Ramsbottom United took a huge step towards realising their dream of an under-18 setup by securing the services of Mark Whitaker, who managed last year's fantastically successful Nelson FC youth sides.
The charter-mark youth setup at Ramsbottom United already boasts fifteen teams, running from under 6s right through to two under 15s, but it has always been an aim of the senior team managers to bridge the chasm between youth and the senior team.
Anthony Johnson, joint manager of the newly promoted Rams senior side said, "Loads of clubs have this big gap between under 15s or under 16s and the first team, leaving players without anywhere to progress to once they reach a certain age. It's madness to spend all this time and energy developing these kids' skills only for them to get told there is no place for them at the club once they get to sixteen. Bernard and myself have always wanted to get decent under-18, under-21 and reserve sides in place, and it became top of the list for us as soon as we knew that our first team had secured promotion to the Evo-Stik League."
The club were considering how best to put together an under-18s side when they were contacted by Mark Whitaker, who had recently parted company with Nelson FC, and comes with a top-class pedigree.
"Mark is a first-rate manager," said Stuart Johnson, head of youth development at the Rams, "and when I heard he was available it seemed
almost too good to be true. His two youth teams at Nelson have, between them, won three Tameside under-17s cup finals, with one team finishing top of the league by a clear ten points and the other finishing runners up by a single point in their division. Add to that a place in the county cup final and you can see the pedigree of players that Mark has managed to attract."
Mark feels that Ramsbottom United will provide him with the kind of opportunities that were denied at Nelson. "Despite having spent a very
proud nine years there, the new club directors informed me that the youth teams would no longer be permitted to use the club facilities. This was a huge blow after the boys had performed so well and won so much for the club, and to be honest, we're still reeling. With Rammy taking on their own facilities at 'Top Park', and with the obvious aspirations that Bernard and Anthony have for youth development, I could see straightaway that they mean business. The decision to join Ramsbottom was a very simple one in the end, and me and the players are really looking forward to getting stuck in at our new club."
Mark sees few obstacles to him bringing over to Ramsbottom his plethora of young talent. "For convenience we were already training our Nelson side at Woodhey High School, so if anything it's going to be easier for the lads to be playing their matches in Ramsbottom, and there are some really fantastic young players among them. Our lads picked up the golden boot award, two player of the year awards and three man of the match awards at all three cup finals. Three of our players were even signed to play in higher age-groups at county level.
"Every one of the 37-strong squad are very good players that will be potential first team material at Ramsbottom, and they're just the players who are likely to come over from Nelson. Once we have the more local talent on-board we will be the envy of most football league development structures.