Garish boots banned! How old-school thinking is reaping rewards at Sheffield Wednesday’s academy

Steven Haslam and Neil Thompson
Steven Haslam and Neil Thompson
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Flashy, multi-coloured boots have grown hugely popular with modern-day footballers over the last two decades.

All the top players like to stand out from the crowd and show off their fancy footwork.

But Sheffield Wednesday’s junior players are banned from wearing brightly coloured football boots.

“All our boys wear black boots,” academy manager Dean Ramsdale told The Star. “They can’t wear the multi-coloured boots.

“Until they have signed a pro contract, they can’t wear the yellow or pink boots.

“They all want to wear those type of boots but that’s where we hold something back from them.

Jordan Lonchar has been making waves in the Owls' youth ranks. Picture Scott Merrylees

Jordan Lonchar has been making waves in the Owls' youth ranks. Picture Scott Merrylees

“I feel I won a battle with that one.”

Times have changed, but Ramsdale is a stickler for discipline. He still insists on the Owls’ scholars cleaning their own boots.

“As soon as the lads turn 17 and sign a pro contract, the white boots come out straight away,” admitted Ramsdale. “Jordan Lonchar couldn’t wait to try his on.

“Hirsty [George Hirst] has got his boots that he wears. It is the lads’ way of getting back at me but I don’t mind that.”

All our boys wear black boots. Until they have signed a pro contract they can’t wear the multi-coloured boots

To some it may seem a little old-school, but the Owls’ methods are proving mightily effective.

Neil Thompson has turned around the development squad’s fortunes. Under his astute leadership, Wednesday are in contention to finish top of the Professional Development League North table.

Owls’ Under-18s are also on a good run and are through to the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup where they will play Chelsea. It is the first time the club have reached this phase of the prestigious tournament since 1999.

The tie, scheduled to take place a week ago but was postponed due to a frozen pitch at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium, has been rearranged for Wednesday, February 1.

Ryan Huckle beats George Hirst to a high ball.
Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18.  FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round.  6 January 2017.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Ryan Huckle beats George Hirst to a high ball. Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18. FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round. 6 January 2017. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Steven Haslam, the head of academy coaching, said: “We are pleased with the progress we have made.

“We have high standards as staff and players here. We are always demanding a little more.

“Everything is positive.

“Our U18s group know each other well and have played together a lot of years. They get on well.

“There is a good vibe throughout the group and it’s important that dynamic is there if you are going to go far.

“We have got some talent in our ranks and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the coming years.

Jordan Lonchar breaks forward.
Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18.  FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round.  6 January 2017.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Jordan Lonchar breaks forward. Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18. FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round. 6 January 2017. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“It is not just in the U18s. We have got a lot of talent lower down in the pyramid too.”

The future looks bright for Wednesday, with forwards Hirst, Lonchar and Fraser Preston continuing to excel at youth level.

“We have got quality at the top end of the pitch,” said Haslam. “The front three can cause trouble to any defence.”

An exciting member of the Owls’ next generation is, of course, Hirst. The striker is arguably the hottest prospect the club have had on their books in years.

Big things are expected of Hirst, the son of Wednesday legend David, and he has already made two senior appearances as a substitute at the tender age of 17.

Haslam said: “It is great the first-team staff have shown a willingness to put George in.

“George has had a small taste of first-team football and has set the standard for the rest to follow.

“I’m sure the others are striving to do what George has done.

“We expect all the guys to give their all and to listen to the coaches.

“We want them to take on board all the information that is there to help them and hopefully they will seize opportunities when they come along.”

It is not just Hirst who has played at senior level. Under Carlos Carvalhal, Joe Wildsmith, Cameron Dawson, Jack Stobbs and James Murphy have also featured.

Ramsdale, who joined the Championship club in September 2012, said: “We have had managers who have proven they will give opportunities to young players.

“Carlos has certainly done that and publicly said he sleeps well when Joe [Wildsmith] or Cammy [Cameron Dawson] plays which is great for our goalkeeping department.

“It helps us massively with recruitment when people see there is a pathway.”

Nearly four years have passed since Wednesday’s academy were awarded category two status and Ramsdale is delighted with the great strides the club have made.

He said: “We have improved everything from top to bottom.

“From when I first came in, we have heavily restructured our recruitment department. We have now got specific heads of local, national and international recruitment.

“We’ve got boys in our system who we wouldn’t have got before. We have got better players but we are looking to constantly get better.”

Owls chief Dejphon Chansiri has outlined his vision for the future.

“I’ve had a number of meetings with the chairman,” said Ramsdale. “He is extremely driven.

“He’s a demanding chairman but everybody at the academy knows what he wants and we have to try and deliver that for him.”

George Hirst makes his first team debut

George Hirst makes his first team debut

Fraser Preston survives a challenge from Jack Tucker. Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18.  FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round.  6 January 2017.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Fraser Preston survives a challenge from Jack Tucker. Sheffield Wednesday U18 v Gillingham U18. FA Youth Trophy Fourth Round. 6 January 2017. Picture Bruce Rollinson