Season to remember for Wednesday Youth

Season to remember for Wednesday Youth

The 2016/17 season has turned into a memorable one across all fronts for Wednesday.

Not only have the first team secured a second consecutive play-off spot, the two principal youth teams have enjoyed record-breaking campaigns.

In recent history, youth football at Wednesday was treated with a startling level of derision. With United and Barnsley monopolising local talent, it is now ten years since the Wednesday academy produced players of note.

Changes made under Dean Ramsdale, Lee Bullen and Neil Thompson – ably supported by the finance of the chairman – have seen Wednesday move once again to the fore of the local junior football scene.

Those changes have manifested themselves in a fantastic season for the Under 18s and Under 23s.




The Under 23s have been crowned as the Professional Development League 2 North champions. Thompson said “I’m really proud of the lads. They have done great all season.”

They will now take on Millwall – runners up of the Southern section – in a play-off at Hillsborough. The tie is one-legged, with the Young Owls taking home advantage.

The game will take place at Hillsborough, on Monday 8th May, kick-off is at 7pm.

The Under 18s finished runners up to United in their division and made it to the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup, losing to eventual winners Chelsea.

Their season came to an end as a young side lost their play-off to Coventry, less than twenty four hours after several players featured in an important U23s game at Elland Road.

Owls Alive caught up with Lee Hicklin – the main man behind @WednesdayYouth, the Twitter account everyone should follow for youth team news – to get the low-down.



Under 23s: League Champions


Firstly, your thoughts generally on the U23 and U18 seasons? How enjoyable has it been for you to follow the sides home (and away!)?

It’s been great to see our sides challenging at the top end of their respective divisions this season.

It’s been a long time since we had teams in the hunt for honours at youth team level, a long time since we had so many young players out on loan getting valuable game time, and a long time since we had so many young players receiving international recognition.

All in all, the best season since I started attending youth games!


What has changed at the club over the past few seasons to bring this kind of success? Whose hard work behind the scenes needs highlighting?

Obviously, with youth football, a lot goes on behind the scenes that fans don’t get to see, and when an academy set-up starts to flourish it’s usually the result of a lot of hard work that started years earlier.

Dejphon Chansiri’s financial input (facilities at Middlewood Road have been improved and redeveloped) can’t be overlooked, and nor can Carlos Carvalhal’s implementation of a footballing philosophy that spreads throughout the youth set-up, but I think Dean Ramsdale – appointed academy manager five years ago – deserves just as much praise for his methodology.

Gone are the days when our coaching staff would scream and bawl at young players who made mistakes.

Nowadays the lads – while still rightly being pulled up on their shortcomings – are given positive encouragement and guidance, which has to be the best way development of young footballers.


Key players


O’Grady: made his pro debut at Cambridge in August

It’s been a real team effort this season from the boys, but there has been a solid spine to the side that has remained a constant throughout the campaign.

The improvement in keeper Dan Wallis‘ game has been outstanding – he had to be patient for game time with the U18s during the last couple of years but has flourished this time out.

Connor O’Grady and Jordan Thorniley have developed a solid partnership at the heart of defence, and James Murphy and Sean Clare have done likewise in midfield.

Since Devante Rodney‘s move to Hartlepool United in January, George Hirst has stepped up to the plate in the lone striker role and not looked out of place, grabbing key goals along the way.


What about those players who’ve had loans away?

Sean Clare has had a successful spell at Accrington Stanley.

He’s a player with bundles of talent on the ball who you felt needed a spell in senior football to prepare him for the rough and tumble of the professional game, and while he started off slowly, he became a key cog in Accrington’s midfield – it’s a real shame he picked up an injury that has ended his season, but I’m sure he’ll bounce back.

Matt Penney is a lad I rate very highly, and I was really looking forward to how he would get on with Bradford City, but for whatever reason the coaching staff there haven’t really taken to him and until Sunday he hadn’t kicked a ball in anger.

It’s been a steep learning curve for him, but the experience will stand him in good stead going forward into the professional game, and his 30 minute Football League debut against Rochdale is just deserts for the professionalism and patience he has shown.


Their best performance of the season? Best goal? Player of the Year?

I can’t really recall a game where we gave the opposition a good spanking other than the 3-0 away win at Barnsley (Gary Hooper scoring twice on his return from injury), but the six successive wins during December and January really put us in a good position to go for the title.

Peter Law, an Owls historian who writes for the matchday programme and also attends most youth games, reckoned we played really well away at Hull City, when a George Hirst hat-trick settled the game.

Best goal has to go to Matt Penney – it usually does.

His Ronaldo-esque free-kick against Crystal Palace was sublime.

George Hirst’s guided last minute header at Elland Road was also top draw.

There were 1,000 fans there that night, and the Owls contingent of me, Peter and a handful of others went a bit giddy when that one went in!

Player of the year is so difficult to pick when you’ve won the title! If I was forced to pick, I’d go for the aforementioned Dan Wallis, who has made numerous key saves throughout the campaign.



Under 18s: Cup run, derby win, 2nd place finish


Lonchar signed his first pro deal in October

Can you give us a little bit of info on the key players at U18 level?

Much has been made of our U18s’ front three this season, and quite rightly so. George Hirst was scoring goals for fun before being elevated to the U23s mid-way through the campaign.

He was ably assisted by Jordan Lonchar and Fraser Preston on the wings – both of who chipped in with their fair share of goals.

But again, it’s been a real team effort, and the likes of Joe West, Joe Cook, Lewis Price, Liam Waldock and Alex Hunt have played a big part on the team’s success


What about their great FA Youth Cup run?

The boys really seemed to enjoy their outings at Hillsborough.

Although they were up against weaker opposition in Luton and Gillingham, they never slacked off, and came through both games comfortably.

Connor Kirby really got his season going in those two matches and soon made the step up to the U23s.

The game at Chelsea was always going to be a difficult proposition, and it was no surprise that the Owls’ cup run came to an end against a physically imposing and technically gifted side, but it will have been a lesson they can only learn from.


Their best performance of the season? Best goal? Player of the Year?

The 2-0 away win at Sheffield United was pleasing. George Hirst scored both goals, but the whole team was on it that day. Hirst’s first in that match is my goal of the season.

He barged his way through their defence before using the wind to guide a 25 yard stonker into the top corner. No stopping that.

Player of the year? Again, so tough to pick out one player, but Jordan Lonchar has been in fine form all season, and we missed him when he was out injured. George Hirst has hit over 30 goals this season too, but he’s flitted between both U23s and U18s – he can be my overall youth player of the season.


Who is ready for pro contracts and loans away?

I believe the lads have been told already whether they’ll be released, but I’m not aware of the list.

I’d be surprised if Dan Wallis isn’t given a professional deal in the near future.

Joe Cook has been rock solid all season for the U18s too, and probably deserves a new deal, but you just never know.

Jack Stobbs has needed to go out on loan for a while now, and a loan move will be the next step for a fair few of our U23 team. George Hirst and Matt Penney might benefit from playing senior football for a spell early next season, but we’ll have to see.



The future is promising, then.

Let’s hope the club can do a good job of selling the Under 23’s play-off and that Neil Thompson’s boys get a big crowd down to Hillsborough.

With entry free for season ticket holders, why not?

Let’s celebrate everything that’s good about this club.

OWLS ALIVE circliar yeller SPACE




Owls Alive
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive and @jpowls

Images: SWFC. With sincere thanks to Lee for taking the time to answer our questions.

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