Chesterfield are determined to keep the next Gary Cahills and Matt Lowtons in Derbyshire.
A partnership between the club’s academy and the Spireites Community Trust will create a pathway that could potentially lead a seven-year-old all the way to the first team.
The Chesterfield FC Emerging Talent Centre (ETC) will provide promising youngsters in the local area with weekly sessions of professional coaching and eventually a possible route into the club’s official academy.
Academy chief Mark Smith, who came up with the idea and took it to Trust CEO John Croot, feels the time is right for Chesterfield to make themselves more competitive when it comes to spotting and recruiting local players from an early age.
“My brief when I first took over was to get some players through and that’s nothing new,” he said.
“I’ve always worked at football clubs in youth development with everyone saying ‘we’ve got to get some players through.’
“So we concentrated on the 15 and 16-year-olds.
“With the situation the club is in, going down a division, it’s not helped in some aspects but it has in others.
“People start looking and thinking, we’ve got to start trying to promote from within, creating and developing our own.
“At every club I’ve been to there’s always been some connection between the local community and the youth system.
“So I approached John and said I wanted to start broadening the recruitment arm.
“We still concentrate on the top end because they might be in the first team in 18 months but we can now start having a look at the younger end, start a conveyor belt coming through to feed the top end.”
The Trust are already working in a large number of local schools, putting on soccer schools and coaching sessions.
Their coaches can now act as scouts and help put any exciting talents they spot onto that Chesterfield FC conveyor belt.
Smith admits the ‘bigger clubs’ in the region will still hold more sway for a lot of youngsters, but the Spireites will at least become an option.
The fact that they haven’t been an option in the past has led to a talent drain, the likes of Dronfield’s Cahill and Clowne’s Lowton grew up in academies elsewhere.
“The main thing is that we’re competitive in this area and we do know about the kids,” he said.
“I worked at Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United over the years.
“At Sheffield United they would just ride over the hill and pick up the best players from Chesterfield.
“The Matty Lowtons, the Cahills, I’ve seen it happen and I’ve always thought you must get your own doorstep sorted, you must be competitive in your own area and this gives us a chance.
“If the Derby, Forest, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday want to come in here, at least we’re already in.
“At the end of the day if you have the facilities of a Sheffield United, I know what the kid will probably want to do.
“But we’re going to be in competition with them.”
And there are factors that will make the Proact an attractive destination for parents – one of them being the club’s willingness to back their own talent.
This season a total of nine academy graduates appeared in first team action.
Smith added: “Parents are looking for a pathway, what’s his chances of getting into the next team, what’s his chances of becoming a professional footballer at Chesterfield – it’s got to be better than a Derby County and Sheffield United.
“That’s what we’ll be trying to preach.”
Croot his keen to stress that the new initiative is grounded in reality, not every kid has a chance of progressing in the game.
So steps will be taken to ensure youngsters will get support to carve out alternative futures.
“It’s 30 years since I first ever joined the board and this is the first time that the club has pulled as one to do this, using all of its expertise,” he said.
“The Community Trust are not experts in the elite side of academy football and that’s why we will be focused on engaging youngsters.
“Every youngster that goes on the pathway will get an opportunity to join one of the Community Trust’s education pathways.
“Any youngster who goes into the academy at Chesterfield, if they don’t make it as a footballer, there’s a second option. They can carry on playing or they can join the Trust’s education programme, which gives them opportunities they’ve never had before.
“It means we don’t leave youngsters high and dry, whatever your ability we have a place for you.”
The pathway begins with open trials, soccer schools, community football sessions, in schools and with grassroots partners.
One of those is Derbyshire FA’s Charter Standard Club of the Year – Chesterfield Junior Blues, a 22-team organisation, for whom Spireites sponsor Steve Coe is a coach and club secretary.
“It’s a good idea,” he said of the ETC.
“Grassroots football has got to grow the club.
“That’s what Junior Blues was about when Andy Morris set it up with us, we always wanted to be a close as possible to the club.
“And there’s other clubs out there that can do exactly the same as we’re doing.
“I’ve been coaching for 13 years now and if you can see a player that you started at seven years old progress onto that pitch, that’s the dream for any coach.”
The Trust’s activities manager Mike Noon is in charge of all of their school projects and soccer schools and believes they’re well placed to spot children with potential.
He said: “We’ve got a lot of access into the local community.
“This project should hopefully give local youngsters who show some talent a place to come and express themselves and get on the pathway to potentially becoming a Chesterfield player at some point in the future.
“It’s very hard to know at that age but we’re giving them an environment to come and train and enjoy some professional coaching.
“In terms of recruitment it’s the first place you start, local schools, local kids.
“Now the Trust, the Academy, the football club as a whole are all working together under one banner, trying to produce a future Chesterfield player through this pathway.”
Two open trials will be held at the Proact.
To book a free place visit www.spireitestrust.org.uk,