It was a season to forget, in the end, for AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / Malcolm Arnold Academy.

A strong start to last season put the scholars in contention at the top of the table, however a dismal run in the New Year resulted in the scholars finishing the season without a league win in their last ten matches. An usual feeling, consider league and cup successes in the previous two seasons.

Eventual league winners Histon, turned over an incredible goal difference on the last day of the season, beating pointless Romford Reds a staggering 26-2 (yes twenty-six). The result saw Histon crowned champions on the number of goals scored…

However a new season, and a new league, just like the First Team. The scholars have moved to a northern league also.

Rather than away visits to Braintree and Bishop’s Stortford, the scholars will be travelling to the likes of Maltby and Mansfield.  

“Similarly to the First Team, we’ve been moved to the northern section too.” U18s manager Darren Purse commented.

“We won’t be travelling down to Essex and over to Lowestoft anymore, we will be going up to Sheffield and Derbyshire and over to Lincolnshire. It’ll be a little less travelling for us and I think that it’s going to be a bit more of a competitive league. Histon are in the league and won it last year so it’ll be interesting to pit ourselves against them again.”

The league is technically called under 19’s league and Purse explained what that means in terms of who he can play.

“It just means that some of the lads I had last year [who have turned 18], if I wanted to, and it suited us both, I can keep them signed on and use them this season. The rules are that I can only use two that are not in the education system anymore. So only two in the squad each game.

It’s just in case I’m running low on numbers for a game, although I don’t think I will be. I could call upon some of them, even to just give them a game, they’ll be a place for them if they need it.”

With many recognisable players moving on from the U18s, for the first time, Purse has had to recruit most of his squad. With that being the case, most of the players will be 15 or 16 years of age.

I’m really looking forward to this year. We’re going to be a young side again but with some good young players.” Purse said.

“We’re going to be missing some really key, experienced players, the likes of Matty Pinder, Joe Ackroyd and people like that who we’ve had for a couple of years. So it feels a bit like we’re starting again. We only have four or five second years that we’ll be keeping on, so yes it’ll be a young side but a very very talented one.”

This season will be one of the first where the U18s will be reaping the rewards, of the hard work that the volunteer coaches are doing at the levels below the youth team. Purse explained where he has recruited this summer from.

“We’ve got three or four lads who we have signed from the college, we’ve signed around ten on from the U16s and a couple from outside the college that have come in. So we’ve taken on about 15 or 16 youngsters this year.”

“The squad is quite good and the competition for places will also be quite good. Last year we had a small squad and they knew they could get away with not doing their school work because we were short on numbers. But this year they won’t be able to get away with it, it’ll be hard work for them, they’re going to have to really concentrate on their studies and concentrate on their training because I’ve got a lot bigger squad to choose from.”

By Hayden Pott.

READ MORE: Purse: My Three Years Have Been A Great Learning Curve


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