It increasingly looks as if Cardiff City will be the team to beat in the Championship this season. A hugely profitable promotion to the Premier League surely awaits.
But plying their trade in the English top-flight will no doubt make it harder for the club’s fledging youngsters to prosper. Although, the emergence of young Ben Davies at arch-rivals Swansea City has shown a youth product can “make it” for a newly-promoted club in the Premier League.
Here’s a closer look at some of the youngsters to watch out for in 2013.
Declan John, 17
Merthyr Tyfil-born Declan John has impressed for the club’s development side at left-back this season. He can also play in the centre of midfield but made his debut for the first team in defence against Northampton Town in the Capital One Cup back in August. The former Cyfarthfa High School pupil has represented Wales at under-16 and 17 level and scored twice in a rare 4-0 win against England in the televised Victory Shield tournament a couple of years ago.
Joe Ralls, 19
Manchester United fan Joe Ralls has recently attracted the attention of Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp after scouts from the London club were supposedly sent by Harry Houdini to watch a recent Cardiff City match. He began his career with hometown club Aldershot before joining Farnborough, where he was spotted by Cardiff scouts. He opted to join the Bluebirds after turning down offers from Premier League clubs. He has been likened to Gareth Barry and the England Under-19 starlet could yet make the grade at full international level.
Ben Nugent, 20
City manager Malky Mackay has already tipped Ben Nugent to be a future captain at the club, so if this is anything to go by, the future looks bright for the tall centre-half. At 6’4, the two-footed defender suffered with growing pains and subsequent injuries meant he was actually released by Cardiff City only to be called back by then youth coach, Neal Ardley.
The Olympic honeymoon period is over. Or is it? London 2012 hoped to be a turning point in women’s football as far as interest and attitudes were concerned. Less than six months on, are women reaping the rewards of a successful summer of sport, or are things pretty much the way they were?
“Attitudes have changed massively and all for the better,” says Laura McAllister. Picture by Sport Wales.
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” – Sepp Blatter, 2004.
As head of football’s world governing body, Sepp Blatter is arguably the most powerful man in football, which makes these comments all the more shocking. But since then, the women’s game has come a long way. In Wales for example, there are roughly 5,000 registered female footballers, making it the largest participating sport among girls in the country. But compare this with male participants and the figures are not so impressive. There are nearly 40,000 boys registered in Wales, and an additional 50,000 seniors – a substantial yet unsurprising contrast to their female counterparts.
A recent BBC report outlined the difficulties facing the women’s game in England, focusing on the fortunes of Nottingham Forest Ladies. Pitiful wages, ground-sharing and low attendances were just some of the issues mentioned in this report. But back in July, more than 70,000 were in attendance at the Millennium Stadium to see Great Britain’s women defeat Brazil.
Welsh Premier League match between Cardiff Met Ladies and Llanidloes Ladies.
On Wednesday, the English Football Association announced that another league, a second division to the Women’s Super League (WSL), will be introduced in England. An article by The Guardian in April of this year explained how attendances for WSL games were up by 600 per cent since the league’s launch. So does this suggest support and interest in women’s football was on the increase well before the supposed Olympic Revolution?
Laura McAllister played for Wales at international level, captaining the team along the way. She is now Chair of Sport Wales and believes interest has definitely developed since the summer.
“The games were well attended and we’ve had evidence from a range of sports that participation has increased from the Olympics,” she said. “Girls from the Cardiff area were able to be inspired by the best players in the world. A sporting snapshot shows the local impact of the Olympic football. The Vale Ladies & Girls Football Club launched a Primary School Girls Football League, which is the first of its kind in the Vale. 12 schools and 15 teams will get the opportunity to experience the game on a regular basis with matches being hosted at Cadoxton and Romilly Junior Schools. The matches will be played in a non-competitive format to encourage a turn up and play environment and with the emphasis based around the games being ‘fun’.
Cardiff City Ladies reported 25-30 girls attending new season training – of all ages.
“Women and girls sport is a high priority for Sport Wales and for the football organisations in Wales,” she said. “Sport Wales invest in Welsh Football Trust’s regional plans to develop women and girls football – supporting clubs and leagues at the local level to increase the number of teams and players. Our funding streams such as Community Chest target underrepresented groups such as women and girls – £250,000 additional money was put into Community Chest this financial year. Sport Wales is also part of the Football Association of Wales’ Task Force on women and girls football working to change how the sport is organised to achieve the big growth that is possible.”
Indeed, Welsh football organisations are becoming increasingly proactive. In 2009, the FAW launched the Women’s Welsh Premier League, and this season, a revamped format means 12 teams now take part. Here are their locations:
Laura McAllister believes the Welsh Premier is doing “very well given the stage of development”. She said: “The national dimension this season is very important in creating a proper competition across Wales. There is a variation in standards but this is typical in a new league in the women’s game. The important thing is club development and the strengthening of women’s academies and development centres now.”
