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For those of us watching the youth team in action at Gawthorpe over the last two seasons we have been able to see the new training ground develop with the pitches initially and then with the recently opened indoor facility incorporating an indoor training pitch.

The players, at all levels, moved in during April and that was a month after the auditors had been in as part of our application to become a Category 2 academy. Yesterday, at a Premier League meeting, the club learned they had been given a Cat 2 licence for next season. That’s superb news for our club who have languished below comparable clubs for years because of the lack of facilities.

gawthorpe 1Having confirmed the news this morning, academy manager Jon Pepper, who has been with the club since September of last year, said: “It’s massive. If we didn’t get the nod, for us to remain as Category 3 wasn’t a viable option and couldn’t be a viable option with the money the club has spent on the infrastructure. It’s where we need to be. It’s a massive organisational project for the club. To get Category 2 is vitally important.”

For us, as supporters, it means we will see the youth team play in a higher league next season, leaving the Youth Alliance League where we’ve played since its inception in the late 1990s. For the development squad, the under-23s, it means a return to competitive football, something we haven’t had, other than the occasional cup competition, since the end of the 2011/12 season. Both of these teams will play in the Professional Development League, as will our under-16 team, whereas the more junior teams will be able to play against higher placed teams including the big Category 1 clubs.

The academy manager added: “In terms of the games’ programme, that’s what we need to carry us forward to the next level. The pathway is important. If they are playing for the under-23s against the likes of Nottingham Forest, Ipswich Town or Cardiff City on a Saturday morning or Monday evening, then the gap isn’t too big.”

He confirmed that the club will still look to get younger players out on loan where it is considered appropriate. “Certainly the loan system is something we’ll use again to bridge that gap and give them experience.

“Some players don’t need to go out on loan but certain players need that for their development. They need to go and experience playing in front of a crowd for something that really means something, but certainly, the pathways have got to improve if we are playing a better standard of football. That’s the concept and hopefully we’ll see that.”

What a big day this is for Burnley Football Club. The whole playing staff, from the youngest players to the senior players, are now able to use facilities that reflect our status as a Premier League club. More importantly, those younger players will now be able to test themselves at a higher level than they have previously been able to, playing regularly against better clubs.

gawthorpe 2Who will we be playing against? The current season has just ended with two regional leagues of ten clubs each with all clubs having played 28 league games. They’ve played each team within their region both home and away while also playing all of the other region once, half of them at home and half of them away.

The teams in the league during 2016/17 were:

North Division

Barnsley, Birmingham, Bolton, Crewe, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday

South Division

Bristol City, Cardiff, Charlton, Colchester, Coventry, Crystal Palace, Ipswich, Millwall, QPR and Watford

Would the club consider a move up to Cat 1 in the future? Pepper added: “We’re not going to sit still on that (Cat 2 award). We need to keep working on a number of things to move ourselves forward.

“I can see if we have a few years at Category 2, who knows what the next step will be? We have the Category 1 facilities in place and if our profile in terms of getting players into the first team or getting players into other clubs’ first teams and playing professional football improves, then who knows?”

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