Academy Starlets Step Up

by Adam Clark

The latest batch of Everton Academy youngsters have graduated to become full-time players at the Club.

The boys have been registered as Academy players since ages varying between nine and 16 but will now work alongside the first team at the Blues' Finch Farm training ground.

With the scholars having still been at school until recently, they were only able to train outside of school time on weekday evenings or weekends.

It is now their full-time job to play for Everton, and despite overseeing this transition for almost 20 years now, Academy manager Ray Hall says it remains a process which fills him with pride.

"It's always a day I look forward to, along with the families, the boys and the staff," he told "There's always an air of excitement, anticipation and expectation.

"In getting to this point, all the boys have reached a level where playing for Everton essentially becomes their job - it's full time. Like any job, there will be good bits and there will be bad bits, but I look around every year and I see an improvement in standards."

The likes of Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, James Vaughan, Victor Anichebe and, more recently, Jack Rodwell have all been through the induction process at Everton and Hall believes that with hard work and dedication the latest graduates have every chance of following in their footsteps.

"We set out to get a minimum of one player into the first team every year," he said. "Fortunately, we've succeeded in doing that for a number of years now.

"A footballer's career is almost like a game of snakes and ladders, and this is the first big snake because they're starting from the bottom again. This is where the hard work starts if they want to make this a profession for the rest of their lives.

"I've told the boys what is expected from them and, from our programme, they can expect us to do everything we can to bring out the best in them. But it's up to them to take that opportunity.

"Their time keeping, appearance, language, the way they conduct themselves - everything's going to be looked at because it's a disciplined environment we work in. Nobody's saying it's going to be easy but they've been given a terrific opportunity."

The new graduates are (from left to right above): Adam Thomas (forward), Johan Hammar (defender), Ben Heneghan (defender), Ross Barkley (midfielder), James Fitzgibbon (goalkeeper), Tyias Browning (defender), Matthew Harris (midfielder), Hallam Hope (forward), John Lundstram (midfielder), Ryan Higgins (midfielder), Jordan Barrow (defender), Anton Forrester (forward)

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