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Durham’s faith in youth a lesson for modern football

ByMatt Ford

Sep 30, 2014

Durham’s narrow three wicket victory over Warwickshire at Lord’s on September 20 not only saw the county lift the Royal London One Day Cup, but it was also testament to their unflappable resolve as they held on amid a dramatic finish.

In an unusually low scoring affair, it was captain Varun Chopra who top scored with 64 for Warwickshire. However, their total of 165 all out from just 47 overs was never likely to be enough to claim the spoils.

After 52 from Mark Stoneman, it was left to Ben Stokes (38) and Gareth Breese (15) to steer them home, the latter fittingly hitting the winning runs on what is likely to be his final appearance for the side.

Perhaps even more noteworthy for Durham was that eight of the eleven who played for them in the final originated from their academy. This was the culmination of that development as well as drawing deserved attention to the terrific work that has gone on behind the scenes at Chester-Le-Street in recent years.

The win, Durham’s first in limited overs cricket since lifting the 2007 Friends Provident Trophy, also provided a glimpse into one of the game’s strengths at domestic level in that young players are consistently given a chance to shine in the competitive arena.

While counties are often left with little choice in having to fill the void left by players on England duty, it is nonetheless refreshing to see the fruits of the academy game flourishing at senior level – something that will undoubtedly benefit Peter Moores and the English set-up in the years to come.

It isn’t just Durham though who have gone down this route. Yorkshire, who secured the County Championship earlier this month, have reaped the rewards of a consistently strong youth structure also.

Spearheaded by England players Joe Root and Gary Ballance, other players on the cusp of a future England call-up have included Adam Lyth, Alex Lees and Adil Rashid who have played crucial roles this season.

Now, it does beg the question: What can other sports take from this?

Well it seems barely a few months pass without the question being posed in modern football. Should clubs get back to basics and develop young players without relying on overseas imports?

It also raises another hot talking point in that should there be a cap put in place on the number of foreign players plying their trade in England’s top flight, particularly as many feel it is having a detrimental impact on the national game?

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, there is merit to the stance that the vast majority of country cricket clubs have employed in one form or another in recent years. Of course it must be conceded that with vast amount of money in football, it is tempting for clubs to lure players from abroad, rather than spending time nurturing their own.

Yet, even the benefits to this in this current day and age can clearly be seen. Take Southampton for example, who have continued to feed players from their younger age groups into the senior team.

Adam Lallana, who left St Mary’s for Liverpool this summer, is one, Calum Chambers who secured a move to Arsenal this year is another, and that’s not forgetting the likes of James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw – the latter also sealing a big money move as part of the Saints exodus in the summer transfer window.

They aren’t the only ones though. In recent years, teams such as Crystal Palace, Watford and Crewe Alexandra have been noted for their strong academy programmes and ability to nurture young talent.

In general though, they are few and far between.

Whether there is a correlation between the decline of the English national team and the number of foreign players in the Premier League is one issue, but that’s for another day. What is important to recognise is that in a climate where clubs viciously overspend, it may be that, in the future, teams are forced to promote from within in order to balance the books.

The wage structure within football is on another level to that of cricket, and even rugby.

Yet despite all this, I’m still drawn to the countless positives from the success of Durham and Yorkshire in the 2014 domestic season in that it’s a formula that is proven to work. Teams have, as touched upon, always tended to prioritise the academy over anything else, and it’s especially pleasing to see in a modern world where television revenue and agent’s fees dominate football.

Several players who have starred throughout the county season will end up being key components of the England set-up in the not too distant future.

Above all else, Durham and Yorkshire haven’t just achieved something special and added more silverware to their respective collections, they’ve sent a reminder to the sporting world in general that success from the bottom up is indeed possible.

Expecting football clubs up and down the land to follow suit is unlikely, but some still buck that trend.

Cricket, in this respect, has a unique structure that it’s pioneering all by itself. One must hope that football reverses it’s concerning tendency and takes the plunge by focusing more on ‘winning from within’.

But in the modern day of financial fair play, and clubs risking their very own stability with sickening transfers fees, I’m sceptical of this ever fully being realised. Football has a lot to learn.


By Matt Ford

Matt is currently Head of Advertising and a fourth-year History student. He was previously Editor in Chief and Sport Editor.

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