Suffolk FA County Youth Cup preview

AFTER reaching three finals in four seasons Andy Gould knows what it takes to be successful in the FA County Youth Cup.Gould, who was assistant to Danny Laws when Suffolk won the competition in 2005, then took over as manager.

Nick Garnham

AFTER reaching three finals in four seasons Andy Gould knows what it takes to be successful in the FA County Youth Cup.

Gould, who was assistant to Danny Laws when Suffolk won the competition in 2005, then took over as manager.

He has guided Suffolk to the final in each of the last two seasons, losing on penalties to West Riding last year and now preparing to face Cambridgeshire in this year's final.


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Gould, who is also manager of the Suffolk Under-16 side, said: "I think it is down to the quality of the players we are able to put out on the pitch and also their commitment to what we are trying to achieve.

"When we get them at under-16 level we tell them that this is the start of a three-year journey, and some of those involved now were there at the outset three years ago, so it is gratifying to see it come to fruition."

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Gould said he thought Suffolk's success was also due in no small part to the quality of the clubs his squad are playing for each week.

"They are playing a good level of football for clubs like Kirkley & Pakefield and Woodbridge Town in the Premier Division of the Ridgeons League and gaining good experience."

Gould, who is joint manager with Richard Skelly of Team Bury in the Premier Division of the Kent Blaxill Border League, is involved with the Bury Football School at West Suffolk College, and helps to recruit players into the scheme.

"A lot of the boys are also benefiting from good quality coaching they receive on the SETEC scheme linked to Woodbridge Town and likewise the Bury Football School with Bury Town and some have been with academies and centres of excellence at professional clubs over a period of time before being released.

"Also with the players playing at the level they are you know they have the right mentality, that they prepare in the right way and are committed to what they are doing. The lads from Kirkley and Lowestoft had a 120-mile round trip for a home game at Hadleigh and the fact that they are prepared to do that tells you a lot about them."

Gould, who said he learnt a lot from Laws during that successful 2004/05 campaign, has been assisted by Alan Johnson since he took over the reins in 2005/06, while physio Wendy Atkinson has been involved since 2004/05.

He said: "We have picked up a lot of experience over the last three or four years. It took me three years to know what is required to be successful in this competition. You need a plan and you also need to manage the players, who are all different characters and need to be treated accordingly."

The 47-year-old, who is a detective sergeant with Suffolk police, continued: "Also I think my enthusiasm is second to none. I had this season's squad in my mind last May. I had identified 18-20 players that I felt would form the nucleus of the squad this season.

"I use my contacts in the game to do that. For example, Chris Henderson lives in Norfolk but is playing for a Suffolk club (Kirkley & Pakefield) and it is also about knowing which players have been released from professional clubs and using my ability to identify suitable players who can play together as a team."

It is not just about doing well at Suffolk-Under 18 level as Gould clearly gains a great deal of satisfaction from seeing boys he has coached progress in the game.

Ed Upson is now playing for Ipswich Town Reserves, Kieran Leabon was released by Ipswich and is now playing at Boston United, and Scott Chaplin was a member of last season's side and is now playing for Bury Town in Ryman League Division One North.

"Ed Upson was with me between the ages of 10 and 13, so I like to think I played a small part in his development, as well as with Kieron. I am very proud of what they have achieved, while six of the Bury squad that recently defeated AFC Sudbury were players that I brought to the club and were all members of last season's FA County Youth Cup squad."

DANNY Laws is currently one of the top coaches at non-league level in East Anglia.

After guiding Suffolk to their FA County Youth Cup success in 2005, Laws joined the coaching staff at Norwich City for a season before taking over as manager of non-league Needham Market at the start of last season.

A successful first campaign was capped by winning the East Anglian Cup and this season Needham have been making waves in league and cups. They are well-placed to win the Ridgeons League Premier Division title, and could achieve a treble after reaching the finals of both the Ridgeons League Cup and the S1 Sport Suffolk Premier Cup.

On top of that only a heartbreaking semi-final defeat at the hands of Kirkham & Wesham prevented Needham from joining Lowestoft Town in what would have been an all-Suffolk FA Vase showdown at Wembley Stadium next month.

Laws, who managed the county under-18 side for four years and also reached the quarter-finals twice, said: "Suffolk has always had good players. I said it three years ago when we got to the FA County Youth Cup final. Suffolk is a footballing county - there's not much high-profile rugby - and we have a good professional club in Ipswich Town.

"The talent is there in the county. Liam Trotter played for Suffolk and before him you had lads like Richard Wright and Kieron Dyer," said Laws referring to the three Ipswich-born players who have all played for their home-town club.

