Bridging the gap: Eastbourne Borough have this week announced plans to field an Under-23 side for season 2018-19.
The logic isobvious. A first team well established – despite some wobbles last season – in National South. A phenomenally successful youth set-up at Priory Lane, providing football for several hundred youngsters from 6 to 18 – when it comes to an abrupt halt. “Quite simply,” says chairman John Bonar, “we need to bridge the gap. Our Academy has just seen a surge of applicants, and is turning out some lads with excellent potential.
“But even a gifted eighteen-year-old is not the finished article. National South is full of physical, high-tempo football and you do not adjust to it overnight.” “The club is applying to join the Southern Counties Under-23 League,” explained manager Jamie Howell. “I will personally be closely linked to all players below the first team, with players contributing to joint training sessions.
“However the Academy, under-18 and under-23 squads will have dedicated management squads for training and fixtures. I have always wanted a clear pathway from our youngest teams through to our under-18s. Now we can build the next stage. All of these teams will be overseen by myself and the first team coaching staff, giving the most talented players the best opportunity to develop their careers at the County’s top non-league football club. We will be holding more trials for our Under-18 team on Tuesday 19th June. The quality was very high and we are now aiming to incorporate players into the Under-18 and Under-23 squads.
Howell has nailed deals with two more key players for the coming season, with the renewals of contracts for midfield enforcer Kane Wills (above) and exciting youngster Harry Ransom.
“The pieces are slotting in nicely,” said Jamie this week. “Kane is a keystone of my team and in his prime as a midfielder. Harry’s potential is there for all to see, and this will be an important season for him. He has much to offer and it’s all about honing his ability and learning with every game.”
There will be no return to the Lane, however, for striker Shaun Okojie, who joined in mid-season from Aldershot, scoring a sensational goal on his debut, against Worthing in the FA Cup, but adding only two further goals in sixteen appearances. “Shaun has definite ability, and is still young, but at this stage he was not quite clicking at National South level. We wish him every success and thank Shaun for his contribution.”
Howell is actively pursuing other signings, but insists he will not be rushed. “This time last year, I inherited half a squad and I had to run to catch up. One of our issues last season was a highturn-over of players, and this time we want to get it right.”