Aidy Boothroyd has rightly taken a lot of credit for the job he has done at Northampton since taking over the role of Manager in December 2011. Our transformation from perennial relegation candidates to play-off contenders in one season has been nothing short of miraculous. In the 18 months he has been here he has given us back something that Gary Johnson seemed to try his hardest to destroy, namely having pride in our team and our Club.
Now, I don’t believe Gary Johnson is a bad manager, his achievement this year at Yeovil has been incredible however he just wasn’t a good fit for us. I get the impression that maybe his heart wasn’t completely in it and that his failure here may have given him the incentive to work that much harder at Yeovil. Anyway, although I could probably write an essay about his tenure here I will leave it at that and move on to much more positive things.
Plenty has already been written and said about how Aidy Boothroyd has turned our fortunes around but not much has been said about another huge accomplishment the Club has achieved in the last year and a half and that is what my second blog is going to be about.
On the 12th of December 2012, Northampton Town broke a club record. For the first time in the Clubs 115 year history it had reached the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup. Goals from David Moyo and Callum Powell helped defeat Canvey Island (a name that evokes terror in the minds of most Northampton fans) 2-1 on a cold winters night at Sixfields. Although the team were to be knocked out in the next round to a Hull City team who eventually would lose to Liverpool in the quarter finals. The achievements of Craig Hinton’s young side this year were a testament to the hard work the Club and especially Trevor Gould (and before him Geoff Harrop) have put into the youth structure over the last 5 years or so.
Almost a month previous to that Canvey Island game another Club record was broken when 16 year Ivan Toney became our youngest ever first team debutant when he came on as a substitute in an FA Cup first round replay at Bradford. Although he wasn’t to feature in another First team game this season it did prove that Aidy Boothroyd certainly had belief in the jobs Hinton and Gould where doing and was not afraid to use the young players if he deemed it necessary.
Ivan Toney…. Record Breaker.
In fact, 4 members of that FA youth cup side that played Canvey Island where to play at some stage for the First Team last season. Toney, who I have already mentioned was joined by David Moyo who performed so impressively at promoted Port Vale, Claudio Dias who came on as a substitute against Barnet and Dean Snedker who looked more than comfortable between the sticks in the early cup games this season.
Indeed, Dean Snedker also had the honour of representing England in an under 19 game against Denmark in February of this year. A rare honour for a player from a League 2 side.
Since that game, David Moyo and Claudio Dias have joined Snedker and one other to graduate from our academy with a professional contract.
The other player who I mentioned above was legible to play in the FA Youth Cup last season, but didn’t feature in the Canvey Island tie due to first team commitments, was Lewis Hornby.
It is easy to forget how young Lewis Hornby is. He only turned 18 on the 25th of April this year meaning that all but 1 of his 22 league starts this season came at the age of 17. It is also incredible to think that he is still younger than Michael Jacobs was when he made his league debut away to Torquay in the opening fixture of the 2010-2011 season and although the two are very different players it does show the potential that the Club believe Hornby has.
With that in mind it should come as no surprise that he is being scouted by a host of big clubs, and if rumours are to be believed some very big clubs (I overhead in the Players Lounge after the Barnet game that both Manchester clubs had cast their eye over him). A 17 year old to have played in as many games as he has, especially in the battlefield that is a League 2 central midfield would not have gone unnoticed to these teams with their massive scouting networks and their armies of scouts.
As a player, Hornby has impressed me. He possesses a solid all round game with an eye for a pass, but perhaps more impressively, he has not ducked any challenges and hasn’t looked the slightest bit light weight for a 17 year old playing in central midfield. In a league where there is absolutely no time whatsoever on the ball and playing for a team that tactically isn’t set up to suit his strengths he has not looked out of place in any game I have seen him.
If he kicks on next season, and progresses like I believe he could be capable of, he will be a big part of our team next year.
