By Mikael McKenzie
BOLTON Wanderers have beaten off “bigger academies” to secure the signings of eight youngsters from the Bolton, Bury and District League for their newly formed under-nines team next season.
Finlay Stafford, Ben Kirkman, Joshua Firth, Michael O’Keke, Sean Mogan, Joseph Melling, Aiden Lancaster and Jack Morris are the latest signings to come from the partnership between the football club and the grassroots league.
The formal partnership has been running for six years, and allows youngsters to follow in the footsteps of newly-emerged Andy Kellett and Oscar Threlkeld.
John Haworth, Bolton Wanderers’ academy recruitment officer, understands the importance of giving back to the local community: “I thought it was about time professional clubs decided on giving something back to grassroots football,” he said.
“The idea of it was to generally give something back because there is a perception all academies do is take, take, take.
“The initiative is to share the knowledge and the expertise that we have within the academy and one of the things we do is open our doors to the facilities we have got at the Reebok and the academy and for the Bury and Bolton League to hold their cup finals here.
“The idea is to win the hearts and minds of the local people. The Bolton people see us out there and giving something back to the community and engaging with the local community and that is priceless.
“We have got two lads this year who have made their debuts for the first team – Oscar Threlkeld and Andy Kellett. They came in from the league at six years of age and they are true academy products.”
The process does take time but Haworth firmly believes, given the right time and support, many more local lads will spring onto the scene in years to come.
“The key thing is patience,” he said. “People have to understand that for an academy it takes time to produce players.
“Bolton doesn’t have the resources to go out and buy players at 14 and 15 so we have to start down at the bottom end and bring them through.
“Thankfully that patience is now starting to bear its fruits as two players from the Bolton and Bury League have made their debuts for the first team in the last few weeks of the season which is tremendous.
“The people who are singing Andy Kellett’s name at the away grounds have an affinity as he is a Bolton lad and he is playing for his team and that is what the Bolton fans want to see. It is great.”