Huddersfield Town would have been voted 19th best academy in the country as Training Ground Guru recently released their 2020/21 Academy Productivity Rankings. However, as the Terriers do not have a recognised academy their place in the rankings was discounted. Town fan STEVE DOWNES takes a look back at the decision to restructure the academy and what will happen going forward.

If you stepped into the nearest Huddersfield bar and asked three Town fans for their views on Town’s youth development programme you’d probably get different answers that lead to the same conclusion. They would conclude that we are still to be convinced by the fateful decisions taken back in 2017. 

Let’s wind back the clock. Town had just secured promotion to the Premier League. Dean Hoyle was the owner and David Wagner was more or less God. 

Town released a statement around September 16 stating that they would be changing their academy set up. They would be moving from a Cat 2 academy to Cat 4 of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). This meant the club could not recruit players under the age of 16. Therefore all their youth teams including the under-7 side were scrapped. 

At the time Hoyle said: “Since my first year as chairman in 2009, we have taken great pride in always doing things our own way.

“The need to find ways of being competitive is more pertinent than ever following the club’s promotion to the Premier League. We must find ways of being competitive against our peers.

“Huddersfield Town fully committed to the new EPPP rules introduced by the Premier League in October 2011, investing large sums of money to establish Category 2 status. The climate has proven difficult for this club considering EPPP rules and the number of big clubs on our doorstep, which offer strong competition for the best local players with Category 1 sides.” 

This change in status did not go down well with supporters and especially parents at the time who were upset that their child had lost the chance to play for the club they probably supported. 

John Smith’s Stadium

The club’s reasoning behind scrapping the academy was due to the fact they didn’t believe they could compete with big clubs with Cat 1 academies for young players. However the timing of this decision was strange with promotion to the top division for the first time in 45 years and the fact there was lots of positivity around the town. This decision certainly dampened the mood. 

It was now even more unlikely that a child born in Huddersfield would go on to play for the club, crushing dreams of thousands of children in the area. Town fans love a local hero. Examples include Alex Smithies or Tom and Nathan Clarke not to mention one of Huddersfield’s greatest sons Andy Booth. 

Town took the somewhat brave decision in 2017. The Elite Development Teams were formed for U17s and U19s. The club now had the ability to cherry pick the best of the rest. The Terriers worked on a similar format to Brentford who had also closed their academy. The theory was why plough lots of money into an under 7s side when none of them might make it and instead invest that money into an under 17 team where three or four may make it?

The theory from a financial aspect made total sense and I believe most Town fans understood that meaning. 

However, I think the club didn’t appreciate the emotional bond supporters had to the academy. As recently as 2004 when the club fell into administration it was the academy players who stepped into the first team shoes and saved the club and got it promoted under Peter Jackson out of Division 4 now League 2. Without the likes of Jon Stead the club might have collapsed all together. 

In 2020 the club announced another change to its youth development set up. They introduced a B Team, which would sit at a level above the Elite Development Teams and just below the first team. It would make the step up easier for young players. It would also mean that the situation between the B team and first team could be fluid and interchangeable. Players such as Jordan Rhodes, who has been injured this season, could work his way back to full fitness through playing for the B team. 

In 2020 Town announced that with the success of the B team, 11 youngsters had managed to represent Town at first team level in the 2019/20 campaign and 14 players were named in a match day squad.

This meant that the 11 who did make an appearance equates to 5,710 minutes played in league fixtures, cup games and first team friendlies, which means that 12% of minutes played through the season were by academy players and graduates.

In recent months we have seen the development of both Lewis O’Brien and Scott High which is fantastic. O’Brien has impressed so much so over the past year a substantial offer by Premier League side Leeds United was made last summer only for it to be rejected and the player sign a new deal at Town. Both players, however, have been born out of the old academy system. 

READ MORE: Find out more about Huddersfield legend Brian Stanton.

Looking at the B team, they have had some great results of late and there is clearly talent in there. Players such as Danny Grant who was brought over from Ireland and has been injured has yet to try his luck in the first team. However he is certainly one player we as fans are looking forward to seeing. 

Notable players that have made the step up but haven’t played consistent minutes are Aaron Rowe and Romoney Crichlow. 

The other notable exception was the signing of Sorba Thomas who was signed to the B team with the expectation he would quickly move into first team plans. 

The special mention that Training Ground Guru made in their report does show that the club’s decision to restructure the academy might start to bear fruit. 

Town’s academy manager Emyr Humphreys said of the recognition: “These results are a sign that we’re going in the right direction.

Sorba Thomas

“There was a lot of discussion around our decision to restructure the academy and only time was going to tell if it was the correct decision or not, but these results are starting to show that we’re making progress and heading in the right direction.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but it’s a positive sign and something we’ll keep going with – hopefully getting higher in rankings such as these.

“We’re in a really exciting place at the moment. We have a lot of players sitting just under first team level, with a lot of potential and we’re really confident of seeing graduates to first team football over the next few years – we’re even starting to see that this season with Scott High, for example.

“There’s plenty more to come, too. If you look at how well Rarmani Edmonds-Green is currently doing on loan, Romoney Crichlow too who played so well when required last season, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re confident that we have a group of 15 to 20 players now who can take a similar path.

“We are run as a Category 1 academy would be, we’ve always been pretty clear about that being the level we want to be run at.

“Category 4 is just a label. What we actually provide day-to-day in our opinion is Category 1, and certainly better than what some of those categorised higher than we are have on offer. That’s the level we pitch ourselves at, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the labels.

“The questions we ask of ourselves are: Is what we’re doing working for us? Is it value for money? And these results would show that it is.

“It’s a nice bit of recognition from Training Ground Guru, they don’t have to do that. We are running a different model, so I guess it’s good for them to compare us, who do things outside the norm and outside of the system and how we’re doing to the sides who do follow the EPPP guidelines.

“Perhaps it’s a sign that there are other ways of doing things and that doing exactly what everyone else is doing isn’t always the most effective way.”

In conclusion, the jury is still out on the changes made in 2017 but there are positive signs for the future and it could yet prove to be the right decision.