The league’s reigning champions, and current league-leaders, are Cardiff Metropolitan University. One of their players is 21-year-old defender Elin Haf Huxtable from Aberystwyth. She believes very little has changed since the Games:
Two days ago, a linesman was killed after being brutally attacked by youths during a football match in the Netherlands. He had been repeatedly punched and kicked in the head by youth footballers.
Two 15-year-olds and a 16 year-old have since been charged with his murder. Richard Nieuwenhuizen collapsed and fell into a coma after he was attacked by several teenagers playing against his son’s football team, Buitenboys.
The most famous club in Dutch football, Ajax, pay their respects during a pre-match minute silence in memory of linesman and father, Richard Nieuwenhuizen. (Picture courtesy of CNN)
The story made headlines around the world and the footballing community was left in mourning. It is hard to believe that such an incident could take place anywhere, let alone at a youth football match.
Following these tragic events, I spoke briefly to David Harries, a father and a part-time linesman from Cardiff. “I have never come across such levels of violence on a football field. This is such a tragic story,” said David, who often volunteers as a linesman for his son’s under 12s team.
“The only thing I would say is, parents like myself volunteer so that our children can enjoy playing football in a safe environment. Football, especially at youth level, should only be for pure enjoyment.
“Youth football in Cardiff is very good on the whole, although you do come across the odd ‘pushy Dad’ now and again,” he added. “But it is very rewarding, and the kids are, on the whole, very well behaved.”
Footballers should, at whatever age or standard, be encouraged to respect the match officials, however hard it may seem at times. Especially at youth level, coaches, referees and linesmen are often volunteers – their only reward is nurturing young footballers, and perhaps developing them into good people along the way. A life should not be so cruelly taken away just for trying to help this process.
So the next time you start hurling abuse at a referee or indeed a linesman, just remember, it’s only a game.
On the day Welsh-language activists were compared to members of the Taliban in an unprovoked article undermining our language, I thought I’d highlight the good work being done on behalf of young football enthusiasts in Cardiff – by a Welsh-language movement.
The Urdd was established in 1922 in order to promote the use of Welsh among young people in an active environment. It currently boasts approximately 50,000 members, 30 per cent of which are learners. There are 4,500 Urdd members within 30 square miles of Cardiff, with a thousand or so directly involved in competitions across the capital city.
There are roughly 190 children being coached on Monday and Tuesday nights by young coaches (including myself!), some who are professional. Nine teams between the ages of six and 16 play under the Urdd’s umbrella every Saturday.
It’s a great initiative – inclusive rather than exclusive – and one which I’ve always been involved with in some capacity over the years.
“Our intention at the Urdd is to offer opportunities for children and young people to enjoy a range of different activities through the medium of Welsh in a safe environment,” says Cardiff activity coordinator Llio Angharad. And it’s working. So much so that Sport Wales felt it deserved a £250,000 boost.
Earlier this year, the Urdd received quarter of a million quid to invest in sport projects through the medium of Welsh for young people in Wales. Dr Huw Jones, Chief Executive of Sport Wales said back in June:
“The Urdd are a crucial sports development arm in their own right for us here in Wales. We want to ensure that there are no barriers, including language, to sports participation for our young people. The Urdd are doing a fantastic job of engaging thousands of Welsh speaking, and Welsh learners, children and young people across the country.”
Aaron Ramsey, as a Cardiff City player, presenting awards to the winners of a Urdd tournament. Picture courtesy of Glamorgan University.
Celebrating its 90th birthday this year, the Urdd has promised to double the number of young volunteers trained to run community sports clubs from 600 to 1,200 within the next decade. As part of the funding agreement, it also promised to increase the number of Welsh-medium community sports clubs from 70 to 140.
Aaron Ramsey, a fluent (if not reluctant) Welsh-speaker, was spotted by Cardiff City scouts while playing at one of the Urdd’s football tournaments when he was eight years old. He was to become Wales captain aged just 20. I’m not suggesting Rambo has the Urdd, and only the Urdd, to thank for his rise to stardom, but it does give youngsters a great platform to showcase their skills. The fact it’s being encouraged through he medium of Welsh is just a bonus.
Calliste lining up before a Wales under-21 international.
Ramon Calliste was recruited to join Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at the tender age of 15 by the man himself back in 2001. He was regarded as “the best thing to come out of Cardiff since Ryan Giggs” and was labelled “the next David Beckham” despite being a powerful, yet skillful striker. He was also given the tainted number seven shirt at academy level. His family moved from Cardiff to Manchester in a show of dedication and faith in their boy who seemed to have the world at his feet.
He won the FA Youth Cup with United in 2003 but it was, and remains, one of his career highlights. Calliste was released on April Fool’s Day in 2005 as a result of United’s decision to scrap one of its two academy sides. He did, however, manage to get a transfer to arch-rivals Liverpool and earn himself a few Welsh under-21 caps along the way.
