A look at some of the standout moments since 2013We were truly delighted to announce that our Academy retained Category 1 status earlier this week – proving once again that we operate one of the best youth departments in the entire country.
Our last EPPP audit came three years ago – in that time, the criteria for achieving Cat 1 status, the highest rung on the ladder, has become more demanding and challenging. And yet under the stewardship of our Academy Manager Eamonn Dolan, we achieved it again.
Often the proof is in the pudding for our supporters, who get to see young players make their debuts for the first-team and eventually nail down a starting place in the squad on a regular basis. But that process starts much earlier – a majority of that work goes unseen by most at Hogwood Park through a dedicated and talented group of coaches and staff at the Academy… not to mention the commitment of the young players and their families.
So we’ve decided to highlight 11 different achievements that have been made by our Academy since 2013, as we continue to progress…
Youngsters win inaugural Under-21 Premier League Cup
The 2013/14 campaign saw the introduction of the Under-21 Premier League Cup to the fixture calendar – a new knock-out competition to give some of the best fledgling talents in the country some more experience of the pressures of cup football. Reading were one of 52 clubs to enter – but the only one to claim the trophy as their own. QPR, Watford and Wolves were brushed aside as they booked a spot against Arsenal in the final four. Claiming a 3-1 win after extra-time, our boys faced their Man City counterparts over two legs in the final. Reading raced to a two-goal lead in Manchester, but the hosts turned things around and took a 3-2 lead back at Madejski Stadium. In the second leg, however, goals by Jack Stacey and Tariqe Fosu turned the game on its head again to secure a 4-3 aggregate win and silverware for Reading!
Top tier promotion for Under-21s
A change in format of the Under-21 Premier League for the 2014/15 meant that it would no longer be a 22-team division, but instead two more clubs would be added to the mix and the structure would be split for into two tiers of 12 teams. A bottom-half finish the previous season meant Reading were placed in the lower division… but a second-placed finish that year put the Royals back onto the top plain for 2015/16 again, taking on the best clubs in the country. Reading only trailed Middlesbrough come the season’s end – Arsenal, Aston Villa and Newcastle were amongst the clubs to finish below. Our lads finished a commendable 9th last season – a very respectable position, considering that a great number of our eligible players spent lengthy portions of the season out on loan elsewhere in the Football League.
14 more debutants in the first-team
It’s a remarkable and barely believable stat – but no less than 14 graduates from our Academy at Hogwood Park have pulled on the jersey for the first team since our last audit in 2013! Michael Hector was the first of these when he debuted in January 2014, and then during the 2014/15 campaign, Ryan Edwards, Craig Tanner, Jake Cooper, Jack Stacey, Aaron Kuhl, Aaron Tshibola, Sean Long, Mikkel Andersen, Niall Keown, Andrija Novakovich and Tariqe Fosu all made appearances in competitive action. Last season, Rob Dickie featured on the final day after winning the National League with loan club Cheltenham, and 17-year-old Josh Barrett played three times before even completing his Academy scholarship. That number doesn’t even include Dominic Samuel (debuted in December 2012), and Stuart Moore and Tennai Watson who were both unused subs in the Championship.
Michael Hector joins the Chelsea ranks
Despite Chelsea’s success in the FA Youth Cup in recent seasons, it is a Reading Academy graduate who will be wearing the Blues’ colours next year after he was signed by the West London in January. Hec, who joined our youth set-up in 2009, spent no less than 11 loan spells away from the club early on in his pro career at Reading. But eventually he debuted in the blue and white hoops from the bench in a 7-1 win against Bolton in January 2014 – and before long, he was a feature of the team. Two years after his debut, it was the reigning Premier League champions that came calling for his signature – he moved to Chelsea but remained at Reading on loan until the end of 2015/16.
Graduates feature at Euros and Copa America in 2016
At time of writing, the European Championships and Copa America are both still ongoing… but no less than five players that came through the ranks at Hogwood Park are involved for their nations in their continental competitions this summer. Michael Hector has been a regular in the Jamaica side that played in Copa America tournaments in back-to-back years, while also featuring in their Reggae Boyz run to the final of the 2015 Gold Cup. And at the Euros, there are representatives for Ireland, Iceland and Wales. Shane Long scored three times in qualifying (including a last-minute equaliser against Poland and a winner against World Cup winners Germany), and Icelander Gylfi Sigurdsson helped his country to their first ever appearance in a tournament finals – not to mention a draw against Portugal on their opening matchday, and hitting their opener from the penalty spot against Hungary. And Simon Church and Hal Robson-Kanu are both in the Wales squad which reached their first international finals since the 1958 World Cup – the latter netted the winner against Slovakia in their opening group game, and the former replaced Gareth Bale in a 3-0 win against Russia.
