Much has been written of late regarding the impact of COVID-19 on football clubs in the National League and Hartlepool United has not been immune to this. In difficult financial times at Victoria Park, a halt to funding for the academy placed the future of the club’s Under-18s in serious doubt. However, with support from ourselves and local grassroots club, FC Hartlepool, to ensure youth football can continue.
In the new youth programme for the 2020/21 season, the players, aged between 16-19, are studying either a full-extended diploma in sport or have embarked on an engineering course. But, crucially, the promising footballers’ schedule is just like it would have been, if they had been a paid scholar at Hartlepool United last season.
Ian McGuckin has been appointed by the College as Head of High-Performance Coaching, having spent the last three years as youth team coach at Victoria Park. He will be working with another former Hartlepool player Ian Clark, who is the High-Performance Coordinator at the College, with the aim of producing talent for the paid ranks.
Shaun Hope, Assistant Principal at Hartlepool College and himself a former youth player at Coventry and Sunderland, said: “It is a shame the club’s previous youth team arrangements could not continue and we will aim to build on the great work done by our friends at East Durham College. Clearly, the difference to previous years is that they are not being paid. What is happening is that two of the town’s anchor organisations and a local grassroots club, in times of trouble, have come together to try to help a club really struggling to keep up its academy after the relegation from the Football League. Priority one is we will provide an outstanding education. Priority two is they will receive the best football education to assist a transition into the paid game, whether that is in the National League at Hartlepool, above that in the Football League or below in non-league. Some will make a good income and play locally as well as work.”
The programme is being well backed by Hartlepool United boss Dave Challinor. Mr Challinor said: “It is always a massive part of how I want a club to run when I am in charge, especially a club of our size. The influence we have in the community gives lads from the local area the potential to play for the hometown club. I didn’t do a traditional football scholarship when I was younger. I did my A-levels, played for Tranmere. I was a pro for 15 years and at the back end of my career, I did a physio degree, coinciding with finishing playing. Education for the kids is massively important, they need to see a pathway to play first-team football too and they have that here still.”
Mr McGuckin took charge of the FA Youth Cup tie against Hebburn Town on Wednesday night, the current youth team’s first competitive game together. He said: “It’s a transitional phase. What we are setting up will give us a great platform for the coming years, we are going to be stable. It’s the first year where I have seen the players actually concerned about what academic course they are going on. That’s nice. This is a more balanced approach. We are trying to galvanise everything together, make one movement and get everyone fully supportive. I wouldn’t have come in if I didn’t think it was right.”
Two teenagers from the town, Thomas Lea and Connor Gales, previously students at Dyke House Academy, are part of a group that includes footballers from across the region. The hope is that a few will follow in the footsteps of other academy graduates such as Joe Grey, Adam Campbell, Kenton Richardson and Josh Hawkes. Mr Clark, who like McGuckin holds a UEFA A licence coaching badge, said: “Ian McGuckin did a lot of good work there last year, produced two young pros in Joe Grey and Adam Campbell, who signed pros a year early. The training schedule is what they would have done as a scholar. The quality is exactly the same too, as in the coaching, same opportunities, the same pathway to the first team. And, of course, they are getting a first-class education. Some scholars will go away with a full-extended diploma, the equivalent of three A-levels. It’s just a fantastic opportunity for these lads. We are also thankful to Hartlepool Supporters’ Trust for sponsoring the kit. They see the benefits of the long term project too.”