FOR some, the fact New College beat Fleet Spurs 4-2 after extra-time last night would have meant very little. In reality, the academy’s students were writing their own little piece of history.
Two goals apiece from Max Slinn and Christy Millar propelled New College through the qualifying round of the FA Vase for the first time ever, setting up a meeting with Thame United in the next stage and helping the club achieve one of its targets which, half a decade ago, might have seemed that little bit grand.
For a team competing at Hellenic League level, the college are – perhaps obviously – incredibly inexperienced collectively. With no member of the squad over the age of 20, they are paired against sides who can boast dozens of seasons of non-league know-how amongst their ranks.
However, under the direction of Ian Howell and his coaching staff, the club have grown from strength to strength and now, with last night’s success, they can strike another notch on their belt – progression in a senior FA competition. No wonder, then, that their players couldn’t get enough of their achievements on social media on Tuesday evening.
For Howell, it was a proud moment and an important next step in the college’s blueprint for the future.
He told Link Sport: “We’ve had a big development plan over the last four or five years to try to take us towards being able, as a football club but under the College entity gain entry into the senior competitions through the FA.
“Getting into the FA Vase is one of the first targets we set out from a College perspective. We had a tough game last year and didn’t get through the first qualifying round but we’ve gone past that this year.
“We equipped ourselves unbelievably well against a big, strong, physical side and for their own personal development hopefully they can look back on setting themselves a little bit of history. Hopefully we can progress now and have a good game in the next round against Thame United and maybe even go one step further.
“I don’t think there are many academy or college teams who have progressed in the national tiers of these competitions. I know Team Bath and Loughborough have progressed in the FA Cup but they’re more senior students, from 19 to 25, in those clubs.
“We had 16-year-olds playing last night.”
Having been held to a draw in the original tie at home on Saturday, Howell conceded that he thought his team’s chances of progression might have gone when they made the trip to Fleet on Tuesday.
“It’s some achievement. I thought Saturday might have been our opportunity – at home, on a decent pitch – but it was a tight game in the end. We had to play the last 20 minutes of extra time with 10 men but came through that,” he said.
“It was a tough place to go in midweek with physical players but we scored some really good goals at important times.”
The club’s latest success can be considered a success not only for New College but for football in the town in general.
The thriving set-up plays in three separate league competitions on Saturdays, as well as cups and Wednesday afternoon under 18 and under 20 structures, with a squad of more than 50 members.
However, they pick up the best of the talent from junior clubs locally and develop them further, rather than relying on the offshoots of local pro sides, as Howell explained: “The pleasing part about our programme is we don’t get a huge intake from Swindon Town or Oxford United. Occasionally we might have some players who have been released from the Centre of Excellence at 14 or 15 and they’ve gone back into local football and played in the North Wilts League.
“It shows our recruitment comes from the local clubs – Stratton Juniors, Ferndale, Supermarine. Across the whole town it’s great they can see a pathway or progression and a number of our lads come out of the programme and go to America or go ply their trade at a more senior non-league level and make some money out of the game.
“It shows that you don’t always have to be at a professional club to break into a programme and move onto a good level.”