Jack the Lad: Great to see local talent thriving

27th March 2019

Loyal Swans fan and website columnist Jack the Lad revels in the progress of local talent at club and international level.

Swans under-23s’ coach Gary Richards spoke this week of his pride at seeing four academy graduates start for Wales against Slovakia last Sunday afternoon.

Richards has had a hand in each of the quartet’s development, whether as a centre of excellence coach with the teenage Joe Allen and Ben Davies, or more recently with current Swans Connor Roberts and Daniel James with the under-23 side.

But one of his comments particularly stood out for me.

“Whether it be Swansea or Wales, the crowd love to see a local player succeed. We know how important it is to get one of our own academy players into the first team,” said Richards.

“To have seen four academy graduates line up for Wales this past weekend made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”

It’s great to hear club staff feel like that, because it’s exactly how I feel as fan.

There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing home produced, or developed, players making their way into the Swans first team and going on to win international honours, particularly with Wales.

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I haven’t appreciated the massive contribution made by non-Welsh players over the years.

Some of my favourite Swans players have come from all parts of Britain and further afield.

Could you imagine the modern-day Swans success without the contribution of the likes of Leon Britton, Lee Trundle, Roberto Martinez and Angel Rangel, to name just a few?

But there’s just something special about seeing “one of our own” in the white shirt and then going on to represent their country.

The club, and the South West Wales area in general, has a fantastic tradition for unearthing some of the nation’s greatest talent.

Although I wasn’t around in 1958, I take an enormous amount of pride in the fact that the only Wales squad ever to qualify for the World Cup finals included no less than seven players with Swansea connections.

With the likes of John and Mel Charles, Ivor and Len Allchurch, Cliff Jones, Terry Medwin and Jack Kelsey in the squad that reached the quarter-finals, the Swansea Bay area was considered to be one of the most fertile footballing areas in the whole of Britain, let alone Wales.

When I first started supporting the Swans back in the late seventies, one of the things that excited me about the team was the emergence of fantastic local talent.

As a someone approaching his early teens, it was fantastic to see likes of Alan Curtis, Jeremy Charles, Robbie James, Chris Marustik, Nigel Stevenson and Dudley Lewis, not only playing for the Swans but going on to earn international honours.

Seeing their progression showed me that local youngsters, just like me, could make it in the game, even if my total lack of footballing talent meant I wouldn’t be following in their footsteps.

But as well as the pride surrounding seeing our youngsters making it into the first team and beyond, there are the practical benefits.

What better than to produce and nurture your own young talent, be it local, or identified from further afield, like Scotland's Oli McBurnie.

The greatest legacy of our time in the Premier League is the development of our academy facilities.

With the glut of players currently graduating from the under-23 side into the Swans first time, the academy is proving to be a jewel in the club’s crown.

And with the likes of Allen, Davies, Roberts and James starring for Wales, with others such as Joe Rodon and a plethora of age group talent hot on their heels, it promises to be a plentiful production line for the Welsh national team too.

C’mon you Swans!