Happy New Year to all involved with The New Saints FC Academy, from players and families to staff and supporters. Each person pulling together to assist the development and nurturing the love of the beautiful game.
Before we look ahead to 2018, it now makes more sense then ever to look at where we have come from and what we have achieved in these past 12 months, both individually as players and collectively as an Academy for the Welsh champions.
2017 has been an incredible year for our Academy, filled with experiences and memories that will last a life time. We have taken numerous age groups to play in Tournaments throughout the year. In July our 2006 born travelled to Calamocha in Spain to participate in the Jamon Cup.
The tournament contained teams such as Real Betis, Villarreal, Valencia and Real Madrid, among others. TNS actually finished a respectable 16th, ahead of huge teams including Athltic Club Bilbao. It was a brilliant experience for our youngsters and we were proud of the way they conducted themselves and the friends and supporters they made in the tournament. We seemed to have more and more people cheering and supporting us each game.
Our U13s travelled to France to compete in the Bourbourg tournament for the second year running over August bank holiday. The tournament is another huge one containing top teams from throughout Europe. Our players again did the club very proud and we have been invited to two further tournaments on the back of their performances.
Closer to home we entered into different tournaments around the UK over the course of 2017. Our U15s entered into the Youdan tournament in Sheffield, a tournament that contained both Sheffield heavyweights. Our 15s did fantastic, particularly goalkeeper George Scott who won player of the tournament.
In August all age groups entered the Manchester International Super Cup. This year for the first time we challenged our players further by each team playing one year up. It was really positive to see players have to adapt their game and really battle at times against older players.
Our U11s actually won the Randlay Colts summer tournament when they were playing in the U12 tournament, although it was very difficult for them. They all played amazingly and battled as a team.
Our U14s from last season also won the National Futsal tournament down in Cardiff , a great achievement by a strong group.
Our U16s came second in a summer tournament at Leicester City, losing narrowly to West Brom in the final.
We held our own International Football Festival at Park Hall Stadium earlier this year too, welcoming Liverpool, Stoke, Shrewsbury, Mansfield, Wrexham and HFC Haarlem. This was the first time that we have done something to that scale and it went really well. Great to be attracting that level of opposition to The Venue also.
On the subject of international, four of our U15s represented Wales earlier this season also, in the Cymru Cup. A great achievement for the players and we are very proud.
In terms of fixtures and opportunities, we have faced off against all the top teams from around the UK. We welcomed Southampton to Park Hall Stadium as well as travelling to the South Coast. Other opposition include Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester City, amongst many others.
We even welcomed the Thailand National team to face our Academy, a landmark fixture and a great event. It shows how far we have come that we regularly attract these fixtures and do so well against them.
It’s not just about the opportunities and experiences but more important it’s the development of all our Academy players. Such is the amount of contact they experience now it is important that we coach to make people over players, and that the skills taught can be taken through any walk of life. Obviously our aim to give players the best opportunity to fulfil their dreams but it’s important that when they do leave the Academy one way or another that they leave as a better person as well as player.
A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to create the ‘TNS Way’ this past 12 months. It’s our ‘DNA’, which consists of the three elements which create that. It’s the ‘Culture’ to create that professional environment, it’s the ‘Mentality’ of all our players that hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard and also the ‘Identity’ of what we feel a TNS Player should look like, on and off the field. We are getting that now and setting the standards, even from our youngest Academy age groups.
If you look closer at the achievements of individuals and age groups in terms of development this past year then you can see what we are doing is working. From last season’s U16s, Ben Clark has signed a professional contract for our first team.
Back in July eight of them also represented our first team in the Shropshire Senior Cup. As an Academy we want to develop players to be at the level to represent our first team or even better. Former Academy player Jack Vale signed a pro contract for Blackburn Rovers and has already represented their U23s, at 16 years old.
We currently have numerous players trialling at some of the biggest teams in the UK, including United, City (Manchester clubs) and Everton. It’s great that we are developing players to that level and giving them the platform to showcase their talent.
There is hardly a moment to catch your breath on what we have achieved these past 12 months. But we can’t stand still and look at what was but always look forward and think what can be and how we can improve. We have a great team of staff that I am very proud to work with, extremely hard working and a credit to themselves and the club.
We have the parents, so committed and dedicated to being the ‘taxi’ and getting their son to every contact. And then finally, the most important aspect, we have the players. My position has changed this season from head of ‘Foundation Phase’ of the club to ‘Head of Academy’ so I have made it my personal target to get to know every one of our 150+ players, both as a player and as a person.
I think that some of the players we have in the club are incredible and I feel privileged to be able to work with them and assist their development. All the age groups have that clear identity that is unique to our club and the players show a great understanding of that. I feel very proud of the improvements made throughout the Academy in 2017 and am relishing the challenge of bettering that in 2018….
For more information on our Academy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org