Worthing joint manager Jon Meeney says bringing young players through is what the club prides itself on.
It is easy to forget just how young the Worthing squad is as several of the team have been at Woodside Road for the past four seasons.
Worthing have one of, if not the youngest, squad in the Ryman League Premier Division and have given first-team debuts to several teenagers so far this season. The likes of Luke Brodie, Matt Boiling and Jack Newhouse (all 16), Henry Watson, Recce Hallard and Jake Heryet (all 17) and Ross Edwards and Mike Waller (both 18) have all featured for the club this season. Several other players aged between 18 to 20 have dual-signed with Worthing United to get experience of competitive men’s football.
Worthing has proved to be a genuine pathway for players to progress their careers and the likes of Omar Bugiel, Lloyd Dawes, Corey Heath, Will Hendon and Harvey Sparks, who are all in their early 20s, have played more than 100 games for the club. Ben Pope, aged 19, would also have passed the century milestone had he not suffered an ankle injury in pre-season, while back-up keeper Jack Fagan has made 99 appearances.
Midfielder Matt Axell, at 32, is the oldest member of the squad and Meeney has been delighted to see how the club’s youngsters have progressed.
He said: “All of the young players that have come in, starting or off the bench, haven’t let the club down and it sums up what myself and Gary (Elphick; joint manager) are all about and what the club’s all about.
“We give young players an opportunity, who else is going to do it? People might say they’re not ready for the Ryman Premier Division but when are they going to be ready? We’ve got to show the faith as if no one else has the faith in them, what’s the point?
“Bringing young players through was a key part of why I left the Albion to come here full-time. I wanted to overview the under-18s and also put in place a development centre elite group. I want to work with all the local clubs and give players a unique pathway up through the under-16s, through the under-18s and into the first team.
“That’s important and however long I’m here, when I leave – hopefully on positive terms – I want a solid structure to be in place that can help players progress into the first team because that’s the investment for me and it’s what we pride ourselves on.”
More players from the youth set-up will get their chance in coming weeks, months or years and Meeney said: “If things don’t work out, you hold your hands up but you’ve got to be true to your beliefs.
“You’ve got to be seen to be giving opportunities. You’ve got to be brave and not just look at the short fixes – look at the long term.
“Get the balance right by dripping them in and dripping them out but there’s got to be a pathway, otherwise what’s the point in having an under-18 team or an elite centre and development centre? You’ve got to have it in place for the longevity of this club.”
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