DONCASTER Rovers have signed six players from their junior ranks this season and there are more potential first-teamers further down the production line, according to the club’s Head of Youth Paul Wilson.
Left-back James Husband, who played in Rovers last two Championship games, was the first member of the club’s successful youth team to put pen to paper on a first-team contract. Since then, five of the team which finished runners-up in the North East Alliance and recently beat Exeter 4-0 in the Youth Alliance Cup final at St James’ Park, have also signed professional terms.
Following a period when few players were signed from the club’s junior ranks, Wilson is naturally delighted to see so many of the youngsters that he and Paul Stancliffe have helped nuture over the years given the chance to press their claims.
“James has already managed to establish himself in the first team squad and it would be nice to see one or two of the others do likewise in the years to come. They’ve all been given another year so it is up to them to impress Dean (Saunders) during that time,” said Wilson.
Head-hunted from Scunthorpe United during Dave Penney’s time in charge, Wilson is now starting to see the benefits of the work he has put in over the years.
With Rovers having scrapped their junior policy on a couple of occasions prior to Wilson linking up with them, he started from a very low base with the vast majority of local prospects already having being signed up by various Yorkshire rivals.
Goodwill towards Rovers among many clubs in the giant Doncaster Boys’ League was in short supply with Wilson having to try and mend a lot of bridges in his early years at Belle Vue.
He always stressed that there would be no quick fix but that given the time and the backing that he and Stancliffe would get the job done.
Today, more and more young footballers are only too keen to link up with Rovers at their thriving Centre of Excellence.
“The success of the first team in recent years has obviously helped and even though we’ve been relegated from the Championship I don’t think it will have an adverse affect because the Centre of Excellence has become well established and we’ve got a good name for both how we look after young players and the quality of the coaching we provide,” he said.
The club’s Centre of Excellence runs teams at every age group from Under-9s to Under-16s and the teams play against other such organisations with games being staged at the Keepmoat Stadium complex.
Never one to make bold predictions, Paul says that he is genuinely excited about the young talent coming through the ranks.
“I am really, really pleased about how things are going,” he said. “If we can improve in the next five years as much as we have done in the last five then we are going in the right direction. We have got some very, very good players.”
The club employ scouts to check out promising youngsters good enough to be considered for their various COE teams and a new academy set up by former Balby Academy of Sport PE master Ben Mawson, during which time the Doncaster school enjoyed considerable success in national competitions.
“Ben has set up his soccer schools and has done really well and I’m hoping to get him into the club full-time but the way things are it is difficult,” said Wilson.
“We have a paid for development group, which is open to kids of all ages and abilities and the better ones are moved on to a more advanced group, which is free, and Ben works with that group and sees if he can get them into the Centre of Excellence.
“He’s got five or six sites around the area. He coaches and he also has other qualified coaches working with him. It’s a great idea as far as we are concerned because it gives kids a chance to come into us rather than us going out into the community to try and find them.
“It can be difficult getting around an area as big as Doncaster and sometimes you can miss potential prospects.
“The Doncaster & District Boys’ League is a great standard; it always has been. The town is renowned for having a good standard of football.
“It’s just unfortunate that we, as a club, can’t get out to see everybody so what Ben, who has around 400 or 500 kids involved in his courses, does is help us to see more boys.
“Ben is identifying some good prospects and we’ve just signed boys that he has recommended for next season’s Under-9s and Under-10s squads.
“Six boys who Ben has brought in have joined next year’s Under-11s development group. We’ve also got five boys starting to train with us next season at Under-15 level who have come through the development group, so it just shows that it is working at most age groups. The courses are open to anyone and Ben’s classes start about four.
“It is all about participation at that age and trying to spot any potential but I personally don’t think you can do that until boys are between six and seven.
“At that age, what you are looking for is such things as ability and their co-ordination. That sort of thing is natural and that’s the age when you start to see it coming out.
“Kids that age don’t need too much coaching; they learn by playing the game (in a non competitive situation) and making mistakes.
“The intelligent boys that you are looking for, learn themselves playing games. It’s not about the coaching as such; you are sort of guiding them. At that age it’s all about enjoyment.
“Years ago kids learned to play the game playing with their mates.”