In a season when the senior side have seen
FA hopes extinguished and Premiership chances diminished by Arsenal, our
U17’s now face the Gunners with their playoff Championship hopes in the
Three easy victories in their group games have placed the toon youngsters in
the Quarter Final stages of this year’s competition, as Fulham, Crewe and
finally Wimbledon were seen off by an aggregate twelve goals to one.
A week after our final victory over Wimbledon at the old Chester-le-Street
training ground, Arsenal met Nottingham Forest for the right to face us in the
first knockout stage. And it was the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners, earning the
right to host the tie on April 20th at their Hertfordshire base.
Success in this game would present the young Magpies with another trip in the
semi Finals, to either Spurs or Sheffield United, but the game against Arsenal
is arguably the hardest tie that Alan Irvine and the lads could have been
However, with the side having only failed to score away from home twice this
season, and 75 goals scored so far in the league, hopes are high that the
U17’s can repeat the feat of their predecessors and reach the two-legged
final in early May, earning the chance to play at St.James’ Park in the
As well as the glory of winning the competition, the chance to play in league
stadia (especially our own ground) is a massive carrot to the Academy lads,
and the value of gaining that experience as early as possible cannot be
Having been handed an away tie this season in the FA Youth Cup, the U17’s
were denied the chance to turn out at the “big ground” when they lost at
Carrow Road. With the greatest respect to Norwich and their enthusiastic fans,
that experience just doesn’t compare with running out the tunnel at St.James’,
and for those youngsters who don’t make the transition to professionals,
doing just that is often the high point of their footballing careers.
A look at the side for our recent St.James’ reserve game against Liverpool
saw the likes of Michael Chopra, Bradley Orr and Richard Offiong making their
reserve debuts there. However they’d all played there previously for the
youth team, and in the case of the latter two, scored. While there were the
inevitable pre-match butterflies, it’s fairly certain that their previous
experience of playing at the ground allowed them to prepare for the game more
With more experienced graduates such as Steve Caldwell, Brian Kerr, Stuart
Green and Jamie McClen also in that reserve side, it was heartening to see
that the players responded to a night off from the wind tunnel that is
Kingston Park and took advantage of the better pitch conditions to put on a
good show for the 4000+ crowd in attendance.
Hopefully Tommy Craig’s team will have more opportunities to play on
St.James’ next season, but while that’s uncertain it seems guaranteed that
the reserves will continue to feature home-grown talent, proving to aspiring
youngsters that there is a valid route to our first team through the Academy
system. The recent decision by promising young defender Steven Taylor to
commit his future to United may have had something to do with that, as well as
the financial security of course….
While the reserves will always have a short-term use to sharpen up first-teamers
after injury, as well as keeping fringe players in something approaching form
and fitness, it’s good to see that it’s increasingly an Academy old boys
Certainly in the case of Michael Chopra, he’s now starting to regard it as a
finishing school since his promotion from the U19 side. After early
goalscoring success, in recent weeks Chops had been on less than sparkling
form for the second string, although his striking chances were reduced by a
stint on the right side of midfield.
However his recent displays have brought him four goals in the last two home
games – a hat trick against Bradford and his debut strike at St.James’ (a
replica of Shearer’s effort at the Gallowgate end against Everton.)
Following that he was added to the first team party that travelled to
Derby and although he wasn’t selected as a sub, his time will come. You
wouldn’t back against him making his mark either when the opportunity
As well as the experience of playing in front of crowds at St.James’ it’s
also vital that Academy training facilities are of a sufficiently high
standard to aid rather than hinder the development of young players, not to
mention convincing the newer intakes into joining us.
For this reason it’s a relief to be able to report that the days of borrowed
venues, cramped changing rooms and dodgy playing surfaces are almost over, now
that the much-heralded Academy complex is finally under construction.
Work is ongoing at the former Darsley Park Civil Service Sports ground at
Longbenton and the adjacent site at Haydon Grange, which will house both the
new senior squad training facility as well as the Academy headquarters.
The final obstacle was cleared in early April when North Tyneside council
rubber-stamped United’s plans, Newcastle City Council having previously
given their approval to the part of the site that came under their
jurisdiction. Now the building work should ensure the club meets the standards
of the FA Charter for Quality, preserving their vital FA Youth Academy status
and showing us in a more professional light.
As well as the five natural grass and one artificial floodlit pitch for the
Academy, an indoor facility is also being constructed – a vital addition,
given the somewhat variable Tyneside climate. Now it’s hoped that the 55
acre site will be able to host training sessions and matches at the start of
next season for youngsters age 9 and upwards.
Precisely who will oversee this new facility is still to be revealed,
following the news that current Academy supreme Alan Irvine is to leave at the
end of the season to take up a national coaching position with the FA.
As ever at Newcastle, rumours abound as to
who will take on the role, with alleged interest from coaches in England,
Wales and Scotland as well as a couple of internal candidates.
Find out how the U17’s progress in their playoffs as well as who takes over
in the hotseat by surfing to NUFC.com for all the latest news.
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