Ken Blackburn, the visionary who created the Gloucester City Youth Development system in 1999, has been told his “services were no longer required” after 19 years with the club.
Following a near two-decade span that has seen the likes of Tom Webb, Joe Parker, Mat Liddiard, Sam Avery and Adam Mann come through the ranks and into the first team, Blackburn will not be a part of the club going into the 2018/19 season.
Despite doing a league and cup double for the 2017/18 campaign, the 67 year-old told Severn Sport that he had been recently informed his services were no longer required.
“I was asked to a meeting at the end of May, to which I agreed” said Blackburn. “I advised that I wished to continue as manager and mentor a couple of new coaches from within the club, namely Nathan Bullingham and Craig Robinson, just for one more season, which would have been my 20th as manager!
“Running the under 18s is not easy, and I wanted to pass on my knowledge then step away. It soon became clear this is not what the club wanted… and on Saturday 2 June I received an email stating that my ‘services were no longer required.'”
Blackburn and his right-hand-man Neil Mustoe masterminded a double winning season for Gloucester City under 18s as they won the league and the cup, as well as a trip to the FA Youth Cup 1st Round.
Severn Sport reported in May that Mustoe was leaving the setup after four years himself, in order to focus more on personal commitments, which will leave an opening for a fresh face to take over as manager.
Whoever takes over will have a tough task to emulate the success of Blackburn and Mustoe’s teams, with the two having guided their sides to three league titles in the last four years.
“[The club] intended to take promotion, against my recommendation because of the increased travelling involved” said Blackburn. “We have a duty of care to these lads, whom have to attend either college or school the next day.
“It may well be that the league insist on our taking promotion, having won the league three times in the last four seasons, but that is out of our hands.”
Blackburn went on to give his thoughts on the future of a youth development system that has been so successful in bringing through players into the first team of Gloucester City and other regional non-league divisions.
“I have real concerns for the youth development going forward” he said. “Two really good coaches have moved on to Forest Green and West Bromwich Albion, not just good coaches but good blokes whom really cared about Gloucester City.
“I have no hidden agenda, and believe me I wanted to keep a dignified silence, but I care too much for the club I first trained with as 15 year old in 1966 under Bobby Grant.
“With between 50-80 players having gone on to play for the first team,and many more gone on to play at Southern League and Hellenic League level, six league titles, six times runners up, seven county cup finals, four as winners, first round proper several times in the FA Youth Cup, I have nothing to prove.
“But my finest achievement is founding Gloucester City Youth Development 19 years ago, which has grown from strength to strength.”
Blackburn took time to reflect on his time within the setup and looked back with special fondness over the last four years with Mustoe as his second in command, before going on to speak about the need for a reserve team for the club in the near future.
“Both Neil and myself were a good team, and never had a cross word in four years about selection, formation, training methods etc, we just told the players to go out and express themselves, enjoy, but most of all entertain us, and results will speak for themselves.
“We are very proud of what our teams achieved, and they really did entertain us. Some of the football we played was just fantastic, and a joy to watch.
“I am pleased that both Noah Smerdon – a future star for the club – and Danny King – our most improved player – have been invited to pre-season training with the first team, it’s very much deserved!
“A reserve/development squad is a must in the near future, as this is the backbone of any club. It proved its worth a few seasons ago, with Joe Parker, Mat Liddiard, Adam Mann, Sam Turl to name but a few coming through, which helped in their development, but lack of funds prevented me from continuing with this squad.
“A big thank you must go to Severn Sport for their fantastic support the last few seasons, which has helped the under 18s to become the flagship of Gloucester City Youth Development. They were voted team of the season, which was very much deserved.
“As my dad used to say to me,”Its nice to be important, but more important to be nice ” And i really have tried over the years! It’s been a blast.”
Severn Sport approached Gloucester City for further comment and the club responded, saying:
Gloucester City AFC would like to thank Ken for his immense contribution to the Club through his founding of the Youth set up and all of the players that have progressed into the first team during his tenure.
The Club has a very clear plan for the future of the Youth set up and has started talks over the set-up of a Reserve side to properly bridge the gap between the U18’s and First team.
We believe that this will provide the right step up in progression for both players and coaches as they look to develop their careers in football with Gloucester City.
The Club have promoted Nathan Bullingham and Craig Robinson to take charge of the Under 18’s on a joint basis and we’d like to wish them all the best for next season.