Stranraer Football Club’s under 16 squad have enjoyed the trip of a lifetime to Premiership side Bolton Wanderers. The blues youngsters visited Bolton in December. The trip came about thanks to the friendship between Stranraer head coach James MacLeod and Bolton’s Academy Director ex Rangers and Bolton player Jimmy Phillips and ex Bolton and Oldham man Nicky Spooner who oversees all age groups up to under 16s.
The squad of 16 along with their coaches travelled down on the Friday evening as an early start was required on the Saturday. At 9am on the Saturday morning they boys arrived at the Wanderers Youth Academy where they received a coaching session taken by Nicky Spooner and ex England international Gavin McCann who is still a professional at the club however is continuing to struggle to overcome a long term ankle injury.
After the training the boys jumped back on the bus and headed the short distance to the 28,723 capacity Reebok Stadium. Here the boys were given a special stadium tour which included a walk round the home team dressing room. This usually is not allowed the day before a home match as already all the strips and equipment are being put out however with a very strong promise not to leek out the starting eleven to anyone from Blackburn the boys got the go ahead to have a look round.
Once they had been dragged out of the changing rooms and the stadium it was off to Edgeley Park, home of Stockport County. Tickets for the Stockport v Crew Alexander match had been arranged thanks to Matt Glennon, Stockports goalkeeper, who played alongside James at Bolton before Matt moved on where he even had a spell in Scotland turning out for Falkirk and St Johnstone. A 3-3 draw was the end result which was thoroughly entertaining for the spectators but not quite the clean sheet Matt had hoped for. That was the end of Saturdays schedule so it was back to the hotel for an early night.
The Sunday morning and for all the boys it was the main event of the weekend. At 1030am Bolton v Stranraer kicked off (both teams pictured). The Bolton side were being looked after by Nicky and ex Hearts, Everton and Manchester City defender Neil Pointon. The match was played in a 3 x 30 minute format to allow for plenty of changes by both sides. After the first 30 minutes the Stranraer boys found themselves 2-1 ahead and at that stage deservedly so. However as the match went on the young Lancashire side started to show their class and at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable match the result was Bolton 6-2 Stranraer. After the match the Stranraer lads got a post match talk from Nicky, Neil and Gavin who all praised them for their performance and wished them all the best for the future adding that they might invite one or two back down for a closer look during first school break in 2011.
The final chapter of the weekend was the Bolton v Blackburn match at the Reebok where the boys watched a 10 man Bolton side fight back from a goal down to win 2-1. A fantastic weekend was had by both players and coaches.
James MacLeod, “ I am fortunate to still know Jimmy and Nicky so I try to get down to the Academy whenever time allows and try and learn as much as possible by observing sessions then having a chat with the coaches after. On my last visit Nicky asked if I would be interested in bringing my team down for some training and possibly a match to which there was obviously only one answer! The weekend was amazing. The coaching staff at Bolton could not have been more generous with their time and efforts during our visit and the lift it has given the boys is obvious to everyone at the club. The Bolton coaches were pleasantly surprised with the standard of football the boys played during the match considering the obvious differences between the two clubs."
The Stranraer coach continued: "It is very early days at Stranraer as far as the youth development set up as it is only our third year however I do feel it is going in the right direction. My main goal is to provide young footballers from Stranraer the chance to be coached at the highest standard possible and given opportunities within the game, which up until now just were not there. I had to rely on my parents and family members to take me up to the central belt three to four times a week for matches and training. Not every player is fortunate to have that kind of support so I want to make sure that they do not lose out just because of where they stay. I will be going back down to Bolton again soon to no doubt again learn more and I am also going on my advanced youth license course this year which I know will be extremely tough but it is important to me that I continue to learn and improve so fingers crossed the Stranraer Youth Development Programme is around for many years to come”.