Chairman and first team manager John Eccles wants to establish a successful pathway from under 6s right through to the open age sides at Hepworth United.
Being the first team boss of Hepworth’s Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League Premier Division side is just one of his many roles.
He manages several Hepworth teams whilst serving as the chairman.
Eccles has a whole host of aspirations for the Holme Valley village club and one of them is creating open age football opportunities for youngsters.
“What I have noticed coming into the seniors that the pathway to the seniors is not right,” Eccles told Non League Yorkshire.
“There’s no proper ladder in place.
“Why have juniors that you train for ten or eleven years after they come at six-year-olds and when they are 16 they have nowhere to go?
“That’s not just at one club, that might happen at a lot of clubs.
“Last year I created a development team so junior lads could be retained. We can say to lads ‘come and play for the second team and the development team and have a go at playing on a Saturday afternoon against men.
“You have to a drip feed from the juniors into the first team and I want to retain lads.
“I’d rather bring lads through from our juniors than say ‘oh I’ll pinch this lad from Oughtilbridge or Stocksbridge or wherever’.
“If a lad has been brought up for ten years at one club he’s going to have a passion about that badge and he’s going to have the attitude of ‘I want to play for the team I’ve always played for’.
“I’m creating a conveyer belt and it is coming together now. The under 16s will automatically train with the seniors in pre-season to introduce them to it.
“When September comes we may say to one or two ‘come and have a go’.”
Eccles has already achieved a lot as chairman of Hepworth.
“I’m one of these who if I’m in for a penny, I’m in for a pound and I put everything in it,” he said.
“There was a big internal issue within the club as there was a big junior section and a big senior section and they were very divided.
“I came in as chairman and with the committee we felt we needed to join the two bubbles together to create one big club.
“So the first aim as chairman was to unite the club.
“One team, one club, that’s the motto.
“We played under about three different badges – the girls had one, the juniors had one, the seniors had one – so we changed the badge and we all play in one kit and there’s one badge now.
“We are a small grassroots club but we are in the top 200 out of 19,000 clubs who have the FA Community Charter Standard badge in the whole country.
“We’re barking way above our station but we have a sound foundation.
“Now we’ve brought the club together we’re thriving.
“There’s more structure to the club and everyone is equal.”
Eccles replaced long-serving Bob Wright as Hepworth’s first team manager last year and he surprised many by leading them to a decent start before the campaign was aborted.
Hepworth pulled off surprise wins over Penistone Church reserves, Stocksbridge Park Steels development and even ambitious Wakefield AFC.
Eccles believes the form was down to a new philosophy he implemented and he admits he was delighted with results.
The League Cup starts on Saturday and Hepworth visit Jubilee Sports for the Group B tie and Eccles reckons it is a chance for his players to continue learning the new philosophy.
“I agree and disagree that we have punched above our weight,” he said.
“All I was told before the season started was ‘oh we’re punching above our weight, we need strikers and we need this…’
“It made me nervous and made me think ‘what have I got myself into here’.
“I brought no new players in, I kept the same players from last season and after matches I was saying ‘I’m not seen anything here to say we’re punching above our weight’.
“In that league we have nothing to be scared of.
“The only team I thought was a very good team was Swinton and for the first 15 minutes we were matching them and I thought ‘you know what lads, there’s nothing to be scared of’.
“This is no disrespect to Bob because he took them to where they were and he got them to stay where they were, but they were a very defensive team.
“It was set up to say ‘don’t allow this team to score and if we can we’ll try and pinch a goal’.
“That’s not my philosophy. My first touch is ‘can we go forward and can we break this team down’?
“It is not the lads’ football that has been the challenge, it has been the psychological side of it.
“The last 12 months has not been about their skill, their touch, it has been about their belief about how good they are.
“The lads are still learning the philosophy and style of play I want them to play and the League Cup is a good opportunity for them to get used to it even more. I’m chomping at the bit for the start of it.”
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NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams. When we properly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
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