THE future looks bright for Swindon Town’s youth development programme and Lydiard Park Academy after the two teamed up to provide a solid base for local youth football in the region.
On September 22, Town will officially move their entire development operation to the Lydiard Park site, with over 130 children receiving coaching each week in age groups ranging from under sevens to under 16s.
Having been located at the PGL facility at Liddington for several years, the move represents the culmination of 18 months of discussions and intensive planning on the part of academy director Jeremy Newton, Town’s head of education Paul Smith and Lydiard Park assistant principal Christian Dobbs.
The Robins have paid a five-figure fee, which Link Sports understands to be in the region of £15,000, to renovate the playing fields in the school’s grounds, which Town will rent from Lydiard Park, who still own their own pitches.
Meanwhile Lydiard will have access to the club’s equipment and coaching staff, while the school will in turn host the academic side of Swindon’s day release programme.
That programme allows 11 and 12-year-olds to spend an entire day once a week within the coaching structure of the club, while being taught at Lydiard Park at the same time. It will be rolled out from the end of this month.
For Newton, seeing the blueprint for junior football finally come to fruition is a rewarding experience.
He told Link Sport: “We’ve got it ready to go live at the end of the month. Mondays will be a whole day here – we can tap into the school’s facilities and we’re looking forward to that project.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on the pitches – they’ve been treated. A lot of work has gone into it and we’re getting there now. Everything is solely ours now, so it’s better for us that we’re here.
“We’ve done a deal with the school, it’s a fantastic deal for both parties. They get an additional income from us using the pitches and any of our players who might not get take into our youth may be offered to Lydiard in the sixth form.
“Later down the line we’ll look at introducing a Lydiard Academy football programme to build even stronger links. If we keep doing the good work we do at the academy then we’ll continue to produce good players.
“All the games are based here as well, from sevens to 16s, so the school have got a canteen which can be opened up for an additional income. On a Sunday when you’ve got four or eight teams here it generates added income.
“It’s a lot of work gone in from Paul Smith, our head of education, Chris Dobbs, the assistant principal, as well as Jamie (Pitman), Sean (Wood) and myself. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time but with education we’ve got to be cautious – not all of them are going to be footballers, so taking them out of their education will have a knock-on effect.”
Town’s academy system is understood to cost the club around £300,000 per year and has developed a proud history of unearthing local gems.
The likes of Louis Thompson, Nathan Thompson, Alex Henshall, Craig Hill and Jordan Turnbull have all come through the academy and its predecessor, the Centre of Excellence, to secure moves to big clubs or break through into the Town first team.
Such is the strength of the structure Newton and his colleagues have developed in the past half a decade, young players come from as far afield as London, Bristol, Newbury, Gloucester and Basingstoke to receive coaching three evenings a week – despite the prominence of bigger clubs in their home regions.
Because of that, Dobbs feels Lydiard Park can earn some prestige from playing host to the academy.
He said: “The pitches have been redone – they’ve been flattened, fertilised, spiked and rolled so they’ll be up to academy standard. We get to use them in our lessons and extra-curricular as well.
“We are seen as one of the top sporting performers and it’s about attracting students who are serious about sport to join our sports academy as well because they know they’ll get a good deal.
“We have access to all the equipment and to some of the coaches as well. For example, Sean Wood came and delivered a session to my year nine team.
“The kudos of being attached to a professional club and a centre of excellence speaks volumes about what they and we want to do. They’ve encouraged students to join us because they know they get the academic benefit here as well as physically.
“Myself and Jeremy have been chatting for ages about getting this to happen and now it has. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”
While football is quite obviously a major part of the Town academy and its new day release programme, Newton insisted that children’s academic studies will still be given priority.
He said: “With the education side, it has to be right for both parties and then you take the parents and players into consideration as well.
“We’re hoping that we’ve planned so much of this that it will only enhance their education, the project and the academy. At any point that their education starts to suffer then the day release programme for those individuals will be knocked on the head and they will return to school on a Monday.”