Following the integration of the AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s and Malcolm Arnold Academy in 2014, supporters of The Diamonds first team have started to see the progression of youth team players, starting to play in men’s football.
Over recent seasons, we have seen the likes of Rhys Redding, Joe Ackroyd, Ryan Baird and Matt Pinder in and amongst the first team squad. But not many since.
This may be due to in part to the success of the First Team – competing for multiple trophies. Also, in part, as a result of the scholars having a big intake of young players last summer. Therefore, this season being more of a transition year for the youngsters, where the majority of the squad are aged 15 or 16, playing against 17 or 18 year olds.
The U18s are currently 7th in their division of nine teams. With Boston United leading the way with just one league defeat all season. The scholars most recently lost 4-0 to Boston at Hayden Rod. Despite the lowly league position, manager Darren Purse is pleased with how the season has gone so far, especially as it is a transition year. “I’m really happy with the way things have gone.” Purse said.
“We’ve got nine or ten first year lads that are going to become 2nd years and the squads looking a lot stronger for next year. The lads have grown up, next year we’re looking to run two teams, so they’ll be lot of strength in depth. Things are looking good.”
This season we saw, for the first time, an U18 player dual register with a local team. Jamie Mastropierro, a central midfielder, is the first example where we have seen this arrangement take place. Rushden & Higham took a chance on the 18-year-old and co-manager Wayne Abbott described Matropierrio as a ‘real highlight of the season’ and a ‘real prospect’. Diamonds manager Purse is hoping it will be the first of many dual-registers. “Jammers has been there for the last couple of months and doing very well, so he’s able to step up to men’s football well enough.” He said.
“Hopefully they’ll be a couple more going forward. It’s all about getting the players who are good enough to go and play and produce the goods in the first team. That’s what we need to start seeing now.”
‘Producing the goods in the first team’ though as Purse put it will be highly difficult and he knows why there hasn’t been many opportunities. But believes there are a few players who are ready to try their hand at men’s football.
“The only thing that disappoints me is, we haven’t had the progression from the U18’s into the First Team. That’s something I’m really looking to try and do. I understand Peaksy’s situation, and when you’re up there trying to fight for the play offs, you can’t really trust an 18 year old.”
“Caley McTeggart has been immense the last three or four months. He’s turning into a proper centre half. He knows when to deal with it, knows when to play and he attacks the ball really well. He’s been superb so he needs to be out playing men’s football, either now or soon. There’s a few of the second years who will want to be pushing next year as well.”
“We’ll have nine or ten second years in the squad next year and we are going to try and get three or four of those out on loan. We’ve got a good relationship with Rushden & Higham, Whitworths, Cogenhoe and clubs like that. So we’ll see if they’re willing to give youngsters a chance and try to push themselves into our first team from there.”
As for himself, Darren is still playing, recently signing on for The Diamonds and he also applied for the recent managerial position at Northampton Town.
“I applied for the job, it didn’t happen and they gave it to Justin Edinburgh and the rest is history. I’d like to get to the interview stage and put myself off over an interview but that’s not happening at the moment. I’ve had a couple of offers recently in non-league football, but nothing that’s really tickled my fancy. I’m very happy with what I’m doing at the moment. Playing wise, I’ll see what happens at the end of the year, if nothing comes up full time, I’ll be carrying on what I’m doing. I’m enjoying it, I’m not looking to go and do anything else at the minute, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing.”