This week saw two local sides, Stonehouse Town and Dursley Town confirm they would be registering U18s sides in the Cheltenham Youth Floodlit League for the 2020/21 season, so with these new teams adding to a competitive local league and the emergence of future talent, Ryan Butler looks at the resurgence in U18s football in Gloucestershire.
During the summer of 2017 we found ourselves at a crossroads on what we were covering at Severn Sport and how we were going to run. With Matt stepping away to begin a new family with his wife and to focus on his future, myself and Kelsey had a discussion that pretty much ended with “ahh f*** it, let’s see what we can achieve!”
The consensus was that we would cover as much football as possible and during the 2017/18 season we added U18s football to our list of football covered, mainly with Gloucester City U18s.
For me, it started with the FA Youth Cup tie against Oxford United, a full-time academy side. And the Young Tigers not only pushed their more experience counterparts, they matched them for long periods.
Despite losing 2-1, they did themselves proud and to see the reaction of the players, the families and friends in attendance as well as coaches Ken Blackburn and Neil Mustoe – it even made me proud of what I had just seen.
From there we followed the young City side as they went on to clinch the double, winning both the Midland Floodlit Youth League Southern Division and the County Cup and our commitment to U18s football blossomed.
Over the following summer, I personally began to learn about U18s football within the county and we again decided to branch out and cover more and more of it, especially knowing that a lot of the players we would see would be introduced into men’s football in the coming years.
That summer Slimbridge introduced an U18s side and we found ourselves when doing the rounds of our local sides’ pre-season training, watching a trial match for the U18s side and the quality was outstanding.
Adam Coyle and his coaching staff recruited this new team who looked to sweep all before them in the MFYL and they became the must-watch side of the season!
Since then it has felt that the buzz is back within local football for the U18s side of the game and with a number of clubs looking to push on and progress up the football pyramid, the importance of having that conveyor belt of talent coming through is even more crucial than before.
Clubs like Tuffley Rovers in particular have almost redefined their club philosophy in order to help that progression. With the complete overhaul of the ideologies towards player progression, the club has brought in Ken Blackburn and Michael Palmer to oversee the change and it isn’t just us, but other clubs noticing too.
Delightfully the Cheltenham Youth Floodlit League could see as many as 10 Gloucestershire sides (and Evesham) in a league of 12, that is 10 sides playing competitive local derbies across the season.
That in itself provides one thing that all players need, opportunity. Players will have opportunities to showcase their talents and to learn whilst playing a high standard of football.
Having so many clubs putting forward U18s and in some cases U16s squads, that provides players with the opportunity to earn the call-up into men’s football. Plus, with the colleges and academies locally like Hartpury, and at Cirencester Town, the quality of coaching and facilities will only continue to build the now thriving U18s scene we have in the county.
In the CYFL next season clubs who play in the Southern League down to the Gloucestershire Northern Senior League will be running U18s squads, meaning that those players can then be exposed to a number of levels of men’s football on a Saturday, thus benefitting their progression to try and play at the highest level possible.
Once again Kelsey and I find ourselves having conversations about what we are looking to do going forward, what we have done previously etc and the one thing that I am particularly proud of is our U18s football coverage.
By watching the sides regularly we have been able to build up our rapport with the players, the coaches and even in some cases the parents and it is something that we will continue to do.
We have since been able to watch a whole host of talented players within the county and so much so that in the last two seasons we have been able to dedicate our ‘Young Player of the Season Award’ at the End of Season Awards to U18s players, showing them that their hardwork and dedication to progress isn’t going unnoticed.
Here at Severn Sport we welcome the resurgence of U18s football within the county and with so many clubs offering a pathway into men’s football for their players, the importance of having that U18s side is evident for all to see.
This weekend Ryan joins Ian Logan-Giles on the Severn Sport Show on Dean Radio to discuss U18s football in Gloucestershire, from looking back at stand-out matches, to players to watch and parents role in the progression of the player. Listen on Saturday from 10am on Dean Radio