A defence of Watford’s youth policy

Recently, we featured a post from Watford supporter Tom Bodell about the season ahead at Vicarage Road. In response, we received the following article from Mike Parkin, another Watford supporter, who is fiercely defiant in the face of his side’s reliance on young talent:

“You don’t win anything with kids”

“If you’re old enough you’re good enough”

“There’s no substitute for experience”

These are phrases that all football fans will be familiar with, each of them an oft-used part of every football pundits’ armoury. Apart from being massively overused, these three phrases have one other theme in common: Youth.

It is fair to say that not everything talked about in football circles is applicable to Watford. “Mackay’s biggest task will be to keep the string of Internationals that don’t make his first team happy…” is not a phrase you are likely to hear any time soon. We don’t generally have to worry about resting players ahead of an exacting European campaign.

Whether the 30 goal-a-season Italian World Cup star will choose Old Trafford or Vicarage Road is not a regular query. Questioning whether half of the squad have permission to play from their mothers is perhaps more pertinent.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Watford’s immediate history, we find ourselves heavily reliant on youth. Boys that we have signed, then trained and nurtured. Youngsters that you probably wouldn’t let into a 15-rated film, much less be allowed to buy a pint.

This is no bad thing though. Bringing through youngsters? We are pretty good at it you know.

Along with the rest of the nation I was disappointed, if not entirely surprised, at England’s poor showing at the World Cup. However, despite being ruthlessly dismantled by the Germans, it would have been hard to blame the goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper in that match? David James. Now almost 40 years old, James has played for some of the biggest clubs in the country.

Most do not need reminding where James’s path to stardom began, but for those of you too young or too forgetful to recall, it was at Watford.

A product of the Watford youth team, James played 98 times for the Hornets before leaving for Liverpool in a record breaking deal worth £1million in July 1992.

Whilst David James is approaching the end of his career, Ashley Young is most definitely at the start of his. A more recent graduate from the Watford youth system, Young has enjoyed a meteoric rise.

Unlucky not to feature in this summer’s World Cup, he is a shining example and a fantastic illustration of how serious and how committed Watford are to progressing young talent.

For many, the quotes at the beginning of this piece are just words. Throw away remarks to fill time and space. Not for Watford. Ahead of the new season we find our squad liberally sprinkled with graduates from our increasingly respected and recognised Academy.

Marvin Sordell, Liam Henderson, Lee Hodson and Michael Bryan are sure to feature heavily this season and, whilst a reliance on such young and inexperienced players could be cause for alarm at other clubs, it most certainly isn’t the case at Vicarage Road.

We know that if a player comes through our system and appears on the Vicarage Road pitch in a yellow shirt, then age and experience really isn’t important. We know our system works.

We know they will be good enough. Instead of approaching the season worried about our young squad and their ability to succeed, we approach it with both excitement and pride, safe in the knowledge that, when it comes to bringing through youngsters, Watford do things right.

Multi million pound signings? No thanks. We make our own superstars here.

Written by: Mike Parkin

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

1 Comment

  1. Tom Bodell
    July 24, 2010

    Good article Mike and I can’t disagree with 99% of it. The only issue that I’d raise is that we cannot guarantee that every academy graduate is up to the task of 40+ first team games a season. To give a contemporary example – Liam Henderson, and whilst for every Liam Henderson there’s a Lee Hodson you can’t deny the fact that our squad looks very light once you look outside the first eleven. I think it’s admirable we place such emphasis on youth and have done even during more prosperous times however a squad this youthful is going to struggle.


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