Youth recognition for England, Ireland and Scotland
Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen play in our Academy… and that’s no joke. In fact, no less than 11 players that are currently still here at Reading have played internationally for those three nations in very recent memory. The Young Lions have been represented at Under-20 level by Aaron Kuhl and Jake Cooper, while goalkeeper Luke Southwood donned the gloves for the Under-19s earlier this month. Striker Danny Loader scored twice in England colours for their Under-16 meeting with USA in August, while Fabio Sole earned recognition for the Under-15s. For Ireland, three current players have been involved for the Under-21s in the shape of Sean Long, Shane Griffin and Josh Barrett, while our Scottish representatives Dominic Hyam (Under-21), Zak Jules (Under-19) and Jordan Holsgrove (Under-16). And that isn’t even to mention Icelanders Axel Andresson and Sindri Scheving, each of which have played Under-19 football for their country.
Nike Cup success at Wembley for Under-14s
2014’s crop of Under-14s already have Wembley success on their CV, after beating Chelsea in the final of the inaugural Nike Cup under the arch at the national stadium. With Phil Dowd on the whistle for the fixture, it had all the drama of a cup tie befitting the home of football. Reading went in knowing that they needed to beat Chelsea outright to win the game… despite beating Man United, Arsenal, West Brom and Fulham in their journey to Wembley, Reading had an inferior goal-difference to Tore Andre Flo’s Chelsea youngsters – the rules of the competition meant that they would be crowned champions in the event that the teams couldn’t be separated at the end of extra-time. It looked like that quirk in the competition would come into effect… despite Reading’s dominance throughout, Chelsea kept it goalless until the final throes after the Royals had a first-minute penalty saved. But youngster Jack Buchanan was the one to claim the glory for the boys in the blue and white hoops – he tapped in the game’s only goal with just moments remaining.
Under-15s compete at Manchester United Premier Cup World Finals
That success at the Nike Cup for the Under-14s in 2013/14 meant a place in the Manchester United Premier Cup at the end of the following season. Reading’s new Under-15 intake were joined by 19 counterpart teams at the tournament in June 2015, which comprised of clubs and academies from all around the world. Hosts United and Spanish giants Real Madrid were amongst their opposition, as well as Atletico Paranaense (Brazil), Genoa (Italy), Chivas (Mexico) and San Lorenzo (Argentina). Earning a place in tournament itself was an achievement, with over 8,000 teams entering the qualifying process and just 20 making the cut. And the Royals youngsters weren’t there to make up the numbers – they topped their five-team group with wins against RB Leipzig, HNK Rijeka, Chonburi FC and drawing with San Lorenzo, before being beaten in the knockout stages by the eventual winners.
International success across the age-groups on the continent
Our boys also get to visit foreign shores to play against with some of the best young talent around Europe. And some of the younger age-groups have brought back some silverware through passport control as well by seeing off the competition. Last season, our Under-10s came back victorious from Belgium by winning the FCV Dender International Tournament, while both the Under-12s and Under-13s won their respective age-groups in the Cup No.1 International Tournament, held in Denmark. The season before, the Under-14 came third in the Premier League European Champions Tournament (which included Atletico Madrid en route to the semi-finals); that same age-group also proved adept on a different surface by winning the Premier League National Indoor Tournament, while the Under-10s came third in the Ajax Amsterdam Indoor Youth Tournament. And in 2014, the Under-15 crop from that season finished as runners-up in the FC Nantes International Tournament in western France.
Under-10s win Premier League National tournament
As recently as this month, one of our youngest age-groups proved themselves to be collectively ahead of the rest when they won 10 and drew 1 of their 11 fixtures in a Premier League tournament at Warwick University – and in doing so, being crowned national champions. The closest any team came to beating our Under-10s was their counterparts from Leicester in the opening fixtures… but the Royals’ youth side battled back from three goals down to claim a 3-3 draw – and never looked back as they went on to win the rest of their fixtures! 30 teams were whittled down to just two for the final… our boys held their nerve to win on penalties against Derby in the final.
FA Youth Cup semi-finals for the Under-18s
Our best ever run in the FA Youth Cup came in the 2013/14 season, when our Academy scholars were only denied a place in the final by a dramatic 5-4 aggregate defeat to Fulham. Leeds, Crewe and Accrington had been slain en route to their quarter-final tie with Liverpool, and one of the gutsiest of comebacks against the Reds at Madejski Stadium took the game to a penalty shoot-out, in which the Royals triumphed. Ultimately, it was a second-leg hat-trick by Moussa Dembele which gave the Cottagers a place in the final. Our most recent crop of Under-18s came close to repeating the feat last season… but Chelsea were 2-1 winners in the quarter-final at Stamford Bridge, eventually claiming their third consecutive title.