"But for various reasons in the past Suffolk have maybe faltered in this competition against the more robust northern and London teams. When I played for the county we always struggled against Essex and Inner London but that has been overcome in the last few years.

"Prior to winning the FA County Youth Cup in 2005 Suffolk Schools had won their national competition - the ESFA Trophy - twice, at the old Baseball Ground and Maine Road, and that broke the mould. Then we got to the final and won it in 2005 and Andy Gould has taken it on from there.

"The education/football academies at West Suffolk College and the SETEC Scheme at Copleston School have helped to identify talent in Suffolk, and it also helps when you then play at county level with boys you play together with regularly."

Laws also praised the role of Suffolk County FA in the success of its teams in the national competition.

"When I was manager of the Suffolk County FA side secretary Martin Head and John Thorndyke (who was the county's match committee secretary) were right behind us.

“The county FA also deserves credit for its continuity in giving Andy the job when I left to go to Norwich. Other counties change their managers around and they then bring in new players and you lose that continuity."

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The class of 2005 - where are they now?

FIVE members of Suffolk's FA County Youth Cup-winning squad of 2005 played in this season's FA Vase semi-finals.

Rhys Barber, Richard Butler and Danny Thrower were all in the Needham Market side that lost to Kirkham & Wesham while Andy Reynolds and Bradley Hough will be going to Wembley with Lowestoft Town after they defeated Whitley Bay.

Here's what the squad are doing now:

Goalkeeper

Andy Reynolds - Playing for Lowestoft Town

Defenders

Ben Pickford - Currently away at university

Richard Butler - Playing for Needham Market

Tom Bullard - Playing for Bury Town

Rhys Barber - Playing for Needham Market

Midfielders

Craig Payne - Playing for Hadleigh United

Tom Agricole - Currently at university in the USA but returning to Needham Market next season

Adam Burns - Currently away at university

Danny Thrower - Playing for Needham Market

Strikers

Bradley Hough - Playing for Lowestoft Town

Daniel Marshall - Playing for Newmarket Town Reserves

Substitutes

Ben Goddard - Playing for Felixstowe & Walton United

Nick Kostov - Currently not playing due to illness

Rocky Holt - Playing for Thetford Town Reserves

FEW officials are better qualified than Gordon Blake when it comes to assessing Suffolk's success.

Blake, who is chairman of Suffolk FA's competitions committee, has been watching the county compete at Youth level for around 40 years.

He said the first time Suffolk had reached the semi-finals of the FA County Youth Cup was as recently as 15 years ago.

"We had tried over the years to reach the final, but had never been successful before 2005.

"We lost 2-0 to Liverpool on March 13th, 1993 at the Merseyside Police Ground. Liverpool then lost to Durham in the final.

"Before then the furthest we had got in the competition was the third round in 1983 when we lost 5-2 to Middlesex and then in 1987 we lost 1-0 in the fourth round - the last eight - to East Riding."

Blake has no doubts as to why Suffolk have been so successful in the past four years.

He said: "I think our success in recent years is because more young players are getting the chance to play in the Eastern Counties (Ridgeons) League than before. They are getting more experience and that helps them when it comes to playing county matches.

"Our success really started when Danny Laws took over as manager. Danny was a very good coach and organiser and Andy Gould was his assistant. When Danny left to go to Norwich City Andy took over and has also done very well."

Martin Head, secretary of Suffolk County FA, said: "There is no black and white answer. It is a combination of things.

"One of the biggest factors is the football-cum-education colleges in the county which have helped us a great deal.

"Why it should be that we have done so well, when these schemes also operate elsewhere in the country, is another question.

"If you look at the success the county has enjoyed in the FA Vase this year you will see a number of players who have come through these schemes and played for the county at youth level.

"Needham Market have got several players in their squad and Lowestoft Town have both Andy Reynolds and Bradley Hough in their team.

"And Hadleigh United, who are riding high in Division One of the Ridgeons League and have reached the final of the Suffolk Senior Cup, have Craig Payne, who was also a member of the 2005 side.

"The lads who have come through these schemes have all been well coached, even if they end up playing in the Senior Division of the SIL."

Head continued: "The quality of the coaches we have had - Danny Laws, Andy Gould and Alan Johnson - has been superb. They have made a big difference and played their part in lads coming through who are eligible to play for the county youth team."

Head added that Suffolk's success was also down to the off-the-field organisation and support that they have received.

He said: "We should not forget the role that Gordon Blake plays. He is tremendous in the administration and organisation of games in pulling everything together, and Ben Marshall in the county office helps out with some of the administration. They are also integral to the success.

"The match committee are also hugely supportive in terms of attending games as are parents, and in relation to other counties I think we are miles better," he added.

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