A really busy and exciting couple of weeks for everyone involved with The New Saints FC, writes Jason Brindley.
Last week, we welcomed Danish Champions FC Copenhagen to Park Hall Stadium, in what was one of the biggest games we have hosted.
It was superb to see so many of our Academy youngsters and families filling out our ground.
It’s been a busy week, with all of our Academy back in for the first full week of theAcademy schedule, training full-time.
A week ago last Saturday, we welcomed Flint Town United to Park Hall Stadium to face our U9s and U11s. Prior to the fixtures, our youngsters got an opportunity to watch our first team training in preparation for the Champions League fixture this week.
We pride ourselves on being a football family and having a close link between our first team and Academy. It’s good for our youngsters to look up to the players that they aim to emulate one day and with our proven youth development programme we are now producing better players for our first team.
Also last Saturday, we welcomed Llay to Park Hall to face our Under 8s. Our U8s are a good group, very fun and full of energy. We are delighted with how they are developing. They produced another good performance, individually and collectively.
Last Sunday, all our Development Phase age groups were in action at Park Hall Stadium. We welcomed our friends from Team Elite to face our U12s, 13s, 15s and 16s. Team Elite are a development group based at Leigh Sports Village, Manchester. They always have good teams in all age groups and fixtures against them are always really competitive and of good standard. Their teams always look to play the right way and we have had some excellent fixtures against them and we always look forward to games.
It was also a good opportunity to continue to work with new players within the groups. All players are a year older now and we are looking at developing them further, and challenging them from a tactical point of view. It’s important that the boys start to understand the game and how we want to play in further detail.
It’s also good now that we have more staff on hand working with the players, contributing more feedback. Also the level of staff we have is very high. We feel we have the right mix here to provide players the best opportunity to develop to fulfil their potential, through the level of our staff, the detail of our training curriculum and the quality of our fixture programme.
Our Under 14s welcomed North West Elite from Liverpool. North West Elite are another development team that we have a really good relationship with, having played them numerous times over the past few season. They contain good players and are a strong outfit. The game started a little slowly, but the 14s soon started opening up NWE and scored some really well worked goals in the game.
Last week, like I mentioned above, we welcomed FC Copenhagen to Park Hall for the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round. We knew it was going to be a tough game against the Danish champions. It’s great that we can host European football in Oswestry, and that calibre of opposition. It was also brilliant to see the ground at peak capacity and a great turnout from our Academy youngsters and families.
On Wednesday, our U15s welcomed Peoria Chargers, an American touring team. Peoria are actually a high school, so they had a right mix of player ages. It was a really good challenge for our U15s, playing against a couple of players who were much bigger and stronger. I thought the boys conducted themselves excellently throughout, playing in the heat and with bare numbers.
Also on Wednesday, we took our U10s and U11s to Birmingham City to play their Academy. The games were excellent standard. We played smaller formatted games which the players embraced. As we have our game model and identity, the structure of the team in any format will always look similar. You take out certain positions but the patterns and movements are still evident. We thank Birmingham for inviting us and look forward to playing them again soon.
On Thursday, we welcomed MLS side Colorado Rapids to Park Hall Stadium to face our U11s and U12s. It was great to play against one of the top teams in America’s youth development team. Football, or ‘Soccer’, is becoming bigger and bigger in the States and they now have so much more investment into it.
The games were excellent. Both teams were presented with a pennant before the games and both sets of players enjoyed walking out of the tunnel together under the applause of parents.
It’s great that we can welcome teams of that stature to our ground. We thank them for travelling and hope they enjoyed the experience.
Speaking of experiences, five of our Academy youngsters had an amazing one last week, representing North Wales in the FAW Cymru Cup. The Cymru Cup is an annual tournament hosted by the Welsh Football Trust in which a calendar age group compete in a three-team tournament. This year it was held at the newly refurbished Colliers Park, in Gresford, near Wrexham.
The teams included South Wales and the Welsh Regional squad. The tournament is used as a way of forming up the National Squad at U15.
We were delighted and proud to have five players representing themselves and our football club. We were one of the best represented sides in the whole of the UK, including huge teams like Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton, to name a few.
Owen, Osian, Oliwier, Eric and James all did superbly and we are extremely proud of all five boys.
As the weekend approached, on Sunday we travelled to Fleetwood Town Academy, for games from Under 8 to Under 16. Fleetwood have a superb set-up, with their Academy and first team sharing the same complex. Last time we were there Joey Barton was leading his session on the main pitch when you arrive, although they weren’t in on Sunday.
All games were really good, and of a great standard and a good challenge. It’s good that we can continue to grow our fixture programme but also to maintain it, against good opposition. It’s important that the games are competitive, to continue good relationships with clubs. We are delighted that this is the case with Fleetwood, and we thank them for their hospitality and look forward to playing them again in the near future.
As we conclude, it’s been a really busy fortnight for our Football Club. It’s great for our Academy to be back in training, and offering excellent fixtures and learning opportunities. Development is at the forefront of everything we do within our youth provision and that has never been more evident than it is now.
Training is more detailed and with a much bigger presence from our first team. It’s really good to see the link between the two, which is really important and another reason why we feel our club is so unique.
And to finish, massive good luck to Scotty, Evo, Sarge and all of our first team players and staff in the second leg this week. We are all right behind you.