, Thrapston Town, Daventry Town, Woodford United, Sileby Rangers, Desborough Town (although they are re-entering next season), AFC Rushden & Diamonds - all clubs that have folded their Under-18 teams in recent years – although Raunds Town have entered a team this season.
The Northants Senior Youth League has had to fill itself with clubs from outside of the county to fill fixtures over recent times – Potton United, Huntingdon Town, Buckingham Town. Olney Town. Eynesbury, Stamford, Yaxley – it even had Oxford City one year!
Under-18’s football should be thriving in Northamptonshire with the amount of clubs in the county.
Going back to when I ran Irchester United U18’s – players from the midweek league would then play for other clubs on a Sunday in the Countywide U18 League, with the best of Corby Town and S&L Corby playing for Corby Kingswood Black & White on a Sunday, and the likes of Chenecks also having a very strong side in the Sunday league as well.
I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts that have been involved in the local game over the last 10 years, rather than those who have just been involved in recent years and only see one side.
What can be done to help things improve?
Can UCL clubs have stronger links with local youth football clubs?
Are people working with or against each other?
Back to UCL football – there not many games again on Saturday due to waterlogged pitches (more on that another time).
In the Premier Division, Wellingborough Town continued their good form under new manager Nathan Marsh with a 1-1 draw at high flying Holbeach United.
Whitworth lost 4-2 at home to fellow strugglers Sleaford Town, and host Boston Town, who have recently changed manager and owners, tomorrow (Tuesday) night.
Rothwell Corinthians lost 6-0 at Wisbech Town who are in very good form since Gary Setchell took the reins. Corinthns host Peterborough Northern Star on Saturday and will look to get their season back on track.
Desborough Town are in League Cup action tomorrow where they host Leicester Nirvana.
The two sides are 10th and ninth respectively, so this cup tie should be a close and entertaining encounter.
In Division One, Raunds Town were the only club in our area who survived the weather, coming out 5-3 winners at home to Bourne Town to keep their promotion hopes alive.
The Shopmates are currently seven points ahead of Potton United, but Potton have two games in hand to make it an interesting run in to the end of the season.
Thanks for reading, and fingers crossed more football is played next week!
Dan Beaman is the administrator for the unofficial UCL Facebook page, which you can visit by clicking here