Stevenage chairman Phil Wallace has expressed his pleasure at seeing the club’s long-term youth programme starting to pay off.
Having not produced a regular league player since George Boyd, there are now four Academy players in the first team squad for the coming season – all of them Northern Ireland youth internationals – and a conveyor belt of talent coming through the ranks.
What’s more, the scheme has been so successful that in the last three months Stevenage have sold three players – Jack Storer
, Jamie Telfer
and Louis Yamfam
- to Birmingham, Arsenal and Charlton Athletic respectively.
Phil Wallace explained, "When we built our new dedicated first team training ground at Bragbury End and moved the first team squad over, it allowed us to dedicate the existing training complex at Shephalbury to our Under-18s. We then began a 7 year programme to recruit and develop young lads, targeting Ireland specifically.
The success we've had at bringing lads like Ben Kennedy, Dale Gorman and Ryan Johnson through from the Academy into the first team, coupled with our outstanding facilities, encourages young lads to commit to us now rather than get lost in a bigger club. We've proved that they have more chance of making their professional debuts with us and I think we're getting a great reputation for developing lads to move up the pyramid. ''
He continued "We've had to sell Jack Storer and Louis Yamfam to Birmingham and Charlton respectively this season because there wasn't any room to bring them through - there's a limit to the number of Under-20 year olds you can have in a first team squad. If you don't blend the youth with experienced older heads, they have nobody to learn how to win from.
"We have Nathan Kerr beginning his first season with the first team next month and we also have one or two of the current Academy lads that we feel can make it. By then the young pros will have had two full seasons of first team exposure and playing a huge part in season. Having Darren Sarll as the First Team manager obviously helps the progression from youth to first team. He knows all the lads as he was responsible, along with Leon Hunter, for their recruitment in the first place. It's not easy for these young lads to adapt when they're in a new country, but we've worked hard to settle them in and we think we've been successful.
"It's the future of the club and I expect the next 2-3 years to show even more that the project we started a couple of years ago was worth the effort and investment we made.”