Albion’s future is in good hands
Such is the monumental reach of the Premier League, such is its ability to absorb almost total attention at all times, it’s very easy to forget that it is but the tip of the footballing iceberg, with the vast majority of its structure lying beneath the waves caused by goals, gaffes, scandals and transfer windows.
Much of that is made up by the rest of the footballing pyramid in the shape of the Football League, the semi-pro game, the local leagues, Sunday football, schools matches and the rest. But even inside the Premier League itself, much goes on that does not get its due time in the spotlight simply because first team football captures every last watt.
Youth football in particular tends not to get its due, but with the window shut and the international break on, we are going to try to address that issue on Albion Radio in the coming days as we feature lengthy interviews with Jimmy Shan, our Senior Professional Development Coach and Aaron Danks, our Lead Professional Development Coach. In shorthand terms, that means Jimmy coaches the Under 21s sides with Aaron looking after the 18s, though both have wider ranging roles than that.
I’m not going to pre-empt here what they said because you can have a listen to it yourself – Shan on Thursday, Danks on Friday – but a little bit of context might be worthwhile.
Jimmy and Aaron are both excellent examples of just what Albion’s academy is all about – and there are many, many more as you look through the staff that we have working in there.
Both have been involved in coaching throughout their working lives. They’ve put in the long, unpaid hours working with the youngest children in after school sessions, using poor facilities in the worst of weathers. In short, they’ve paid their dues and have worked their way up to take leading roles with the Throstles.
Both have intelligent, thought provoking views on the game in general and on youth football in particular and when they talk about the game, it’s worth listening. But just as important are their thoughts on helping the young footballers in their charge grow up as young men, not just players.
We sometimes forget that simply because a youngster can put on the stripes, it does not mean he’s yet a grown man. Look across the summer when, albeit in pre-season, young teenagers such as Jack Fitzwater, Tyler Roberts and Jonathan Leko represented the first team.
These are lads barely out of school, who have hardly entered the world of work and yet here they are playing top class football at a time when they still need an education in life, not just in football.
It’s there where we look to be in especially good hands because Shan, Danks, Mark Harrison and the rest are good teachers, men who continually remind the youngsters of the values of respect, responsibility. Of course there will be times when those calls fall on deaf ears – we all did plenty of daft things as youths did we not, despite the best advice – but the right standards are set and our youngsters know about it soon enough if they fall short.
Both men will talk endlessly about hunger, desire and mental strength when it comes to their young charges making a career out of the game. It seems that this is the fundamental issue, one as big as talent, and one where sport in general seems to be slipping. But sport is nothing if it isn’t a reflection of society and it may be that a softening of the world around us is seeping into the games we play.
Many years ago, in his great book on cricket, “Beyond A Boundary”, CLR James asked, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” I know we’ve changed games all of a sudden, but bear with me because that question and this summer’s Ashes series speak to the heart of the issue that Shan and Danks wrestle with.
From an English perspective, the summer could not have gone much better as an unfancied team somehow put together some stunning results to win back the Ashes. But the series as a whole asked some wider questions, more disturbing ones, not just about sport but about society.
Each Test was won by massive margins, an increasing feature of games these days. The closest run thing was the First Test, which England won by the historically huge margin of 169 runs. In each of the four games that succeeded it, one team got into a strong position and then simply steamrollered a supine opponent.
There were no hints of any fight-backs. No suggestion of the “over my dead body” approach to going down fighting. Instead, there was simply meek surrender.
We are seeing it all too often in other sports too. Germany 7 Brazil 1 strike a chord? Or tennis players seemingly tanking at Wimbledon just to get off the court? Or great golfers happy to miss the cut after a poor first round?
All of these look symptomatic of a growing trend where too many sportsmen and women no longer seem to know what to do when things go wrong. Of course, the majority do still fight back from adversity and, even in defeat, retain their dignity and display their moral courage. Sadly though, too often the white flag is being flown to easily and too early.
Speak to Jimmy Shan or Aaron Danks though and you encounter two men who are alive to that problem and who are working tirelessly to solve it within their ranks.
They will accept the occasional off day but they won’t accept a can’t be bothered day.
They will understand if a player hasn’t quite got the talent to make it to the Premier League but they won’t accept one who doesn’t have the drive to go as far as he can in the game.
They will handle a defeat if every player has left everything on the pitch, but not one where the side has coasted.
Like so many who toil in our academy, Jimmy Shan and Aaron Danks are good men, good role models.
Albion’s footballing future is in the safest hands. Listen to why on Albion Radio later this week.