After being released by the Merseyside club barely a year later, without making a single first-team appearance, he went on to play for several lower-league clubs including Brentford, Cambridge, Farnborough, Newport, Shrewsbury, Staines and Wycombe. In early 2009, he went on a week-long trial at Lincoln City Reserves, but he was not given a contract. Later, during a stint at Scunthorpe United, Calliste suffered a horrific dislocated ankle during a pre-season friendly against Brigg Town which all but ended an already stuttering career in the professional game.
I remember a player called Calvin, who I played alongside during my stint at Ton Pentre, saying Calliste was one of the best players he had played with. I can vividly recall Calvin saying to me that Joe Ledley (current Celtic star and Welsh international), who was also a part of that successful Cardiff Schools team, used to toe-poke his corners in. Basically, he was nowhere near as good as Calliste. He, on the other hand, would single-handedly win games and did so with consummate ease.
But now, as Ledley basks in Celtic’s recent victory against European champions Barcelona, Ramon Calliste is approaching his 27th birthday and is playing in the Middlesex County Football League for West London Saracens. The good news is, he’s scoring goals – 10 in 22 last season. But surely he was destined for greater things. He might now be better-known as (Crystal Palace striker) Jermaine Easter’s cousin. To think he was once labelled “the next David Beckham”, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Now that says a lot.
However, I did manage to find this. Calliste scoring for his most recent club earlier this season. Great camera work…
Both teams prepare for the second half at the GenQuip Stadium, Port Talbot
Rarely do Wales beat England at any level when it comes to football – or in any other sport for that matter. But at under 16 level, there’s a sizeable difference. Not necessarily in terms of the quality of football, because to be honest, the Welsh youngsters matched their English counterparts in most areas. But physically, they were miles apart. These were 16, 15, 14-year-olds but some in the England team looked like fully-grown men. This comes as no surprise considering the pool of players at England’s disposal. But it wasn’t a case of “men against boys” last night. Far from it.
Welsh legend Barry Horne was the Sky Sports co-commentator on the night.
It took the visitors almost an hour to open the scoring and it came via Chelsea winger Dominic Solanke. The very impressive Joe Morrell (of Bristol City), Wales’ captain on the night, began shouting encouragingly at his teammates as soon as they had conceded what would prove to be the decisive goal. A sign of good leadership and determination on his behalf, but it’s a task countless Welsh captains have been forced to do before him – lifting a deflated Wales side.
In attendance were a few famous faces – among them, Craig Bellamy, whose son Ellis came off the substitute bench in the latter stages. There was also Wales manager Chris Coleman, the FA’s Sir Trevor Brooking and, perhaps more obscurely, former QPR and Portsmouth boss, Paul Hart. But there were also less familiar, but equally important people in the crowd. Scouts. There was one from Ajax. Obviously there were a few from Cardiff City, Swansea, Bristol City and Aston Villa as you’d expect, but this guy had come from Amsterdam. Their academy is widely-regarded as one of the best in the world – a theory recently justified by their first team’s victory against Manchester City in the Champions League. His mere presence there just goes to show that the Victory Shield is a very prestigious competition.
Players were forced off the pitch due to adverse weather conditions. Not even the VIPs were safe. Picture courtesy of the FAW.
Coincidentally, I saw the Ajax scout in the VIP area. For those of you who are familiar with the state-of-the-art arena that is the GenQuip, having a designated area for “very important people” might seem strange, if not ridiculous. And it was. But there was nowhere to hide from the torrential hailstorm which saw both teams forced off the pitch after the ref halted play midway through the first half.
*Miscellaneous: England’s left-back was born in 1998, something which I find staggering. Without being patronizing (I’m only 21 myself) I imagine everyone born after 1997 have only started walking. The Welsh boys sang the anthem loud and proud at the start – something that was also noted by the England Football Blog. And there was a streaker…
“Benji”, a half-streaker known to locals, skidding in the rain. Courtesy of the FAW.
Match poster features Wales captain and Bristol City youth, Joe Morrell.
Wales U16s v England U16s
GenQuip Stadium, Port Talbot. Kick off: 7.35pm (Live on Sky Sports 1 & 1HD)
Ellis Bellamy, son of Wales and Cardiff City talisman Craig, has been included in the Wales Under 16s squad to face England tomorrow. He plays for Cardiff City’s youth academy. Imagine that. You’re playing for a Championship club’s youth team, and your old man’s playing for the firsts.
Bellamy Jr is one of five Cardiff City academy players to have been selected for Osian Roberts’ squad – more than any other club. This is the squad in full (Welsh-speakers may notice the teams will be playing in the “Sky Victory Pub”…).
Ed Speed (left) and his brother Tom before their father’s memorial match. Courtesy of BBC Sport.
Full match report and reactions will follow the match.
**In March this year, Gary Speed’s son Ed was also selected for a preliminary under 16 squad despite being only 14. At a memorial match dedicated to his father, who died so tragically nearly a year ago, Ed Speed gave an emotional speech to the Welsh players after the game. Have a read.
He may not have been selected for the squad tomorrow, but he’s got time on his hands. The future is bright for Speedo Jr.