Hartlepool United plan on bringing youth academy back for 2022-23 season
Hartlepool United are putting plans in place to re-establish a fully fledged youth academy for next season.
Pools made significant cuts to its youth set-up following the premature end of the 2019-20 season.
Three seasons of non-league football had taken its toll and Pools’ paid academy system was scrapped in favour of an unpaid partnership with Hartlepool College.
This may not have been the most popular decision at the time as young players would either have to commit to playing without pay, or find a new club.
But in hindsight, the bold move ultimately freed up funds that would contribute towards Pools securing promotion out of the National League via the play-offs in June.
But the extremely quick turnaround ahead of Pools’ Football League return made it near impossible for the club to launch a revamped academy set-up for the current season.
The college partnership is still in place this season but it has already presented a few problems for the club.
Pools were forced to withdraw from the FA Youth Cup at the first round stage as they weren't able to register enough college players to take part in the competition.
The club also haven’t participated in the Durham Challenge Cup for the second consecutive season due to the lack of a fully established youth team or development squad.
But that could all change next season with the club currently preparing to apply for category four academy status for the 2022-23 season.
The club are understood to be on track to submit their academy application ahead of the January deadline.
A category four academy is a late development model which focuses on players from the under-17 age group and above.
But a new academy set-up at Pools still hinges on one very important thing, staying in the Football League.
As it stands, the club are on course to do that having picked up 23 points from their opening 16 matches – but there is still a long way to go.
And interim manager Antony Sweeney, who is a product of Pools’ youth development programme himself, stressed the importance of Hartlepool keeping its EFL status intact as the search for a new permanent manager continues.
“This football club has to remain an EFL football club for loads of reasons,” he said.
“Whether that’s the reinstatement of the academy, the financial rewards that we have, all of those things with the fan base, the attendances, all that, they all come into it so it’s vitally important we remain an EFL club and the club makes the right decision to do that.
"Whatever decision that is in terms of a manager, whether you’re a fan, player, staff or reporter, if they get the decision right it will be massively supported.”
After stepping up from the club’s youth programme, Sweeney went on to make 444 appearances for Pools and is a certified club legend. He is one of several success stories that have come from having an established youth system in place.
Adam Boyd is another notable former alumni while Luke James first joined the club as an 11 year old and went on to become the club’s youngest ever league goalscorer.
In more recent times, England under-19 international goalkeeper Brad Young was sold to Leicester City in the summer for a lucrative fee with an attractive sell-on clause despite not making a competitive first team appearance for Hartlepool.
Joe Grey is the only current first team player to have graduated from the club’s youth set-up. The 18-year-old signed his first professional contract shortly after the club’s youth scholarship programme was scrapped last summer.
Despite a major injury set-back, the forward has become a regular in the Pools side this season, mainly from the bench.
Investing in a proper youth system could be viewed as an unnecessary expense as a non-league club. But in the EFL, it could prove to be an effective business move that will provide potentially huge returns if handled correctly.
And the importance of the academy has been reiterated by chairman Raj Singh, who confirmed its planned return.
“Yes, we plan on getting the academy back, I think that’s really important,” he told the club website.
“A lot of stuff that has gone on off the field that people like Rose [Stoker, operations manager] and Stephen [Hobin, chief operations officer] have brought on. We’re definitely heading in the right direction.
“I think a lot of work has been done on the academy and we plan to bring it back in. We had to unfortunately do away with it when we were in the National League but the plan is to bring the academy back because we all know that brings the community together, the youth sides together and brings in stars of the future.
“It’s very important for a League Two club. As Brad Young has just proved, it gives you a success story for the town and you get financially rewarded which keeps the club ticking over.”
Setting up a new academy won't provide the club with immediate resources or revenue. It will be a slow process starting effectively from scratch again and having to attract a new crop of young players to add to those who the club want to sign-on from the college side.
But this is a long term project, an investment that Hartlepool can reap the rewards from for years to come once it is fully established.
And it’s another important step in the right direction.