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Monday 13 September 2010
From the Histon programme

Before the recent game against an Arsenal XI, last season’s Under-13 team did a lap of the pitch and got a terrific reception from the crowd in recognition of them winning the treble of league championship, league cup and county cup, and then becoming Southern England champions and champions of England, lifting the Tesco Cup.

If you were there, you might have thought there weren’t as many boys as you’d expect to see. That’s because we have lost two players who have accepted offers to go on trial to Football League teams, and another League club has notified us that they wish to take two other boys on trial.

The situation really is scandalous. Premier League and Football League teams are protected from this sort of poaching of their young players, but non-League teams have no protection. When League clubs want to sign a youth player from another League club they have to recompense the club for the cost of training the player while he was with them. In a similar situation, we are entitled to nothing.

But it’s worse than that. There are “scouts” who approach team managers directly to offer trials, on behalf of a League club (or so they say). They are supposed to have identification to show that they represent a club. But when challenged they often simply get hold of the parents’ phone number and call them directly. One of our players and his parents have been inundated by a Premier League club who won’t take no for an answer.

It is widely believed that such scouts are paid for each boy they bring to a League club, and get a bonus if the boy goes on to earn a contract. We may have spent years developing the boy -- but we get nothing. Anyhow, it costs a League club nothing to take a boy on trial from a non-League club, so you can understand them feeling that they might as well “have a look”, as the scouts love to put it.

It is easy to understand the attraction for some young players. While everyone knows that most won’t make it, I’m sure each one thinks that he will be the exception. Our direct experience is that when a boy is released after a trial, as usually happens, it takes him a long time to recover from the setback. He then needs a disproportionate amount of attention from our coaches, and that’s at the expense of boys who have refused trials, and that just isn’t right. So we’ve now made it clear that if an AFC Wimbledon youth team player accepts a trial at a League club we will regard them as having left us and will not take them back in the same season. Some of our boys don’t need that kind of incentive and are already turning down approaches because they love being with us.

Some might say we are cutting off our noses to spite our faces, but we want to concentrate on boys who want to be with AFC Wimbledon, to develop and become better footballers. We can’t promise them that they will make our first team, but we can promise them that we’ll do everything we can to bring out their skills.

The Football Conference is on the case, trying to get protection for clubs which, like ours, invest in young players, so long as we meet certain standards. This may take some time to achieve, but for me the case for providing such protection is undeniable. In the meantime, we will continue to provide the best training we can to our young players, and I look forward to seeing more Jack Turners and Ryan Jacksons on contracts and in our first-team squad as a result.