Harty on... Rebels’ Youth and non-league football

IT was a mixed night in the FA Youth Cup at Woodside Road on Monday. A bumper crowd for an under-18 fixture of 160 paying customers and a few more not (Worthing Youth seem to have an entourage to rival that of Elvis Presley’s) watched arguably two of the best youth sides in the county contest a classic cup tie.

Burgess Hill boss Ashley Carr was first to admit that the 3-0 scoreline didn’t truly reflect the game but, in all honesty, on the night the best team won.

The first goal was always going to be pivotal and prior to the visitors opening the scoring on 41 minutes, Worthing’s Josh Etherington had two headers cleared off the line.

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Despite an improved second half showing from the Rebels, Burgess Hill strikes on 90 and 93 minutes indicate that, when chasing an important cup tie, you also run the risk of leaving yourself exposed at the back.

Along with my management team, I’m naturally disappointed. While it’s a competition that no club at our level can win, it’s always good to get as through as many rounds as you can, in the hope of playing a professional team.

While the younger players will get another chance next season, I’m sure in the coming weeks the 17 and 18-year-olds in our squad will reflect on what might have been.

It’s nearly three years since I sat down with then Worthing boss Chris White and was offered the position of youth team manager at Woodside Road, with both of us having clear ideas about what was the long-term aim.

Non-league football is effectively killing itself, with clubs at all levels paying out money they simply can’t afford.

While, in the past, the ‘boom and bust’ culture was part and parcel of football, the larger economic picture dictates that clubs don’t have the same number of individuals brave/stupid enough to plough money in they will never see again.

Our aim then, and remains to this day, was to nurture the obvious local young talent in this town and beyond through a number of years to the point when Worthing Football Club had a group of players who had come through the ranks.

They would not just play for realistic money as part of a sensible budget but, ultimately, for the ‘badge’ as well, the effective long-term merger of Dynamos and Worthing FC will go a long way to developing this ethos.

I have never had a problem with players being paid, but only what clubs can effectively afford without risking their long-term future. When I sat with Chris, I did stipulate that, if at any point I didn’t enjoy what I was doing or that it was impinging on both my family and professional life, I would seriously consider walking away.

Unfortunately, in the last few weeks I have done just that. Despite an excellent pre-season campaign and a great start to the season, parent interference has been at an all-time high and from inviduals who, frankly, given their previous involvement in youth football, should know better.

Monday was a blip, along with back-to-back defeats for the County side. It now represents a huge test of character for the players in both youth squads at the club, which I believe the overwhelming majority will pass with flying colours.

Ironically, and some Albion fans will be aghast, from being daggers drawn from his time as manager at the Goldstone and my tenure as a fanzine editor, one of my closest advisers and confidants is Barry Lloyd.

He rightly points out that you learn more about your team in defeat than you do in victory sometimes. After ten straight victories, defeat on Monday might yet prove to be a catalyst for a truly memorable season for the young players at Worthing FC.

PS: I’ve never been a quitter at anything, I’ve started a job and, with working with the likes of Wayne Wren, Steve Hoare and the rest of the management team, we will finish it!