Coaching duo in charge of Pool's future

FOOTBALL nowadays is viewed as a celebrity sport.

Huge wage packets, Ferrari's, gorgeous WAG's.

It's what every young man dreams of, the glamorous lifestyle almost as bigger lure as playing the actual game itself.

But the Beckhams, Gerrards and Owens of this world all had to start somewhere, for you don't become a world class player overnight.

Years of hard graft, dedication and endless training sessions go into getting to the top - and to do that you need the people and systems in place to get the best out of the potential stars of the future.

Throughout the country there are thousands of unsung heroes.

Ask David Beckham who he has to thank for becoming the player and figure he is and he will reel off a dozen names you've never heard of, people who coached him on playing fields on cold Monday nights when he was a skinny, unknown 10-year-old in London.

Unearthing players and making the most of their talents is a huge part of football - and Blackpool FC is finally getting in on the act.

A quiet revolution has been taking place at the seaside over the last couple of years and it involves the youth department.

Now hang on. Just because the following might not involve Simon Grayson, Ian Evatt or Keith Southern, don't stop reading.

What we're about to discuss is the very foundations that the club is built on.

The youth set up anywhere is important, but for a club like Blackpool it's essential.

In an age where they cannot compete with the giants of the footballing world, it is imperative they have a thriving Centre of Excellence.

In recent times that hasn't been the case.

A combination of a lack of resources and instability at the top has seen development of the town's kids stalled somewhat.

Plenty of people have done good work - Colin Greenall and Steve Thompson most recently - but due to Greenall taking a position within the Lancashire FA and Thompson's promotion to the first team set up continuity proved to be difficult .

But the two blokes at the helm now are settled and are hoping to make a big impact.

They are working on a long term plan that they hope will make Blackpool FC's youth set up one of the best in the north west.

Gary Parkinson, former Seasiders and Preston North End star, is Head of Youth. His number two is Garreth Barker.

We all know about Parky but less so about Barker.

But he's an interesting figure and a key player in the move to bring stability and success to the youth set up at Bloomfield Road

Did you know for instance that Pool have a scout in Ireland and another in the Isle of Man, or that they're planning a trip to Dallas at Easter to take part in the same tournament as Juventus, Barcelona and Manchester United?

Probably not. But it's all happening and it's all down to the work of the current management team and in particular Parkinson and Barker who have continued to develop the network of hard-working and professional coaches that are employed at the club.

"We have continued to put a lot of hard work into the youth department over the last couple of years and we are getting there, we're definitely getting there," said Barker.

"This is a project in progress and there is still a long way to go.

"But I'm hopeful that by next year we will be competing with the bigger centres.

"In the past continuity within the youth department has been difficult. Colin and Steve laid the foundations and myself and Gary have continued their hardwork."

Barker, a 35-year-old with a teenager's passion for football, is by his own admission a failed footballer. He didn't make the grade at Stoke City and saw his playing career permanently ended when he had his cruciate smashed in a university game.

But he loved the sport and turned his hand to coaching, starting with the university teams ("I was a bit over zealous - I had them in four times a week. They'd never done that but we won everything") and moving onto Crewe, Port Vale, Morecambe as academy director, Centre of Excellence manager at Preston and then Wigan.

Two years into his stint at the JJB, he got a call from Parkinson asking if he'd be interested in coming to Blackpool.

Because he knew Parkinson from their time together at Preston, he jumped at the chance to work at Bloomfield Road.

And since he joined in April last year, it's been non-stop graft.

"We've been going at it hammer and tongs since.

"Basically we have a long term plan. First year was to develop the staff. We've done that. Each age group, from under 9s to 16's, has two UEFA qualified coaches (including former players Phil Clarkson and Andy Lyons).

"Second year was to make sure that the training facilities and sessions were the best available and we're almost there with that.

"Next year, the third year, is to upgrade the facilities and to build a scouting infrastructure and then we will continue to build on the work we have already undertaken.

"We are already developing our scouting network, we have people working for us in Ireland and on the Isle of Man as well as scouts throughout the country."

Ask your average fan, though, how they judge a club's youth department and they will all give the same answer - how many come through the ranks and get into the first team.

I used to think the same. But having spoken to the various coaches involved at the club over the years is an eye-opener about just how much work goes into building a good Centre of Excellence and what a huge and long-term project it is.

"I suppose if you if you look at it bluntly we will be judged on how many players get from youth team to first team," he added.

"But it doesn't just happen. You have to get all the little things right and if you do that it makes a big difference when you put the whole thing together.

"We're slowly getting there, but as Simon Grayson says about the first team we are always looking at developing things which in turn will help us attract the better players.

"When you look around this region there are more Premiership clubs than anywhere else in the country so trying to compete with them is difficult, but everyone connected to the club are working hard to bridge that gap, we know it is going to be hard, but we have to emphasise that at a smaller club like Blackpool they are more likely to get a chance of pushing through to the first team squad.

"The big Premiership clubs scour every continent in search of the best young talent and whilst we haven't got six bowling green pitches for the youth team, we haven't got on-site accommodation with free internet, Sky and Setanta, we don't have a five-star restaurant or a guy around 24 hours to be at the players' beck and call and we don't have people to take and pick you up from school in mini buses.

"But what we do have at Blackpool FC is the fact that we are improving all the time, we're in a better shape than ever before on every front in Simon Grayson, Tony Parkes and Steve Thompson, we've got a management team that will give young kids a chance, they like to give the kids an opportunity in the reserves and if they do well they often train with the first team squad."

As long as the Seasiders can continue to develop their youth department and build on the work from the last couple of years, Blackpool should have a centre of excellence and a youth team to be proud of - and Parkinson and Barker, along with their team of hardworking and dedicated coaches, will be the men to thank.