Invest in youth, Dave!

Posted by Tony Brown

FA CupPA PhotosRoberot Martinez and Dave Whelan disagreed over investment in youth

In 1964 non-league Wigan Athletic did so well as to reach the big round of the FA Youth Cup and were drawn away at Everton. It was a wonderful achievement for Latics' youth team to get to that stage and it captured my interest.

My friend, Melvyn, knew Vic Gaskell, Latics youth team goalkeeper, and badgered me to go with him to Goodison Park to watch this mid-week match. Barnes Travel Agents on Market Street, near Queens Hall, must have been owned by a Latics fan because they always laid on coaches for Latics games, no matter where - Bacup, Congleton, Oswestry, Darwen - to name a few gems. But to put on a trip to Everton for a youth match? Surely not. But they did.

I had never been to a First Division ground before and I was impressed with Goodison Park. It was built as one of the first football-specific grounds in 1892. In the early 1960s Everton were known as the 'Mersey Millionaires' through the money that chairman John Moores put into the club. Moores himself had been responsible in founding Littlewoods Pool Company, the forerunner of modern day football gambling.

In 1964 Everton were flying high in the First Division, well above their city neighbours Liverpool. They were known for their good football. Wigan Athletic's youth team, composed of amateurs was to play an Everton team of apprentice professionals.

Poor Gaskell in goal did not know what had hit him. Wingers Stuart Shaw and Aiden Maher, tore Latics apart with John Hurst being the complete centre forward. Hurst went on to play near on 400 matches for Everton, but as a defender. Shaw and Maher never made it at the top level. Latics were to concede 12 goals. Everton were to win the FA Youth Cup.

This memory came into my head after reflecting on Roberto Martinez's decision to leave Wigan Athletic. We recall the meeting between Martinez and Dave Whelan, after which the chairman mentioned Martinez's concern about investment in youth. Then on the second meeting we heard that Martinez was given permission to talk to Everton, but nothing about the youth programme.

Wigan have moved on from putting out a non-league youth side, getting predictably flattened by a First Division side full of apprentice professionals. However, the club continues to punch below its weight at youth level.

Martinez was right in his insistence in investment in facilities and staffing of a youth development programme. It continues to be the club's weak point.

So what is going to happen to the youth programme? Will it get scuppered in the financial meltdown that represents bowing out of the Premier League?

Martinez will undoubtedly want to improve Everton's youth system. It is ironic that rumours suggest he wants to take Callum McManaman back to the club he played at as junior.

Norwich City deserve great credit for not only securing Premier League status, but winning the Youth Cup in style, beating giants Chelsea in the final. A terrific achievement.

Wigan Athletic face new long-term challenges after being relegated from the world's most elite league. Most of the clubs in the Championship have bigger fan bases and Latics are going to have to punch above their weight to challenge for promotion. In the past, Whelan's financial support has made the difference. However, the time has come for the club to be self sufficient.

Conversely, it is going to take a major investment from the Latics owner to put in an infrastructure that will help the club produce home-grown players who can safeguard the survival of the club.

Dave Whelan is 76 years old. Wigan Athletic would be nowhere without him. The question is - how much more is he willing, or able, to do?

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