Last week the EFL ran a social media campaign highlighting the role the English Football League and their member clubs’ academies play in developing and nurturing talent, the campaign was given the catchy hashtag #RaisedInTheEFL. In recent times many EFL players have gone on to enjoy hugely successful Premier League careers, whether that be by coming through an EFL academy or by spending time on loan at an EFL club from a Premier League academy.
Players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher, Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham all either spent time on loan at an EFL club or came through an EFL Club’s academy before going on to play at the highest level for England. A club very close to my heart, Charlton Athletic, has a remarkable record for producing future Premier League talent. Scott Parker, Paul Konchesky, Jermain Defoe, Jon Fortune, Kevin Lisbie, Harry Arter, Carl Jenkinson, Jonjo Shelvey, Ademola Lookman, Esri Konsa, Karlan Grant, Rob Elliot, Darren Randolph and Nick Pope all came through Charlton’s academy since the year 2000 and went on to play in the Premier League.
It’s not just the EFL though that has a superb record for producing talent, the non-league game does too. Just look at Jamie Vardy, non-league’s first £1m footballer when he was sold by Fleetwood Town to Leicester City in 2012. Joe Hart began his playing career with Shrewsbury Town, who were then a Conference side, whilst future Wales captain, Ashley Williams, signed for Stockport County from Hednesford Town. Chris Smalling started at Maidstone United before signing for Fulham and then Manchester United, while current West Ham United hotshot Michail Antonio started as a right-back for Isthmian League side Tooting & Mitcham United. Locally, there’s the infamous story of Chelmsley Town chairman Jason Gibbons driving his player, an uninterested Troy Deeney, to Walsall for a trial, Troy starred for Walsall and went on to play many years in the Premier League with Watford.
You may ask, what has this got to do with Paget? Well, it has everything to do with the Bears. Paget themselves have a proud history of producing players who have gone on to play in the English Football League, including the very top division. In Doug Lishman, we even have an FA Cup winner and league championship winning centre forward amongst our ranks who is a legend immortalised in Arsenal’s own museum at the Emirates Stadium. Roger Brown played in the first division with Norwich City after coming through the Bears’ ranks, whilst Bernie Wright went on to play for Everton amongst others. Jon Gittens is the Bears’ only academy graduate to have made a Premier League appearance to date, moving to Southampton from Paget in 1991 and subsequently on to Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and others.
The question I now ask is who will be the next Paget player to make the EFL grade? The club has a fantastic youth set up and with quality qualified coaches throughout, ably overseen by a former pro himself in Peter Shearer, it can’t be long before the next Paget Rangers youth prospect goes on to make a first team appearance for a club in the EFL or even the Premier League. Clubs such as ours should be cherished, we are the lifeblood of football and give a chance to those who professional clubs may otherwise miss. Long may the Bears proud history of producing elite talent continue. Instead of #RaisedInTheEFL how about #RaisedAtPagetRangers.
By Matthew Dainty, Club President