Full interview with Simon Hayward in the matchday programme
During the last fortnight, the back pages of newspapers have been gushing with praise for the Academy of Southampton Football Club, following the call-up of Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez to the England international squad.
Indeed, the Saints’ Academy at Staplewood has produced no shortage of talent down the years and has reaped the rewards – Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to name a few, are evidence of that production line unearthing some gems which have gone on to be polished more thoroughly after big-money moves.
The Grecians’ Under-21 Premier League Cup victory at St James Park against a full-strength Southampton side, however, didn’t make a splash in the nationals – column inches are hard to come by for teams outside the top tier. Exeter, the only team left flying the flag for Sky Bet League 2, will now be visited by Blackburn Rovers in the last 16 of the competition – and one would hope that passage to the quarter-finals would raise a few eyebrows from afar.
For Exeter City’s Academy Manager Simon Hayward, who is one of the longest-serving members of staff at the club with 12 years under his belt, the victory represented an especially proud moment in the development of the young men in the City squad – many of which he has known since they were in junior school. No less than ten of the 16-man match squad were fully-fledged Cat & Fiddle products.
“If we keep doing well, they might have to change the name of the competition!” says Hayward with a smile, referring to the ‘Premier League’ name of the tournament. Indeed, the only other club than City currently playing outside the top two tiers to be guaranteed a last-16 place is Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“We’re delighted with the victory against Southampton and the players will be looking forward to the game against Blackburn,” says Hayward, having seen many of the fruits of the labour of his Academy and its coaches on show.
“They are fantastic players that have come through our Academy programme, but it was also fantastic work from the coaching staff. The first-team assistant manager Rob Edwards and under-18 coach Lee Skyrme have taken a handful of boys from the fringes of the first-team and from the under-18s, and prepared them to play against one of the best Academies in the country in a single training session.”
For the full interview, get hold of a copy of The Grecian – our matchday programme – at our game against Bury on Saturday for £3. Sellers are based around the ground so get hold of a copy!