Interview – Marc Nash “The Academy is now without doubt the strongest around”

Spartans Head academy coach Marc Nash helped guide the Under 19’s to their first ever league title last season along with coach Livue Cristea (who now coaches at the I2i International Soccer Academy) as the Spartans Academy established themselves as one of the best youth set ups around below the Football League. This year they have a chance to do it again, and Nash hinted that he thinks they can repeat that achievement this year saying “This season was always going to be a challenge in terms of success, having to follow last year’s achievements. I think it’s testament to the academy and the level of the players that we have are in a similar, if not better position this time around. Seeing the lads develop and gain first team opportunities is exciting and the recent senior cup game was a great advert for what we do.”

The Under 19’s who are led by Graham Fenton, are currently 2nd in the NLFA North Division, 2 points behind league leaders Farsley Celtic with a game in hand. As well as having a shot at success in the league, they’re also into the semi-finals of the National League Academy Cup. York City will visit Blyth next week, the team who the Under 19’s beat on the final day of the season last year to snatch the league title.

Not only are the Under 19’s doing well this year, the Under 18’s currently top the NLFA Division I, leading Pontefract Colliers by just a point, though they do have a game in hand on them. As we enter the final stages of the campaign, Nash and co have a chance to lead the Spartans Academy to a historic treble.

With the Under 19’s on the cusp of a league and cup double, Nash explained just how tough of a run they’ve had of late explaining “The lads are doing the near impossible. At present they have 9 injuries and have only managed to scrape bare 11 or 12 players together in a 2-game week schedule, whilst still producing results which shows they have resilience and character as well as ability. A vital combination.”

“This has put them in 2nd place in the league and of course, the big semi-final v York City is next up. That is a brilliant achievement but to combine both together is exceptional. I just hope they go on and win something and hopefully a few receive first team recognition in the process because they are producing on a national platform.”

Last week Nash led a rather young Spartans side in the Northumberland Senior Cup quarter final against Northern League Division One side Newcastle Benfield. Looking back at what was clearly a proud night for everyone involved, Nash said “The Senior Cup was up there with one of my favourite experiences being involved with the club. The lads went toe to toe with a good senior club in Benfield and certainly more than matched them on the evening. To see them feed off the crowd and gain confidence as the match wore on you sensed an upset was possible.”

“The refreshing environment of players not playing for money or having ego was something special as they played with pride and passion for the badge. I must salute Harrison Clark, the only 1st team player involved, who led by example and showed a tremendous attitude throughout. However, result wise it wasn’t to be, but the lads would have gained so much from the whole thing. The little side story of Zach Simpson becoming the clubs youngest ever goal scorer just added to the feel-good factor.”

Last season’s Under 19’s squad that won the NLFA North Division have for the most part already gone on to establish themselves throughout the Northern Alliance Premier, Northern League Division’s One and Two as well as the Northern Premier League Division One East, and Marc was pleased that they have been able to do so stating “All the lads moved into senior football and are now establishing themselves at good levels. Hopefully, they were well prepared and are taking the good habits instilled into them whilst on their footballing journey. I believe some will reach very good standards.”

With the growth of academy football in the region in recent years, many academy players across the North East have either had dual registrations with Northern League sides or like last years title winners, moved straight into senior football at a good level after they graduate from the academy.

Marc was keen to stress that how important the academy system now is for the football club and the region, stating “The Academy is now without doubt, the strongest around. The calibre of player and not just that, they are top people as well which is just as important to us, is of highest quality but I think it maybe a few more years before we really see the fruits of our labour when they progress further into their journeys. A small percent of them may reach 1st team level but if not, some North East clubs are going to benefit from our Academy lads in time.”