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 academy 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 over the last 12 months.
As the Grecians embarked on their new life in League One, we continued to bleed new life into our squad, with no fewer than eight academy scholars making their first team debuts – already the most ever in a single Exeter City season, with more undoubtedly to come throughout the campaign.
With that, City are averaging 5.41 academy graduates in the starting XI this season, up on 4.17 last season (the EFL average is 1.25), and on two occasions this season a total of seven academy graduates started the game – our 3-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers and 2-1 win over Fleetwood Town at St James Park. This season also saw Sonny Cox score his first professional league goal for the Grecians in a defeat to Oxford at St James Park.
There have been 395 First Team games in a row with at least 1 Academy graduate in the starting line up. The last time this was not the case was in January 2016 at Hartlepool, though even still, Jamie Reid came off the bench!
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.
Closing in on his 200th, Exeter City appearance at just 23-years-old, Archie Collins is a stalwart in the heart of the Exeter City midfield. He has adapted superbly to League One football, scoring four goals already this term, just one away from matching his record of five in a single season already. His best of the four has undoubtedly been the late winner at Port Vale at the weekend. This has also come off the back of a 20/21 campaign where the City number 8 started every single league game for his boyhood club.
The real breakthrough of 2022 has been 20-year-old Cheick Diabate who made his senior debut for the club on New Year’s Day, putting in a valiant performance in an injury and illness stricken side. Returning from his loan to Truro City, then-manager Matt Taylor “wished he had Cheick’s physical attributes” as a player and the young centre-back has cemented his spot in the core of the Grecian defence, absent only through an injury he picked up in September’s win over MK Dons, during which he scored the winning goal in front of the Big Bank.
Midfielder Harry Kite has also had a fine season, scoring three times in City’s first five matches of the season, winning both the club and EFL Goal of the Month awards for his stunning strike against Port Vale. He’s been a fairly consistent feature for the club during the campaign with only a three week stint on the side-lines for a thigh injury.
Of course, a loan spell is vital to any young player’s development and we have continued our partnerships with some local non-league clubs this season. Harry Lee was highly praised during two one-month loan deals at Dorchester Town, while Ed James – who recently made his EFL debut at centre back – recently joined Weymouth having also played for Saltash earlier this season. Joe Wragg is at Wellington, scoring two in his most recent appearance, while Joe O’Connor is at Tavistock. Harrison King and Pedro Borges have also been turning out for Plymouth Parkway, alongside former City striker Ben Seymour.
This summer also saw defender Alfie Pond sold to Premier League side Wolves for a six-figure undisclosed fee, having been on loan at National League side Yeovil Town.
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!”.
Some more ECFC Academy stats:
- Dean Moxey is the Academy graduate with the most professional career appearances, currently on 624 and playing in the National League for Torquay United
- Liam Sercombe is currently on 595 career professional appearances and is still playing in League 1 with Cheltenham Town
- There are currently 5 Academy graduates on professional contracts at Premier League Clubs: Ollie Watkins, Ethan Ampadu, Jay Stansfield, Ben Chrisene, Alfie Pond
- 2 players are excelling in the Championship this season, Jordan Storey who has already made 20 appearances and scored 2 goals in a team that has kept 11 clean sheets. Matt Grimes continues to captain Swansea City and is a key player in their promotion chasing team