Around Rovers

November 4, 2008

Following the introduction of the winter and summer transfer windows, a good number of League clubs and clubs in the realms of non league make use of the loan system in order to support and sustain their respective positions. It is the policy of our club to use the strategy to gain valuable first team and regular football for our younger players.

Other clubs will use the system to prop their own full time squad of players and to run finances in a way most viable to them. Cheltenham Town are a prime example of this approach. During the early part of this season a number of players have joined the Robins on loan and primarily in the striking positions. It was interesting to see Barry Hayles grab the winner in a seven goal thriller against Colchester United last Saturday in the very last minute of the game and in Barry’s very last minute before returning to Leicester City.

The Board at Bristol Rovers have ambitions for our club that probably goes against loaning in. Other than in emergency situations such as serious longer term injuries to key players, our policy is to recruit and develop our own players. The Board’s ambitions for a higher level of football is thought to be best served by bringing in quality players to add to those already with us so as to enable us to push on until our ambitions are realised.

In some cases we have to spend to bring in the players that are sought after by Lennie and Paul. In some cases we do not. Players arrive at lower league clubs from a variety of routes and at various stages in their careers as professional footballers. Ben Hunt is a case in point. Ben has been well received and has made a good impression since joining us from West Ham in close season. Ben is a player who has joined just by the same route as Charlie Reece and under 18 player Reeko Best, that is by the annual exit trails.

The Football League Exit and Assessment Trials are designed to give young players with the FA Premier League and Football League Championship clubs a deserved second chance to establish themselves as professional footballers. The system, which is organised by The Football League, gives young players not offered professional contracts by clubs in the higher leagues the opportunity to showcase their talents in front of representatives of other clubs at the trials. They are staged regionally in the February half term holiday, after the boys have been informed about their respective futures. It is not so much a case of exit and out as exit and in. The venues for the trails are normally Leeds, Lilleshall and Bisham Abbey.

Bristol Rovers are represented by Chief Scout Paul Molesworth, Stewart Naughton the Centre of Excellence Manager, former player Billy Clarke now in charge of the under 18’s and Bev Mealing our under 16’s coach. On average 90 boys attend each trail which enables six teams, including substitutes, to be made up, with teams playing each other for half an hour per game. Every player is given the appropriate amount of playing time so that they have a fair chance to impress the 100 or so club representatives who attend. There is, understandably, a big expectation from the players but Stewart is keen to point out that clubs like ourselves have to be very selective indeed; we cannot afford to show an interest in players that are no better than our own home grown youngsters.

Over the years that the trials have been held they have proved to be successful with an average of 60 percent of the players being offered at least a trial by another club. Club representatives at the trails are given details of all those on show. Should a player attract the eye it is not possible to approach the boy himself. Club scouts are given a sheet on which they are required to mark their interest. All clubs interests are then given to the players. In the case of Reeko it was in the order of fifteen clubs for example. It was as much the case of Charlie, Reeko and Ben attracting us as us attracting them.

For those not offered a professional contract after their apprenticeships, the assessment trials at 18 are “partly about closure”, according to Alan Sykes, Chief Executive of League Football Education. “It’s the final opportunity to prove to people that they are cable of playing”. We recognise that if these lads are going to continue playing, for a high percentage it will be lower down the pyramid”.

Or is it I ask myself. Try telling that to Paul Randall, Steve Foster and just let me think; oh yes, Barry Hayles of course.





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