FA chief: Youth set-up at AFC is ideal model

FAMILY CONNECTION: The Football Association's Dan Ashworth, who was at AFC Sudbury on Saturday to watch brother-inlaw David Batch's side
FAMILY CONNECTION: The Football Association's Dan Ashworth, who was at AFC Sudbury on Saturday to watch brother-inlaw David Batch's side

The man charged with 
engineering England’s next golden generation wants more non-League clubs to 
follow AFC Sudbury’s lead.

Dan Ashworth, the Football Association’s (FA) director of elite development, was shown around the Suffolk club’s Grassroots Community Pavilion ahead of Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Maldon and Tiptree — and he was impressed with what he saw.

The brother-in-law of AFC boss David Batch made his first visit to see his wife’s husband’s side while on a family Christmas visit.

And he believes more town sides up and down the country need to replicate the youth set-up at AFC if England are to hit the next level in increasing the amount of English players playing on merit in the Premier League.

“What is important to recognise and remember is that every single player playing in the Premier League or playing professional football started in grassroots,” he said. “They started somewhere down the pyramid, be it as a six or seven-year-old and their first contact with football. And there are also lots of examples of people coming into it later, 14, 15, 16, 17 and beyond, so it is really important as a nation we get the facilities right.

“You go across to Holland and Denmark and countries like that and they have fantastic facilities in every small town. We perhaps don’t have the same facilities as they do.

“So it is nice to see a town like Sudbury and a club like Sudbury really put some 
time and effort into a 
grassroots programme for their young players as well.”

The AFC Grassroots section, headed up by Clive Golding, encompasses 11 sides from ages 11 to 18, as well as a ladies senior side.

All the age groups use the building, opened by former England player Jamie Redknapp in April 2010, adjacent to the main clubhouse and first-team pitch and including classroom facilities.

Ashworth, who left West Bromwich Albion, where he was sporting and technical director, for his new job at the National Football Centre at St George’s Park in September 2012, was full of praise for what he saw at King’s Marsh.

He said: “It is my first time to Sudbury. I’m just down for a couple of days over Christmas with my family so it is a busman’s holiday, if you like, on a couple of days off.

“But I really enjoyed the game, a different game than I would normally watch but I enjoyed it.

“The facilities, first of all, are first-class.

“I was very lucky to be shown round before the game and the changing rooms there and the plans they have got for the academy are excellent.

“The bar and the hall and the facilities here, I would imagine, have to be the best in the league.

“It is a very good set-up, I am very impressed and people have made me feel very welcome.”

Of the 90 minutes the ex-Norwich City player said: “The game itself was good, a draw was probably about right in the end.

“Both sides had their chances and periods in the game where they dominated, but a draw was probably about right in the end.”

Ashworth, who has headed up youth academies at West Brom, Cambridge United and Peterborough United, believes talking about quotas on foreign players in English leagues is missing the point.

“I think the challenge is not so much around quotas, it is making sure — with things like this — the community facilities here at Sudbury are replicated across the country and help develop our young players and make more of them world class,” he said.

The man who will have a prominent place in the FA’s contingent in Brazil in the summer said there is no specific target currently being laid down for Roy Hodgson, to his knowledge, but warned progressing past the group stage won’t be easy.

He added: “I think whenever you go to the World Cup and European Championships, certainly nowadays, there aren’t really any easy games or groups.

“So, first and foremost, is to try and get out of the group and then who knows from there?”

Saturday’s point for AFC, their second consecutive 1-1 draw maintained their 10th spot ahead of yesterday’s New Year’s Day home game with Dereham Town.

David Batch’s side — whose derby with Needham was postponed on Boxing Day — travel to strugglers Waltham Forest on Saturday (3pm) with the AFC chief having targeted four points from yesterday and this weekend’s match to ensure the draw with Maldon and Tiptree becomes ‘a good point’.