11:55 14 May 2014
By Bryan Bull
Gillingham Football Club, along with the majority of other Football League Clubs, run an Academy designed to produce full time professional players for the club's first team.
The majority of the younger element of the Academy programme is based at the excellent facilities at the University of Kent at Canterbury, whilst the older players (17’s-21’s) are based in Gillingham.
Academy’s are divided into three “phases”, the under 7 to under 11’s are in the “Foundation phase” (that includes our six Development Centers at Sittingbourne, Ashford, Medway, Canterbury, Dartford and Maidstone) the 12’s to 16’s are in the “Youth Development phase” and the 17-21’s are in the “Professional Development phase.”
Our different age groups that play fixtures run from Under 9s to Under 16s, who train twice a week, and our younger teams (U9s-U14s) play their Sunday fixtures at the University. Our under 16s train once a week at Canterbury, and once a week during the daytime at Beechings Cross, if their school allow. The Under 16s Saturday fixtures are also at Beechings, normally when the Youth Team are away. The Youth team consists of full time “scholars”, who are under 17 or under 18, and train daily, as well as carrying out an education program.
Once a decision is made on the players at the end of their scholarship to retain them, they then move into a Professional Development Group, where they will potentially train with the first team as their progress dictates, or play fixtures within this group, or potentially go out on loan to further their experience.
All of our age groups are in a 'games programme' competing against other Academy’s from such clubs as Watford, Portsmouth and Southend as well as some more geographically distant ones such as Northampton and Peterborough. No points are at stake in these fixtures, "roll-on-roll-off" substitutions are allowed, and, up until the Under 16 age group each player must play a minimum of half of a match. This is all designed to encourage the development of players, rather than sole focus on the result. This is not to say the games are uncompetitive, as they most certainly are! The Youth team play in the Football League Youth Alliance, and compete in the FA Youth Cup.
During games no parental involvement is allowed, with most coaching input coming in the breaks of play. Our U9s and U10s play 5v5 and 8v8 and our U11s 9v9. Periods of play are normally 60 minutes broken into three or four periods. From U12s up to U14s it moves to 3 x 25 or 4 x 20 minute periods on smaller size 11v11 pitches, while at U15/U16 level full sized pitches are used and two halves played.
During the season, in the match day programme, we will be giving you more details on each of the age groups and the type of things they do in training, what we look for in a footballer and hopefully other areas you might find of interest.
Over the last few years the likes of Andrew Crofts, Matty Jarvis, Nyron Nosworthy, Danny Spiller, Jack Payne, Luke Rooney, Connor Essam, Callum Davies, Bradley Dack, Jake Hessenthaler and Luke Freeman have gone from the youth system into the first team.
Matt Jarvis, (currently with West Ham), Luke Freeman (moved to Arsenal when 16) and Ryan Bertrand (who moved to Chelsea when aged 16) have since gone on to represent England at various age groups, whilst Ryan played in the 2012 Champions League Final against Bayern Munich. Clearly not everyone in our programme can reach these heights, but undoubtedly we have the potential for some to follow in the footsteps of those named above. It is our job to nurture them and ensure they have the best possible opportunity.
Football League Rules for Youth Development - Players/Parents Guide 2013/14
Below you can view our end of season academy presentation from the 2012-13 season.