Writing in next Tuesday’s edition of Bolton Wanderers’ official matchday programme, Academy Manager Jimmy Phillips brings supporters up to date on the latest developments at the club’s successful Academy.
Having beaten two Premier League Academy teams, Newcastle United and Crystal Palace, our under 18s now face another top flight opponent Leicester City in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup.
The lads put in a fantastic performance against Palace in the previous round and showed great character to come from behind to earn the victory.
They dominated possession in the first half but found themselves behind going into the break, which was very much against the run of play. But the fitness levels the players showed were a testament to the hard work that is put in at the training ground.
Right up until the 95th minute they were pressing Palace really hard. Even former Palace player Mark Bright, speaking on Palace TV, made a reference to that. Full credit must go to Nick Spooner, Gavin McCann and Steve Jones.
Throughout the entire Academy, we aim to give all the players a broad football education.
Over the years, and during my time in the position, we have had six different first team managers and each of them have had different approaches on how to play the game.
If you take Harry Brockbank as an example he has been here for 12 years as a player and has had to be adaptable to all tactics, styles and formations that each of the managers have implemented at first team level over the years.
Over the past three years, since the return of Brian Morris as Academy head of recruitment, our scouts have worked very hard and diligently, particularly the seven who are asked to focus on the Bolton, Bury and District Junior Football League.
They have managed to recruit 33 players from there out of the 64 young players in total we have signed over the past three years.
This is no small feat when you consider that four of the biggest teams in the country (Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton) are right on our doorstep as well as all the many other football clubs in the North West.
As an Academy we really are scouring the local areas and also in the last two seasons we have formed a partnership with the Bolton Schools Town Teams at under 13s, under 14s and under 15s.
We provide them with access to coaching as well as the opportunity to train and play their home games at the Lostock training ground, as well as providing them with kit to play in. This all fits in with our plan to embolden our links with the community and we will be looking to incorporate more age groups over the coming seasons.
A crucial change in our staffing came with the appointment of Chris Johnson whose remit is to bring in players from the ages of under 18s to under 23s, which is a key focus of ours.
Chris has got a vast contact list, knows a lot of agents and has brought in many trialists from the UK and abroad. As the teams get older, we look further afield to attract players to the club.
Joe Pritchard is a good example of this and we saw him make his first team debut coming on as a substitute against West Brom last Monday evening. He had been at Tottenham for a number of seasons and was a player we had watched on many occasions in the past.
This season we have had nine players out on loan from David Lee’s under 23s squad to give them experience of playing men’s football.
They will experience different tactics, systems of play and above all else a real competitive environment where the be all and end all is to win the game, which is perhaps slightly different to their Academy upbringing.
All in all, our scouts are doing a fantastic job to bring in boys from the local area and further afield to attract them to Bolton Wanderers Football Club, and as an Academy we provide the perfect environment to ready them for first team football.
Finally, I would like to wish our under 18s all the best for the fifth round tie which takes place on Wednesday 30 January at the University of Bolton Stadium and I hope to see as many of you as possible cheering the lads on.
Don’t forget to buy your copy of the programme, which will be on sale ahead of Wanderers’ Sky Bet Championship fixture against Reading on Tuesday 29 January at the University of Bolton Stadium.