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📝 Youth Development Week: Our Academy is Dynamite!

Jed Penberthy takes a look at some Academy success stories

7 June 2021

This week marks the EFL’s celebration of Youth Development across the 72 League clubs. Here at Exeter City, we are no stranger to - if not renowned for - our fantastic promotion of junior players into first team football.

As a supporter-owned club, the Academy has been a vital source of first team talent, countrywide recognition, and valuable income.

After its 2006 restructure, the Exeter City Academy works on a three-tiered 'Players Progression Pathway' which develops the South West’s best young prospects through education and football. George Friend was the first to graduate that same year and has gone on to captain Middlesbrough in the Premier League - beginning an emphatic 15-year trend, which has seen more records tumble in the last 12 months.

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Last season, the Academy had a ground-breaking year with almost 100 more senior appearences registered in our first team than in our previous best season. This year has also seen the Academy thrown into the international limelight with the European Championships imminent.

For the Grecians, players developed from the ‘PPP’ amassed a staggering 327 senior appearances between them.

Additionally, recent stats from the Premier League revealed player production from the Club (who are now playing elsewhere in the EFL), showed that over the last three seasons: out of the 72 Football League clubs Exeter were seventh; and in City’s own category, (Category Three), the Grecians sit at number one.

Exeter City Graduates have racked up 865 apps all together, smashing the Academy’s record by 250 games! Not only is the Academy’s goal to produce the next generation of footballers, but Exeter City also prides itself in developing well rounded young men and women- suitably fitting our ethos as a club for the community. For Everyone.

City games saw as many as 10 Academy graduates in matchday squads. Statistics released in April 2021 revealed that the club had given the highest share of minutes to players aged 21 or under across all the leagues.

Named in the squad 54 times, the joint-most, twenty-year-old Jack Sparkes has been a mainstay in the Boss’s plans (50A 5G). In September Sparkes scored his first Football League goal against Scunthorpe, sealing a 2-0 victory.

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Archie Collins started all 46 League Two games and was ever reliable in the heart of midfield, capped off with two Goal of the Season contenders! Josh Key and Joel Randall had brilliant breakthrough seasons with the latter grabbing a ten-goal haul. Unfortunately, Joel’s season ended early, scoring with his final touch against Tranmere.

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In one of the most poignant moments of the season, Ben Seymour became the first Exeter City men’s player to wear and score in the Number 9 since Adam Stansfield. At the beginning of the season the AS9 Foundation un-retired the shirt, offering it to an Academy graduate. Step up Seymour to head home against Colchester. In addition, Stansfield’s son Jay has impressed since moving to Championship Fulham.

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Alex Hartridge and Harry Kite were ever present in the matchday squads, with Hartridge’s performances at the back offering stern defences against the toughest of oppositions. Matt Taylor reiterated his commitment to the Academy with the EFL Trophy offering a great platform for more of the club’s youngsters.

The best of the bunch last term though was undoubtedly Matt Jay. Twenty goals earned MJ Fan’s Player of the Year; Player’s Player of the Year; League Two Team of the Season, FIFA 21 TOTS and the PFA League Two TOTS as well! In March, Jay’s first senior hat trick against Stevenage also grabbed Player of the Month, in what has been a season of superlatives for City’s Number 17.

After lifting the Devon County Cup last week, Seven of Our Own are currently lighting up the Women’s game too!

Captain Manfy Sharpe has spearheaded Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side to success this season. Connie Pengelly has been with the club since she was 13 and has proudly worn the coveted Number 9 in her time at City. Eight goals this season in a year cut in half due to corona virus is a fantastic return for Connie.

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Esme Kilburn-Thompson and Emily Toogood have chipped in with ten goals between them as the Grecian Girls reaped in the medals. Mia Preston’s performances also earned herself a call-up to the England College trials, where former Grecian prodigy Georgie Barbour-Gresham captains.

The Development Squad also has a cup final to look forward to, as Chloe Harris, Abbie Woodward and Kelsey Salter fired the youth team into the Final of the Women’s Supplementary Cup. Good Luck to the Ladies and bring it home!

Just this Sunday gone, the Women added another trophy to the cabinet and booked themselves on the plane to Brazil. A scintillating performance at the Red Bull 5-a-side tournament in London confirms the Girls the trip to our samba-loving friends in South America! Sharpe, Toogood, Phoebe Baker, Anthea Kaptein and Stephanie Beck will represent the Grecians by following the footsteps of the Club’s founding fathers and playing on the Copacabana.   

In a trophy laden season across the teams, Sonny Cox scored four as the Boy’s under-16’s lifted the EFL Floodlit Cup and under-18’s proudly got to the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup.

The beauty of the Exeter City Academy is its openness for flourishing birds to fly the nest. Away from St James  Park, 'our own' are brandishing the club’s flag with distinction.

Six ex-Grecians played at higher EFL levels this term, with Christy Pym winning promotion with Peterborough United and Matt Grimes skippering Swansea City to the Championship Play-off final.
Three City players have proven themselves even higher. Ethan Ampadu honed his Premier League prowess with Sheffield United. The Welshman has racked up Champions League appearences at RB Leipzig and Chelsea since leaving for Stamford Bridge in 2017.

A strong end to the season has earned Ethan a spot on the plane for Euro 2020. This makes Ethan the first Academy Graduate to have ever been included in a major tournament squad! An unbelievable achievement and the best of luck to Ethan and Wales!

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Silverware beckoned for another ex-Grecian. In August 2020, City’s youngest ever player Ben Chrisene joined Aston Villa and made his senior debut for the Villains in November. Ben capped off a fantastic first season in the Second City, scoring the opening goal in Villa’s FA Youth Cup Final victory.

Staying at Villa Park, one player has shone brighter than most- not just of our graduates, but in the Premier League as a whole. Ollie Watkins has had the season to remember.

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Twice in the ‘Players Progression Pathway’ at Exeter City, in 2016 Watkins became a Grecians hero with two late goals against rivals Plymouth Argyle. A year later Ollie fired City to Wembley before earning a move to Brentford and now Aston Villa.

After 14 Premier League goals this campaign, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ollie swivelled and fired his first goal for England within 20 minutes of his international debut- breaking an 83-year duck for a Grecian scoring for the Three Lions (Cliff Bastin, 1938).

The future is already shaping up nicely. In the annual retained list five more academy prospects signed the dotted line and committed their immediate future at St James Park.

Alfie Pond, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Ellis Johnson and Jack Arthur will be readied to go for the new campaign, joining four more who signed contracts earlier on in the season. The next generation of Grecians will no doubt be in the long-term plans of Matt Taylor.

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At Exeter City we are proud of every single player, past and present, to have come up through our Academy. In total, the 50 men’s Graduates since the Academy’s restructure in 2006 have made 5738 professional appearences between them.

As the EFL celebrates Youth Development across the three leagues, the chorus from the Big Bank will always hail the "local lads… who love the Red and White, because the Academy is Dynamite!"


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