We tried to get a player from a Championship club to join us on loan at Bradford Park Avenue. Apparently he and his agent think Non-League football is beneath him.
I’d say one or two per cent of an Under-23 age group will make it – and that’s being bold by saying one or two.
So I think there should be a change. Young players, as part of their contract, should have to go and play in Non-League football. It’s vital.
It gives them a reality check of what football is like outside of, what I call, the ‘spoilt regime’. They’re pampered, they have everything done for them, training kit nicely laid out, iPads to go through video clips of their games and it’s all about development.
There’s not enough emphasis on three points. So when they fall out of the system and come down into Non-League football, it’s a massive culture shock. They can’t adjust. All of a sudden, every pass, every tackle, every inch makes a massive difference to the football club they’re at.
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With the U23s they can sit down with their coach on a Thursday or go into a seminar room to over-analyse and talk through what they’re going to work on next week. Well, the three points have been and gone in Non-League football.
Credit to Huddersfield Town. Academy manager Leigh Bromby and chairman Phil Hodgkinson have sent two lads to us at Bradford Park Avenue.
Jaheim Headley is highly-regarded there and Isaac Marriott, who has been fantastic. I haven’t seen a midfielder work like him for a while – he reminds me of my former Wrexham team-mate Jay Harris. They’ve both really grasped the nitty-gritty of Non-League.
It’s the demands that players struggle to cope with. Having to wash your own kit, as an example. When I was in the youth team at Coventry we had to wash the bibs, the cones, the balls. We had to be downstairs at 8am and we weren’t allowed back up to our rooms until 5pm.
I’m not saying it should go back to those days where it’s militant. But there has to be a learning process. If I didn’t clean the boots properly, I was told in no uncertain terms I had to do them again.
I was training with the first team and cleaning their boots. I said, ‘Why do I have to clean boots, I’m training with the first team and I’m on the bench’.
Willie Boland, the Irish midfielder, grabbed me and said, ‘Listen, you do your jobs and you learn your trade’. I quickly learnt to get my head down.
Being up there and cleaning boots, I was speaking to World Cup players or lads who were established in the first team that you look up to – big characters like Robbie Keane and John Hartson. You had a relationship with them which gives you a bond and work ethic.
You see it now in Non-League football where they also have U23 teams. Part of it is to do with revenue for the football club, which is great, but there’s got to be an honest and integrity where there is a chance and a pathway for the players to graduate into the first team. I’ve watched a lot of football and U23 games can become very robotic and predictable.
But if it was written into Football League academy contracts that they had to have a loan spell further down it would work well both ways. Financially, it’s a win-win for the Non-League club. If they can get a player of quality in for minimum reimbursement it’s great. Then for the professional club, they get a player who comes back having learnt a lot.
Let’s say in an U23 game, they’re trying to play out from the back but the press is on them, so they knock a ball over the defence and score. Do you think their manager is going to say, ‘Woah, woah – where did you learn that from?’ He’s going to say, ‘Great decision, you’re becoming a more rounded football player’.
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There’s a culture among some young players that, ‘Oh our training ground is nice, I’ve got my Louis Vuitton washbag and I can drive around in my leased Mercedes’. All of a sudden you’re at a Non-League club, training at night, stuck in traffic on the motorway and not getting home until 11pm. Then, it’s back to work the following morning.
Footballers have to be able to adapt to their surroundings. Those who come on loan to Non-League and embrace it, have half a chance.
For the first time since I came to Bradford Park Avenue with manager Marcus Law, we’re going into games thinking we can get a result.
We’re creating a culture of togetherness after stripping everything back after they got off to a difficult start in the National League North.
Players like Rhys Taylor, Ricardo Calver and Josh Heaton have joined us – we’re utilising the budget better – and smiles are back on faces. After Tuesday’s training we had a curry and beer together while watching the Champions League games with the fans. We want a connection.
We’re structured and disciplined now. We drew with Spennymoor Town last Saturday but we probably should have been 3-0 up! We came off the pitch disappointed and that shows how far we’ve come in a short space of time.
We’re much more competitive and I’m sure not as many teams will fancy playing us now.
I still have a real affinity for Wrexham and the fans – as well as mates in the team.
Of course it’s disappointing for everyone that they’ve not had the start to the season as they would have hoped.
They brought in some good attacking players in the summer and hopefully they can get back to the basics that served them so well last season of conceding few goals, check out best uk gambling sites for their odds.
They’ve got good leaders in the changing room and the players will know they have got to step-up.
Tagged Lee Fowler