Ray Hall - Something Special
There is undoubtedly something special about seeing an Academy player make their debut, then watch as they adapt to the rigours of Premier League football and hopefully go on to become a key player in the side.
At Everton, there are a number of Academy graduates in the first team, and their names often get the loudest cheers from the Goodison crowd. It’s human nature to want to see one of your own do well. To have a whole team of local boys take your club to the pinnacle of club football would be the most special of all.
There is a precedent. In 1967, a team of local boys took home the biggest prize in club football, as each member of the Celtic team that won the European Cup that year was born within 30 miles of Glasgow. Forever known as the ‘Lisbon Lions’, names like Billy McNeil, Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox have gone down in history for their achievements with the Bhoys.
If circumstances had been different, there could be an Everton team full of Academy players running out at Goodison every other week, striving to reach the heights of the Lisbon Lions 40 years ago.
“One of the disappointing things is we’ve never developed a goalkeeper, but you look at right back: Tony Hibbert. Centre back: Richard Dunne. I’m not sure on the other centre back, but left back: Michael Ball. You could have Osman, Wayne Rooney and Gavin McCann in midfield and Anichebe and Vaughan up front.
“We could come close in the Championship and the leagues lower down as well. It gives you great pride when you see boys play at the highest level.”
And Ray Hall explained, at times the team’s situation meant young players sometimes had to leave.
“Maybe the problem was that those players were at our club when it wasn’t quite right for them, either the competition was too severe or we had to sell them for financial reasons.
“We’ve received around £50million for players who’ve come through our Academy in the last ten years, including Richard Dunne, Michael Ball, Francis Jeffers, Wayne Rooney and Gavin McCann.”
Hall says his long-term goal would be an XI of Academy graduates, a feat managed by Middlesbrough in 2008.
“I suppose my ideal, and that of the staff and the club to some extent would be a team full of home produced players."
But not every player can become a first team regular. Hall and his staff ensure each youngster who spends time at Everton knows they will leave one day.
Hall added: “Every boy who comes through our door is told he’ll be leaving at some time, and in a way you prepare yourself to leave from the moment you sign.
“We hope that day is at 35 years of age because he will have had a fantastic career but for some boys its only one season, for some it’s a six week trial, and for some its only 3 days.”
For the older players at the Academy, a first team spot is within their grasp, but after working hard to get this far, Ray is understandably reluctant to heap any more pressure on their young shoulders by naming names.
He said: “I wouldn’t put pressure on the boys by mentioning them. There are a number of our young players that are well known to our fans already.
“The first team is the next stage and it’s difficult. It’s not easy for a player to come through. I would never put pressure on a player by saying he’ll do this or he’ll do that.”
By Andrew Tuft