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Saturday 27 September K.O. 12:45

Ray Hall - Academy Graduates

Ray Hall - Academy Graduates

The School of Science has had many graduates, from Colin Harvey and Brian Labone through to James Vaughan and Victor Anichebe.

Other names that have graduated from the Everton youth team include current first team regulars Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman, as well as Premier League stars Michael Ball, Richard Dunne and Wayne Rooney, as well as a whole host of legendary names such as Dave Hickson, Gary Stevens and Kevin Ratcliffe

Youth development has been a priority for Everton dating from the days of Ted Sagar, who joined the Blues as an apprentice in 1929 and went on to be one of the club’s greatest ever goalkeepers, to Jack Rodwell, the latest product to establish himself at first team level.

Jack RodwellJack Rodwell makes his debut against AZ Alkmaar

The man responsible for developing the current crop of players is Ray Hall, Academy Director at Everton’s Finch Farm training complex.

Ray has been with Everton for 19 years, after being appointed Youth Development Officer by Howard Kendall in 1991. He became Head of Youth three years later, before the structure was changed again in 1997 and the Academy was established.

Previously, the Academy had been located at a site in Netherton, but despite it being only around six miles from Bellefield, the former training base of the first team, the separation meant dialogue between the Academy staff and the first team coaches was hard to manage.

But when the senior squad moved to Finch Farm in October 2007, the Academy set-up went with them, allowing Ray and the rest of the Academy team greater contact with David Moyes and his first team coaching staff.

Ray explained: “We have a lot more contact with the first team staff because of the move to Finch Farm, which has been a tremendous boost to us all. Someone once said to me that most information gets passed on over a cup of tea or at the water cooler and for many years, we had no opportunity to do that because we were at Netherton and they were at Bellefield.

“Now we’re on the same site, there’s an integration and a more understanding outlook on what everybody’s role is. We all work terrifically hard and sometimes it’s difficult to actually sit down and communicate with people unless you’re bumping into them in the corridor which is what’s happening now.”

Ray feels the site in Halewood is hugely beneficial to his young players as well, and not just because of the magnificent facilities. According to Hall, the presence of the senior players will have a positive impact on the youngsters.

He added: “They not only see world class players who’ve come in from different countries and the way they approach their professionalism, like Mikel Arteta, or Phil Neville who’s come from a background of winning things and the way he lives his life, but they also see boys who are not too much older than themselves.

“The likes of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan, who have come through were in the same position, two or three years ago, as they are. There are role models set at every area of the club.

Hall continues: “The foreign players and the way they’re disciplined, the players from the British Isles and what they’ve had to endure and the local players like Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert, who have come through and are seasoned players now. Then there’s the younger ones like Victor and Vaughany, who are in some ways still their mates.

“Having a successful Academy is important for a number of reasons. Obviously, it helps the football club win matches. It helps the manager because he doesn’t have to go out and sign players for massive transfer fees, but it also helps our program because that’s what we’re about as a staff and every young player who comes through our gate aspires to.”

But for the boys who are just entering the Academy, the first team is a long way away. Even being offered a full time contract after leaving school is a massive achievement.

“If a boy’s accepted as a full time player at 16 or 17, it’s as hard as being accepted for Oxford or Cambridge.

“If a boy actually gets into our first team from that, in terms of the numbers, its like becoming Prime Minister.”

By Andrew Tuft

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