Academy Report – Arsenal, Stoke City, Llandudno, Colwyn Bay And River Juniors

It was an amazing weekend in every way for The New Saints FC Academy, with games across the board, and some fantastic memories and experiences for our young Saints, writes Jason Brindley. 

On Saturday morning, our Under 14s travelled down south to play one of the biggest clubs in the UK, Arsenal. Not only are Arsenal one of the biggest clubs in the UK, but also in world football. They also have one of the most successful academies in the world. They produce players through their Youth Development Programme on a consistent basis and have done for a number of years.

It was an amazing opportunity for our Under 14s to travel to the English capital to compete against a very good Arsenal team. The facilities were state of the art as you would imagine, but the real thing that stood out was the hospitality we received. They were extremely welcoming.

Under 14s lead coach Danny Bell said of the experience:

“Our U14s have had a brilliant seven days travelling to the capitals of Wales & England, followed by our final fixture in the FA Wales Super 6.

“Last weekend, the boys travelled to Cardiff for the National Futsal finals, this weekend they travelled to London to face Arsenal Academy, where the level of football being played by both teams at such a young age was frightening. It was fantastic to sit back and watch the players. I am really happy with how the boys have developed this season.

“Sunday, we hosted Flint where we finished all of our league fixtures for the campaign. We now have a North Wales Final to look forward to.

“The opportunities our players have at such a young age is a credit to all staff and the fantastic programme and pathway we have here at TNS.”

It’s great to give our players these platforms to express and challenge themselves.

Also on Saturday, we welcomed Llandudno to Park hall Stadium to face all of our Foundation Phase age groups. It was also a good opportunity for our Under 7s, who don’t have an extensive fixture programme currently, due to very few other Welsh Academies having Under 7s. 

Llandudno were very good, but I was really pleased watching the way our 7s looked to play. I’ve seen a huge improvement in this group this season, and technically they have come on so much, which is really pleasing. It was football at its purest, watching young players doing their best ‘Fortnight’ dancing celebrations when they scored. You can’t help but smile at them loving the beautiful game, and above all having fun.

Our U8s played at the same time as the 7s, while our 16s trained on the other half of the field, with first team player Tom Holland working alongside coaches. It was good for our players to have first team involvement as, after all, these are the players they aim to emulate one day and hopefully play alongside. 

It was also good for Tom to offer advice and guidance. He knows the expectations of our first team, so it was good to have him working alongside myself and Rob with our eldest Academy age group. 

We also we have first team goalkeeper, Connor Roberts, heading up our impressive goalkeeping programme. Not only is Connor working with our ‘keepers, but he is often down at games with all age groups, offering advice and helping our youngsters. It’s great to have that bridge between the first team and our Youth Development Programme.

Our U9s-11s completed Saturday’s action, with some impressive individual and collective performances. It was great to see players take recent training topics into action in real game scenarios. You can really see the players understanding what we have been working on and executing it within games. There is no better feeling than to see something you have planned in a session come out in a game, and that players have understood and learned something. It shows that what we are doing is working.

On Sunday morning, we took a group of U9/10s to face Stoke City Academy. Again, it was another superb opportunity and experience for our Young Saints.

U10 coach Liam commented:

“Firstly like to thank Stoke for inviting us to a magnificent facility. Sunday presented us many challenges, including players having to adapt to the 7v7 format, the grass pitch, and smaller distances.

“We are happy to adapt to these conditions as it presents different challenges for our players. It was also a different challenge for us in where we were defending for large spells, which meant we had to adapt the way we play slightly, but mainly keeping to our principles throughout the two games.

“We dominated spells in the games, creating good chances on the counter attack and quick combinations in the final third.”

It’s great to give our players these opportunities on a consistent basis. We want to push ourselves as a club and an Academy and we want to grow. The fact that we are playing better level games now across the board is great, as we want to challenge our players against the best opposition. The best way they will improve is by being out of their comfort zone. 

You find that the better the opposition, the quicker they are, in every aspect. You have no time or space on the ball, so everything, including decision-making, awareness, ball speed must be quicker. It’s a really good challenge for our players and good to see the way the adapt to it.

Our U15s travelled to face Cefn Druids in a very good fixture. We thank Cefn Druids for hosting us and look forward to playing them again in the near future.

Our U13s welcomed Liverpool based team River Juniors to Park Hall Stadium, home of the Welsh Champions. River Juniors are a very good grassroots team and have a few Academy players in their team. They have good teams through all their age groups. 

The game was evenly contested, with both teams looking to play. It was good to see from the opposition as, in the past, grassroots teams haven’t really looked to play. In fact, a lot of Welsh academy teams don’t either. These did though, which made for a good standard of game. We thank them for travelling and will be inviting them back in the future.

Our U12/14/16s reached the final weekend of the FAW Academy Cup Super6 this weekend, with all teams aiming to finish in the final two and qualify for the Northern Finals.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday at Park Hall, with our 12s welcoming Colwyn Bay, while our U14s and U16s welcomed Flint Town United.

Colwyn Bay have improved a lot and gave our U12s a good fixture. The Colwyn Bay ‘keeper was particularity in good form, frustrating our Young Saints for large spells. It was a good game and we thank them for travelling to us.

Our U14s and 16s came up against Flint. Despite the Arsenal fixture the day prior, our U14s produced another good performance and played some excellent stuff throughout.

Our U16s are another group who have really developed their understanding of the game, phases of play and positional understanding this season. We’ve played a number of them up for our U19s recently, to challenge them further. We are delighted at their progress.

As we conclude an impressive weekend, congratulations goes to all three age groups who reached the Northern Finals of the Academy Cup Super6. Whatever the outcome, we are extremely proud of their development this season, which is our main focus and objective. 

I think across the board, it’s been one of, if not the very best season since I started work at The New Saints FC. The level and experience of our amazing Coaches. The detail in our training programme. Our full football philosophy and DNA. Our extensive fixture programme, domestic, UK and abroad. Playing players up across the board. Our Performance Phase competing in multiple National Championships and Finals.

We really have never been in a better place as a Youth Development Programme and I am very proud to see this.

I am already extremely excited at seeing how we can improve our football provision going into next season, as we look to continue to improve the development of our players.

Up The Tins!