the Kids are United
Part 13 - Appeared in the Mag, Sep 2002
The good news is that work on the Academy site at Little Benton is now well underway, and if the new senior training facility at the adjacent Darsley Park site is any indication, then it'll be worth waiting for.
Until the move though, the youngsters continue to shuttle around Tyneside, with pre-season games being hosted at Killingworth Youth Centre and the season openers against Wolves talking place at the Blue Flames pitches at Benton. And at the time of writing, next up was due to be the University of Northumbria pitch at Bullocksteads with other venues still to be announced.
The opening day of the season saw a mixed return for the sides, with the U19s recording a 4-2 victory against Wolves, while their younger counterparts went down by a solitary goal.
For players from both Newcastle sides the games came barely 48 hours after they stepped off a plane from the pre-season trek across Australia, Hong Kong and China.
Under those circumstances both sides put in reasonable displays, Richard Offiong continuing his goalscoring form of pre-season with two and defender-turner midfielder Andy Ferrell also getting off the mark. Substitute Chris Moore completed the scoring.
For the U17s there was the disappointment of losing their opening game, but an inexperienced side composed of players as young as 14 gave a good account of themselves against older and stronger opponents.
A week later and both teams were in the Midlands facing Aston Villa at their windswept facility, just a sliced drive away from the Belfry golf course.
The U19s continued on their winning way with a hard-fought 2-0 victory, with defender Peter Ramage breaking the deadlock in the second half with an effort reminiscent of Nat Lofthouse, ball and keeper ending up in the back of the net. The win was then sealed by an outstanding strike from the boot of Tommy English, as the bulk of Villa's Youth Cup winning side of last season were beaten. On an adjacent pitch however it was a further painful lesson for the U17s, with Villa ultimately piling on the agony in a 5-1 victory that could have been much worse.
Another young side battled well for the opening minutes as Villa seemed content to play a long ball game, but once the home side began to knock the ball around and play through midfield, then the problems started.
After holding the Villans at bay for the opening 30 minutes, United's defence was breached twice within five minutes by the potent forward Luke Moore, one of two striking Moore brothers who represent England and Villa (Stefan was an unused sub for the U19s).
Two behind at the break, coach Kenny Wharton demanded an improved effort from his charges, and the youngsters responded, forcing the home keeper into action on a number of occasions.
United gained a foothold in the game when Villa defender Cahill put the ball into his own net, but within five minutes his striking colleagues spared his blushes as they redoubled their efforts and a well-taken volleyed effort from Kyle Nix restored the two goal advantage.
With Stefan Moore searching for his hat trick, the final fifteen minutes were decidedly difficult for the Magpies, and although he didn't manage a third he did prompt toon defender Paul Huntington to register an og.
So a final score of 5-1 to Villa, and a further baptism of fire for the new recruits in what could be a long and dispiriting season. There certainly seems to be a new policy of "if they're good enough, they're old enough" being implemented by new Academy director Kenny Wharton, who has even gone on the record as saying he'll blood 13 year olds in the U17s if he thinks they're ready.
In contrast to the more cautious approach of his predecessor Alan Irvine, Wharton looks to favour making the youngsters grow up together in "active service." Only time will tell whether he's proved right.
Meanwhile one or two more established players have found themselves left out of the starting XI's in the opening weeks of the season, as competition for places hots up, both in the Academy sides and also the reserves.
Proof that the route into the second team is open for players of sufficient talent and maturity came in late August when at the age of 16, England defender Steven Taylor made his league debut for the reserve side.
A late substitute in a 4-0 win over Blackburn at Morecambe, Taylor didn't get to share the pitch with Bellamy and Robert, who by then had departed from the action.
However, having replaced Andy O'Brien, in his brief spell alongside Steve Caldwell he certainly didn't look out of place.
Taylor had taken his bow for Tommy Craig's men in pre-season, and impressed on a wet night at Darlington when a young Newcastle side lost 1-0 to the Quakers first team.
Taylor joins Aaron Labonte, Stephen Brennan and Damon Robson in the reserves this season, who in case you hadn't heard are once again playing their home games at Gateshead International stadium.
Meanwhile, England youth international striker Lewis Guy has received a boost as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained while playing for reserves at North Shields in pre-season. The Cumbrian youngster has agreed a professional deal with Newcastle and is now contracted to the club until 2005.
A member of the playoff-winning U17 side last season, Lewis is expected to join fellow strikers and contracted players Michael Chopra, Calvin Zola-Makongo and Richard Offiong in pushing for a spot in the reserve side this season.
Finally, thanks are due to the Keff Cheng and the Hong Kong Mags for use of their image of the Newcastle touring party in pre-season.
In what was widely hailed as a success, the toon youngsters had to be content with fourth spot in the first Festival Cup tournament in Adelaide.
Backed by a good number of exiled toon fans and converted locals, Newcastle sailed through their group games with victories over Bayern Munich (4-0), Ajax (2-0) and Australia (2-0).
However, a great fightback to earn a 3-3 draw with Rangers in the Semi final meant the prospect of a penalty shootout, and not for the first time a Newcastle side failed at this hurdle.
To make matters worse, a similar unhappy ending saw them lose the 3rd/4th place playoff after a 1-1 draw with Juventus. Regardless of the disappointment though, the tournament seems to have been popular with players, staff and fans and the organisers have already pencilled Newcastle in for the next competition.
The touring party then moved on to Hong Kong, and the impressive Hong Kong Stadium played out a 0-0 draw with the local U23 side.
In humid conditions United were watched by over 8,000 fans, and most of those present rose to greet Peter Beardsley when he made a late appearance to replace Michael Chopra. One or two glimpses of his old magic seemed to please the spectators, and again the side got some useful PR points, signing autographs and meeting fans.
Finally the tour ended on a winning note in The People's Stadium in Dalian, China with a reporter attendance of 34,000 - partly due to the free admission offered.
Michael Chopra opened the scoring within the first minute before Dalian Shide levelled things before halftime.
Then in the second period a Richard Offiong pair sealed the win as the Academy paved the way for the expected appearance of the first team at some point in the same city.
While the profile-raising tour was of some significance as the club looks to increase it's commercial trading in South East Asia, for many of those who played it was the experience of a lifetime.