Q&A: Warrington Town head of youth Mark Bellers

We sat down recently with Warrington Town head of youth Mark Bellers to discuss what has been a successful season for the club’s development teams.

With a clear path to the first team through cup competitions, youth players joining in first-team training, the opportunity to watch back game footage and two teams competing for silverware, it has been a promising campaign.

The season ended on a high with the Under 21s securing promotion to the North West Development Premier Division following a 5-3 play-off final victory over Athletic de Brave. Connor McAuley scored four goals in that game, and he will be training in pre-season with the first team.

The Under 21s and Under 18s also picked up trophies in cup competitions.

So, Mark, just give an overview of how the youth teams have done this season

MB: I think it has gone really well this year. This year we’ve gone into the Youth Alliance with the 18s and the North West Development League with the 21s. We were both near the top of the leagues so we’re pitching at the right level. The recruitment we did last year has worked well for us, and we wanted to be in the top leagues of those divisions next year. The aim for us is always to go up, meaning we play better teams in better locations and therefore the club can track better players.

We’ve seen glimpses of players in the first team such as Sam Gill and Adam Brooks. What’s that been like for the players?

MB: It’s really good motivation for them to see that pathway and the level of the first team. They’re obviously not walking into the team, but they can see the pathway if they get their head down and work hard. The Cheshire Senior Cup was a great outlet for them to not only play but to play with some first-teamers and learn from them, and I think they all played well. So it has been really good for the players.

And it’s really important to show those that may not have been in academies that you can find a way to semi-professional football, isn’t it?

MB: 100%. A lot of the players want to get paid to do something they love. I think we’ve demonstrated the fact that we’ve got a very high level and they can reach the first team if they maximise their potential. I think they’re starting to understand how it all works, a lot of games, a lot of trade, playing and training three times a week and potentially working a full-time job, and I think those that are committed will show it because it’s not easy.

Whilst it’s important to prepare these guys for open age, how important is it to have success on the field as well?

MB: It helps when you’re winning as it feels like you’re going in the right direction. We’ve got players that can compete; the 18s played a Prem team in the spring who we’re looking to play after promotion this year, it finished 0-0 and you’re thinking that’s a good benchmark. Having a couple of cup finals too is nice as it makes you feel a part of a successful structure. For the coaches, it’s more about developing the players both on and off the pitch so we can put them in front of Mark Beesley and confidently say “This is a player you need to take a look at.” But it does help if we’re winning as well, doesn’t it?

And as you said, the lads are getting involved in first-team training and trying to make an impression that way, aren’t they?

MB: Yes, and it’s the biggest test for them. You can score as many goals as you like on a Sunday but if you can’t do it on a Tuesday or Thursday with the first team, then they’re not going to get accepted in by their team-mates. So you’ve got to be at that level. There are about four or five that have gone, done well, have been invited back and are now earning opportunities. 

How much has the increase in professionalism helped this season? You’ve been able to record all the games…

MB: They love the VEO. They’re so disappointed when they don’t have the video, or I’ve pressed the wrong button and it hasn’t been recorded! Having the back catalogue of games on record is good from a tactical and development point for us. You can show players the video and ask “What do you think about this?” and they’ll realise that they were in the wrong place or made the wrong run et cetera. Whereas if it’s just a memory, it can be less powerful.

So, looking forward, what does a successful next 12 or so months look like from the youth department’s point of view?

MB: We would like to be in the Premier of both divisions so we can test ourselves at the highest level we can before going into professional academies. We want to be in a position where we have a pathway for 15 and 16-year-olds to come through into the 18s, and we want to give opportunities for players to go to first-team training and impress Mark Beesley. 

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