Leiston under-21s ready for action in new Ryman League set-up
- Credit: Archant
Leiston’s senior team are taking steps in the right direction and it seems the bug is catching.
The Blues await the start of the new Ryman League Premier season with relish, after consolidating last season, while the club’s brand-new under-21 team prepares for kick-off.
Coached by Dave Cannon, one of manager Danny Laws’ loyal servants at Needham Market, youngsters aged between 16 and 21 – including eight current or former pupils at Alde Valley School – will play in the newly-formed Ryman Under-21 League North Division.
The team will lock horns with the likes of Needham Market’s apprentices, Grays Athletic and Heybridge Swifts and while results are important, Cannon’s main remit is to develop players for the conveyor belt leading to the first team.
A PE teacher at Alde Valley, the new set-up has obvious close links with the school and Cannon revealed the wave of optimism that is currently being generated.
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“We have got lads aged between 16 right through to the age of 21 and we have eight players that are either current year 11s (at Alde Valley), in the sixth form or that have been students at the school previously,” said Cannon, who works alongside fellow PE teacher Laws at the school.
“There is a buzz in the school for the under-21 team, it is something for the pupils to aim for and it can open a door for them, hopefully to the Leiston first team.
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“Tom Winter, a former pupil here, who is a first-year professional at Ipswich Town can be an inspiration to the students, but this pathway offers a more realistic route for so many more youngsters.
“We are offering them the chance to be coached at a high level but they can also study full-time so they can achieve qualification standard and not compromise their education.”
Two trials have been held so far and Cannon has mustered together a squad of 20 from 37 original applicants, although the door remains open should other prospective players, of the right standard, show an interest. Cannon will also be able to field three over-age players next season which he explains, will be one of the links between his team and the senior squad at Victory Road.
“We are allowed three over-age players and if you have three first team players returning from injury, they can drop down and play with the under-21s,” said Cannon, who explained applicants for the academy came from various different areas of Suffolk.
“That happens more than it did in previous years and the standard of football for those senior players dropping down is much more realistic now.
“But with the academy becoming part of the wider first-team squad, they have to be aware of the standard and expectations set by Danny (Laws) and his players and must be prepared to make that step up from time to time in training and hopefully, eventually in games.”
The under-21s will play a number of friendly games against local SIL teams before they get down to business and Cannon is intrigued as to how his squad will fare.
“Some will cope comfortably and some may find the games physically testing,” said Cannon, whose team are facing Ipswich Valley Rangers, Leiston St Margarets, Aldeburgh, Sporting 87, Diss and Framlingham this summer.
“We are helping to build good links with local clubs and with only 18 fixtures, our players won’t get a full diet of football during the season, so will be able to sign dual registrations with teams from the SIL.”
Those games will certainly stand the players in good stead, ahead of a move into the unknown.
“The new under-21 league is a bit of an unknown quantity, but I expect it to be competitive,” said Cannon.
“I want to win every game, but the most important thing is to develop the players in the right way.
“Utopia would be to do what Crewe Alexandra did last season and field all 11 players from our academy in the first team.”