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New chairman Alan Pace has expressed his desire to improve the academy at Burnley Football Club and he takes over the club at a time when that academy is on an upward curve after another good year.

On the pitch, both the under-23s and the under-18s ended 2019 with victories. Lewis Richardson, Joe McGlynn and Oliver Younger all scored as the under-23s came from behind to beat Birmingham 3-1 while two Cricky Conn-Clarke goals and one from Max Thompson gave the under-18s a 3-2 win against Hull. The under-23s went into 2020 at the top of the Professional Development League while it was fourth place in the U18 Professional Development League for the under-18s.

Lewis Richardson scored our first Premier League 2 goal against Wolves

We all know what happened early in the new year. Both leagues were suspended in March and the final tables were decided by points/per game. Despite loaning out several players, the under-23s still finished second and it was a fourth place finish for the under-18s.

It was a sad way to end our third season in the Professional Development League but we couldn’t possibly have known it would be our last. I knew we’d applied to move up to Category 1 along with Crystal Palace and I knew the audit wasn’t far away, but then there were strong suggestions that the audits had been cancelled which would mean another Category 2 season.

I can’t remember whether it was Leeds or Palace that announced early that they’d been granted the highest category. At that point I thought we’d missed out but on 6th July came the big news that we had also been granted Category 1 status.

I was delighted. At the time I wrote: “It’s difficult to believe that we’ve moved on so quickly in these last few years but we’ve not got ourselves an academy fitting for a Premier League club.”

That’s moved us the under-23s into Premier League 2 Division 2 and the under-18s into the north group of the U18 Premier League and I have to say that both teams are doing well. The under-23s ended 2020 with a 3-1 home win against Reading to move into the new year in 11th place. Although just one point and two places off the bottom of the league, we are also only three points behind Middlesbrough in third place of a very tight league.

It was a 1-0 win at Everton that saw the under-18s move into the new year. They are seventh and some distance away from the stragglers near the bottom, a group of three that includes our local rivals Blackburn who have five points.

The under-18s kick off this year in the FA Youth Cup and no review of last year at this level could be complete without a reference to them reaching the last eight in 2019/20, losing narrowly at Manchester City in what proved to be the last academy game I saw.

Monday of next week, two days before the Youth Cup tie at Wimbledon, will see the under-23s get back underway with a home game against Leeds that is to be shown live on YouTube.

I think most people know my interest in our academy. Over recent years I’ve helped raise in excess of £60,000 for them, and for a lot of that time it was when money was desperately needed and I’ve always enjoyed going to the games.

I was brought up by a fanatical dad who always dragged me to the reserve games. Then, they were played on a Saturday afternoon when the first team was away and I was taken on almost as an apprenticeship to see whether I liked it or not.

I can’t remember when I first started going to Gawthorpe to watch games but I can always recall seeing a 16-year-old Trevor Steven play and soon after that I used to watch the games with Marv Hoskin; he was there watching his young son Ashley. Marv was no taller than his son but used to turn up in huge American gas guzzlers. That friendship went full circle when he was back watching grandson Ben. Marv was a football nut who sadly passed away around three and a half years ago. He was brilliant company on the touchline but so many others have been over the years and there is the one big disappointment for me , not being able to go and watch these games.

We’ve got so many players now in both these teams who I am still to see play. I spoke to former youth team coach Terry Pashley last month and he asked how I was. I said I was fed up but: “Nothing a Saturday morning at Gawthorpe wouldn’t put right.”

I’m thrilled with the progress made in the last year, in fact in the last four years and am now looking forward to see us step up even further under the new ownership. I just hope one day I can be back there watching the games.

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