RAITH Rovers, like many other clubs fighting for survival in Scotland, had a difficult decision to make this summer.
Either continue to invest in youth in a challenging climate, without any guarantee of producing players capable of making the grade, or bow to financial pressures, close down the academy, and ease at least one of the drains on the club’s scarce resources.
Keeping the status quo was declared unsustainable due to the new, stricter, club academy criteria set out by the SFA.
As a result, directors considered scrapping the academy completely – the most cost-effective choice – but instead opted for a compromise.
Two teams were scrapped leaving four academy sides at under 13s, 14s, 15s and 17s, underneath two pro teams, namely the under 19s and first team.
The under 11s and 12s teams have gone, but even in its new slimmed-down structure, the academy will still rely heavily on sponsors just to break even.
For John McGlynn, who now has two jobs at Stark’s Park as both Rovers first team manager and academy director, the board has made the correct call.
“There has been big debate about the success of youth academies and there are other clubs cutting back to make sure money goes into the first team,” McGlynn told the Press.
“I’ve got to then praise our board for taking what I believe is the right decision to continue with the continuity that having 13s, 14s, 15s and 17s brings.
“The board of directors need to see some end product for the investment, but youth is not a five-minute thing.
“We’ve been at it for a while now, but you have to stick with it to get the rewards – and I do believe we will get our rewards.”
In his new dual role, McGlynn will be challenged to oversee the development of young players from the academy to the first team, while winning first division games at the same time.
“As manager of a football club, I understand that all the fans want to see is a winning team on the park,” he said.
“They don’t necessarily worry if the players are 35 or 15 – so long as the team is successful.
“But you do get a wee bit more allowance if it’s your own younger players coming through – people understand that and you get more time.
“We would hope that having had our youth set-up in place for a number of years that it will eventually pay off.”
McGlynn is prepared to work seven days a week to ensure both his jobs are done properly.
He said: “I’m a hands-on person in whatever I do, and although I can’t be eveyrwhere all the time, I watch the youth teams generally every weekend.
“The 13s, 14s, 15s and 17s all play on a Sunday, and I do my best, depending on kick-off times and venues, to try and get couple of games in. It’s just football, football, football.
“I will also be having regular in-service sessions with the coaches so I can get across the points I want.
“We’ve got some good coaches and some good players, but we must continue to improve.”
To help bridge the gap between youth and first team football, Raith’s under 19s will compete in the Reserve League next season.
“It means our young players will play at a higher level quicker, which we’ve found difficult over the years,” McGlynn said.
“The 19s will now be playing with and against more experienced players which might just bring them on more, rather than just playing against other 19s, when the standard might not be the best.”
Hamilton Accies have led the way for other provincial clubs in Scotland by winning the first division with a team full of academy graduates, who were then sold to top English clubs for millions.
“That’s the model we would like to aspire to,” McGlynn added. “There’s no real secret to it. It’s just hard work and having an eye for a player.
“We try to get best players we can, but if we get better players than Rangers or Celtic there would be an investigation because we shouldn’t have everything they’ve got to offer.
“But we have to compete with teams at our level in youth football, as we try to do in the first division.”
McGlynn is hopeful that the young players on the club’s books take encouragmenet from Reece Donaldson who broke into the first team last season and secured a three-year contract.
“We brought through Reece last season at 17 years of age and he played in 26 games,” he said.
“Ross Callachan, Ross Laidlaw and Colin Wilson have all signed new deals and are proof that prove we have decent players coming through.
“I’ve already stated that I think they will play a bigger part this year.”
While McGlynn is excited about the future of Rovers’ youth acamdey he has his reservations about the new club academy criteria - part of Mark Wotte’s revolution of Scottish football.
“The criteria has become so much more rigorous and it can be very difficult for teams to match these and make it cost-effective,” he said.
“They are almost pricing you out the game. Raising the bar is great, so long as it doesn’t lose sight of what it’s all about.
“It’s the actual standards on the park we need to look it and not give ourselves loads of headaches with administration and all the things we need to tick boxes for.
“We do understand there’s a level of professionalism we need to adhere to, but we don’t have all the facilities.
“They need to put money into it to bring us all up. Football clubs are struggling to survive.”
THE Raith director responsible for overseeing the operation of the academy is Tom Phillips, and he admits that funding the programme will be a challenge.
He told the Press: “The SFA grant comes midway through season, so we have to fund the academy 100 per cent from summer to Christmas, which is big drain on club cashflow.
“Plus, the SFA grant only covers half of the academy costs, and they’ve reduced the grant this year as well, so it’s a big challenge for the club.”
Phillips has appealed to local businesses to back the club’s decision to invest in youth by signing up to sponsor one of its teams.
He said: “We’ve got a big gap to fill, and we want to do that through sponsorship of teams and the academy in general – and the commercial team is working on that already.
“As soon as we made the decision to go with four teams we set a target that we’ve got to raise in sponsorship to support the academy.”
Phillips also called on the SFA to do more to help clubs like Raith who are committed to breeding their own players.
He added: “The first thing the SFA could do to help is give us our grant at the start of season - that would help ease a lot of the financial pressures.
“There are huge expences for coaches and facilities, but you can’t run an academy without them.”
To find out more about sponsorship of the Raith academy, call Bill O’Neill at Stark’s Park on (01592) 263514.