This brings me nicely on to the next subject, progression. Aidy Boothroyd has said in an interview that getting their first professional contract was the easy bit of their career, now it’s time for the hard work. He is of course right, we have seen plenty of other players recently who have turned professional not quite be able to make it to that next step with us. Recent examples have been Greg Kaziboni, Alex Konstantinou and Paul Walker. However something seems different about this new batch that has come through.
Perhaps circumstances have helped their hand and that they have been given a taste of first team football earlier due to the Club not finding itself in a relegation dog fight or maybe we have a manager who believes a lot more in youth than his predecessors. Either way, this season will be in many cases make or break for these players as far as a career at Northampton Town goes.
It is obvious Boothroyd has faith in these youngsters, as I believe part of the reason both Lewis Wilson and Louis Moult were released was to make room for these players in the squad.
One of the most ridiculous decisions the football league has made recently was to cut the number of substitutions down from 7 to 5. If ever a decision was made to hurt the progress of academy players that was it. Fortunately common sense has prevailed and the experiment was a short lived one. However with 7 substitutes I can see no reason why 1 if not 2 of these youngsters can’t always appear on our bench to be brought on whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I have also read with interest an article from Jefferson Lake on the Chronicle and Echo website about the possibility of sending a couple of these youngsters abroad to play some football over the summer months. Personally, I’m not so keen on this idea. I would have thought it would have been much better for them to have a full preseason with us to learn off the seasoned professionals in our squad (Although admittedly, this might not be a good thing) and then appear in as many friendlies as possible.
That way, a couple could be sent off on loan towards the start of the season to teams in the Conference or just below to experience a similar type, if not level of football that they would play here. This has proved successful in the past for us with both Hornby and Mark Bunn spending time at Kettering and Michael Jacobs at Nuneaton.
One person I think this type of loan would benefit in particular would be Dean Snedker. I think he is at a stage where first team football is essential for his progression, he will learn next to nothing sitting on the bench each week especially if the heavily anticipated signing of Matt Duke comes to fruition. One of these youth style loans would be ideal for him, imagine training with Matt Duke and Tim Flowers during the week before going off to play for a conference side on the Saturday, what a great education for a young goalkeeper.
Lastly, finance. We have been fortunate that for the last 3 seasons the Club has had an unexpected income from a one off event. In 2010-11 it was the Liverpool game, 2011-12 the sale of Michael Jacobs and last season the play-off final. These events whether they are the occasional cup tie or a transfer are essential for a Club at our level to break even and help balance the budget.
We have been lucky, in that we have been drawn to play both Manchester United and Liverpool in the last 9 years, however those types of Cup draws are very few and far between. It is much more feasible for a Club to try and develop its own young talent and then sell them on for a nice profit. It is in the Club’s own hands and they have an element of control rather than hoping that the right numbered ball gets drawn out of a hat.
The biggest example of a Club doing this well over the last 10-15 years has been Crewe Alexandra. Recently Ashley Westwood and Nick Powell have both joined Premiership clubs for fees in their millions. Now, as good as these players are (I think Nick Powell in particular has a shot of being a full international) I do believe that their transfer fees were inflated due to what I call the “Crewe effect”. The Club has given itself such a good reputation for creating and nurturing young talent over the years that I’m sure they can get extra income for selling players because of it.
Crewe have to be our role model and who is to say that in the next couple of years, that we can’t follow up on the sales of Mark Bunn and Michael Jacobs with increased offers for this year’s intake of academy graduates.
The success story doesn’t end there. Only this last season the Club sold Glenn Middleton, a 13 year old, to Norwich for a undisclosed fee and as well as that players like Callum Powell and Ivan Toney are highly tipped to be offered a professional deal when they come of age this upcoming season.
I for one, as interested as I am in who our new signings will be this summer, am equally excited about how these players will perform next year. So I’d like to say a big well done to the Club, and to Trevor Gould and his team, keep up the good work.