How did we go from training in a car park to producing some of the most exciting young footballers in the country?
Back in 1988, Bristol City Football Club (in the Third Division at the time) was given a F.A. ‘Centre of Excellence’ licence. The idea behind these centres was to develop young local footballers and produce home-grown talent for professional clubs to use for their first teams.
The Centre of Excellence facilities were very basic by today’s standards and training sessions were mainly based on the available space at Ashton Gate's car park… Nevertheless, the Centre was very popular for local boys and it soon became well-known for producing good players.
In the summer of 1990, current Academy Head of Welfare Pete Coleman was asked to direct the Centre of Excellence by Joe Jordan, who was managing the first team at the time, and our Chief Scout Tony Fawthrop. Pete moved the Centre to Redwood Lodge and the Imperial Sports Ground, and training inevitably made huge improvements.
For the next 8 years the Centre developed the best local talent on a very limited budget with a team of 3 outstanding coaches – Frank Jacobs, Graham Muxworthy and John Clayton.
The Academy is born
As we soon found out, the development of young players can be a long-term process and it took time for these young players to be ready for first team football.
Players like Matt Hewlett, Michael Wyatt, Jason Fowler, Dwayne Plummer, Dominic Barclay and Louis Carey were the first to break into the ranks in the mid-1990s.
In 1997 The F.A. invited ambitious clubs to apply for Academy status – and Bristol City took our chance.
The club’s Chairman and Vice Chairman – Scott Davidson and John Laycock – fully supported our application and appointed Dave Burnside (considered by many to be the best youth coach in the country) as our first Academy Director.
Dave was now supported by 8 full-time staff members – who all made major contributions to the Academy’s success in the following years.
The schoolboy players we recruited and coached in the 1990s had become mature young footballers and were now eager for first team opportunities and it would only be a matter of time before they were given them.
First team appearances
The statistics from 2000-2006 speak for themselves; there was a huge percentage of Academy starters in the first team and many made over 10 appearances (in brackets).
- 2000/01 - 35% of 1st team starters had come through the Academy: Aaron Brown (34 starts), Joe Burnell (20), Louis Carey (54), Simon Clist (42) and Matthew Hill (39)
- 2001/02 - 43% : Kevin Amankwaah (22), Aaron Brown (41), Joe Burnell (31), Louis Carey (39), Simon Clist (14), Danny Coles (27), Tommy Doherty (32) and Matthew Hill (47)
- 2002/03 - 43%: Aaron Brown (24), Joe Burnell (54), Louis Carey (28), Danny Coles (47), Tommy Doherty (50), Matthew Hill (50) and Craig Woodman (10)
- 2003/04 - 44%: Aaron Brown (34), Joe Burnell (18), Louis Carey (49), Danny Coles (55), Tommy Doherty (34), Matthew Hill (48) and Craig Woodman (22)
- 2004/05 - 37% : Louis Carey (14), Danny Coles (41), Tommy Doherty (31), Clayton Fortune (21), Matthew Hill (29) and Leroy Lita (48)
- 2005/06 - 30% : Louis Carey (41) , Dave Cotterill (39), Clayton Fortune (10), Cole Skuse (32) and Craig Woodman (37)
Between 2001 and 2004 the Academy was providing on average five players to each starting 11 – the very same group of players who narrowly missed out on automatic promotion and the play-offs in 2003 and 2004.
At the start of 2004 a legion of our best local footballers began to leave the club. In the space of 12 months between July 2004 and July 2005, seven Academy players had left and two more followed in 2006. The following Academy players left Bristol City between 2004 and 2006:
Aaron Brown, Joe Burnell, Danny Coles, Tommy Doherty, Matthew Hill, Leroy Lita, Louis Carey (returned just six month later), Scott Golbourne and David Cotterill
The Academy now had to rebuild and produce more players capable of meeting the demands of first team football. Cole Skuse emerged to play regularly alongside Louis Carey, and James Wilson and Chris Ribeiro were showing signs that they were capable of meeting the managers’ expectations.
However, the impact of the Academy on the first team was significantly reduced, and people who had once been great supporters of the Academy were starting to have doubts. Championship football and the availability of funds to buy players had made entry into Bristol City’s first team more challenging.
Cole Skuse's move to Ipswich and Louis Carey's retirement left an increased pressure to produce more Academy players to fill the gaps - something that we have successfully achieved.
Joe Bryan and Bobby Reid have become Bristol City regulars and continually make positive contributions to Lee Johnson’s team. Lee has been brave enough to include young players in his squad and has also made it clear that Academy products are a big part of Bristol City’s future.
Predicting who will emerge from our talented group of young professionals is always difficult. We have some excellent young players in all age groups with dedicated, talented staff who know how to develop players and a first team manager not afraid to play them when he feels they are ready.
Academy Player League Appearances
A huge amount of Academy products have made over 100 league appearances as professional footballers:
Joe Burnell, Clayton Fortune, Joe Anyinsah, Elliott Benyon, James Wilson, Chris Ribeiro, Rob Stambolziev (mainly in Greece), Luke Wilkinson and Bobby Reid
Aaron Brown, Damian Spencer, Ryan Harley, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Joe Edwards and Joe Bryan
Tommy Doherty, Matt Hewlett, Kevin Amankwaah, Darren Jones, Liam Rosenior, Leroy Lita, Dave Cotterill and Scott Golbourne
Matthew Hill, Danny Coles, Olukayode Odejayi, Craig Woodman and Cole Skuse
Education at the Academy
In 1998 the Academy began a 3-year programme that included 12-hours a week in the classroom for our Under-18 ‘Scholars’. We realised that help was needed to help players prepare for alternative careers if their dreams of footballing glory didn’t work out.
Our first group of 14 scholars were typical of what was to follow; three of them had very successful football careers, another three went to University, one suffered a serious injury while others chose to combine semi-professional football with other jobs.
The very successful education programme within the Academy has played a major part in helping our boys find careers in (and out) of football and it has always been well-supported by the club.
Since the 1998 intake we have had another 17 groups (and the scholarship was reduced to a 2-year programme in 2004). There are many interesting stories among the 165 graduates, but the bare statistics are:
- Gained professional contract = 78
- Played league football = 32
- Played over 100 league games = 22
- Total league appearances (up to September 2017) = 6541
- University entrance = 30
- Current semi-professionals (as of September 2017) = 30+
Other occupations include: Accountant, Bank Manager, Boxer, Bricklayer, Businessman, Coach, Council Worker, Electrician, Fitness Instructor, Heating Engineer, Insurance Salesman, Lecturer, Policeman, Security Services
Where are they now?
Head of Welfare Pete Coleman has tried to keep track of the 165 scholars since 1998 but often relies on word of mouth to keep him informed. Pete would be very grateful to hear from anyone reading this article who has any information on any of Bristol City’s past scholars or – even better – if you were an ex Bristol City scholar yourself.
You can contact Pete on: firstname.lastname@example.org