We were soon on our way to Newcastle United who had arranged two games at their First Team Training Centre based on the outskirts of the city. The indoor arena where the games were played was first class, with the pitch exactly the same size as St James Park, in fact all the pitches at the training facility were the same dimensions as St James Park with all senior players at the club using this facility daily it was a fantastic insight into how the club operate. The grass pitches were immaculate and we could see the Academy Training Centre in the distance, this too also looked in perfect condition.
Neil Winskill, who heads up the Newcastle United Foundation, helped organise the evening and everything else that we had planned at Newcastle, his enthusiasm and love of the game was infectious, he spoke glowing about the game during the tour of the facility before the players prepared for their match. Devan Conry continued his goal scoring exploits, he was assisted this time by Jacob Young, Eric Litteri and Reece Taffurelli, the older squad also got on the scoresheet through Zane Casella as the players were put through their paces by the energetic and talented Newcastle teams.
Day 9 took us to Darlington where both squads played full matches against the Darlington Academy Teams. The standard of play was still extremely high, Darlington now ply their trade outside the Football League having been relegated to the conference division in 2010 but they showed how competitive football is in the UK by providing a stern challenge for the PFT players. Goals from Devan Conry, James Drewett (twice), Sam Banks Smith, helped the youngsters through whilst the older squad scored through Anthony Topini, Thomas Pope and Thomas Jebb.
It was clear that the players had responded to the experiences of the tour thus far as they moved the ball quickly, playing some excellent one and two touch football, turning their quality possession play into chances and becoming more creative in the final third. Confidence and Self Belief had grown in the players and everyone was on a high afterwards.
Day 10 took us back to Newcastle, this time to their Academy where we watched the Newcastle United under 9, 11 and 13 squads play against Huddersfield Town. Both under 9 and under 11 matches were 9 v 9 played on smaller pitches, with the under 13 game was 11 v 11 on a modified field which was shorter and narrower than a full size pitch and also had slightly smaller goals. It would be great if this concept was brought to Australia as the smaller pitches meant that players got more touches and were involved in the game more.
The matches, as with the previous weekend when we visited Bolton, were run over three and four periods, with the two younger groups playing two periods of 20 minutes followed by two periods of 12 minutes, with the under 13’s playing two 25 minutes periods followed by two 15 minute periods. Again, this concept brought to Australia would mean great game time for all involved, plus the additional breaks in play would result in less injury/fatigue in many of the young players.
It was also noticeable that at both Bolton and Newcastle each of the games were recorded. When we spoke with each club, as well as discussions with the other clubs we visited, they indicated that this was predominantly for the coaches, however from under 13 up to under 18 each player gets a copy of their clips for them to review when they came in for their next session. Each of the EPL clubs employ staff to perform this filming and editing, the attention to detail was amazing.
After we had finished our dinner we had the pleasure of spending some time with Ben Clark, an old school friend of Mark who started his professional career with Manchester United before moving to Sunderland. Ben is now the captain of Gateshead United who play in the division just outside the football league. He is still a full time footballer and has had a distinguished career playing at all levels except senior level for England. Ben shared his Sunday evening with us talking about football, the highs and lows of the game and how being a footballer is the best occupation anyone could every have.
Thank you Ben for sharing your insight and talking so positively about the game.
Day 11 involved two training sessions, in the morning we visited Sunderland where the players were put to task by former player and FA Cup winner Carlton Fairweather and Ian Dipper who coordinates the Academy Development. Both sessions were challenging and engaged the kids positively, with the players again impressing the coaches with their ability. Whilst Ian addressed the parents, Carlton took us on a tour of the Academy giving us a wonderful insight on how they operate at Sunderland, many of the under 18 squad were there and also the First Team were in having lunch having just completed their session.
Another world class facility, with the playing surfaces kept in optimum condition. So much so that after our session had been completed the ground staff actually came out to cut and roll the grass ready for the under 18 session which started just as we left the training area.
After lunch we headed up to Newcastle and back to their indoor arena, where Neil Winskill met us again. The players were again energised by the session, everything was short sharp and insightful, the players were given freedom to express themselves and it was a great learning environment. With Mark and Barry looking on equally energised by the session the impromptu appearance of ex-England International (and boyhood hero of Mark) Peter Beardsley only heightened their excitement. Beardsley played over 80 games for England and had hero status at Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton. He spoke positively about the game and showed his passion for the game, even sharing a story about playing against Maradona in the Quarter Final of the World Cup in 1986.
Day 12 saw the players and parents take in a tour of St James Park, home of Newcastle United. Afterwards the Neil Winskill gave everyone a presentation on the ‘Newcastle Way’ from how the academy works to selection of players and code of conduct for parents. This gave everyone a fantastic insight into what the clubs at the top are looking for, what they expect and what their ambitions are.
Newcastle United coach around 27,000 kids under the age of 16 every year, in WA terms that amounts the roughly the number of registered Junior players, Newcastle are looking to advance significantly on this figure but are still no where near the mark set by Chelsea which stands at almost 3 million players per year!!! Demographics features highly in the quest for uncovering new talent, Newcastle sold Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35m, this for a player who cost nothing but at 15 Newcastle almost let go!
The presentation also highlighted the need for young players to be allowed to learn for themselves, think for themselves but ultimately enjoy themselves doing something they love. It was so refreshing for us to hear Neil speak so passionately about the game and share so much of his time with us. The experience for all of us at Newcastle encompassed everything we wanted to achieve on the tour.
After the presentation we travelled North and into Scotland, a journey which back in the late 1990’s found Barry travelling South during his short spell at Darlington FC and Mark travelling North whilst under contract at Hibernian in Edinburgh.