Awford: Youths with ambition will get chance to shine

Ashley Harris
Ashley Harris

Beaten up, battered, bruised, dogged by financial problems and still without an owner.

But there’s no better club than Pompey for promising footballers to start their fledging careers.

That’s according to Fratton Academy boss Andy Awford.

Eight Academy players have been offered first-year professional contracts for next season.

It is a reflection of the giant strides the youth set-up is making.

The scenario also highlights Pompey’s desire to build the future on home-grown talent as the club strives to become far more self-sufficient.

Ashley Harris and Dan Butler have been handed contracts. Jed Wallace, Sam Magri, Alex Grant, George Colson, Elliot Wheeler and Dan Thompson are already signed up.

They are eight players who will form the foundation of the newly-installed development squad next term, as well as pushing for first-team recognition.

The fact Pompey are putting so much faith in youth also represents a major pull in the pursuit of attracting more young talent to the club.

For Awford, it is compelling evidence that talented individuals have a genuine route into the Pompey first-team – encouraging signs for any aspiring footballers.

The presence of Michael Appleton, himself a former Academy coach and manager, adds to the emphasis.

And Awford believes few clubs can currently offer the same opportunities as youngsters currently receive in the Blues’ set-up.

The Academy manager said: ‘There is no better place than here if you are good enough and I really believe that.

‘You look at the lads coming through at the moment and it shows that if you show a little bit of potential you will get your chance here.

‘With the development squad as well, it is really encouraging for youngsters.

‘They can see there are opportunities at this football club for young players.

‘They will look at Pompey and believe they will get a chance.

‘It is then all about taking it.

‘We have a decent crop of youngsters here who are continuing to develop and next season will maintain pushing towards the first team.

‘Of course, the gaffer is also big on youth so he will encourage that.

‘Admittedly, a lot of the lads’ promotion into the first-team squad last season was out of necessity.

‘I recently spoke to Dougie Freedman at Crystal Palace over their youth set-up and the fact so many have made the first team recently and he said they were in trouble numbers-wise so had to do it.

‘There is not anything different here, but you have got to give kids a chance and that is what we are doing.

‘If they are good enough to stay in the team, they will do. That is down to them.

‘But at Portsmouth you can be sure they will get the chances and get the opportunities. We will ensure that.’

Harris is the most recognisable name among those given first-team contracts.

The Purbrook youngster made five first-team appearances at the end of last season, winning praise from fans and Appleton alike.

England under-18 international Magri was an unused substitute in five of the last six matches, and Pompey have long had high hopes for him.

Wallace and Thompson were both signed this season, with first-year professional terms as part of their contracts.

The likes of Grant, Colson, Wheeler and Butler have emerged through the ranks, the latter three Isle of Wight youngsters.

Financially, the Academy set-up may have been hard hit during the latest administration, but it hasn’t prevented Awford and his team maintaining the production line.

Awford added: ‘We have had the brakes put on us financially but we have got good coaches and good people and keep carrying on.

‘The one area that needs to improve in the Academy is recruitment. We are very light in that area and are relying on what we have got.

‘We don’t have a budget for recruitment and that is an area that concerns me. If I get additional funding that is where it will be going.

‘We have got a couple of scouts who do it because they enjoy doing it. That is where we are at and we will keep moving forwards.’