The final game of the 2006 premier league season against Fulham saw a team with an average age of just 20 take to the pitch.
In fact the whole of the 16 players in the squad to face Fulham were English and all from the local area (apart from Malcom Christie).
Despite the look of a fresh faced bunch of youngsters with very little premier league experience, most fans still knew all the players very well, such was the success of the club’s academy conveyor belt.
Probably most notable were names like Lee Cattermole (who captained the side that day), James Morrison, Adam Johnson and David Wheater to name but a few. Have you guessed what team we are talking about yet?
It was actually Steve Mclaren’s final game at Middlesbrough, a message to other clubs that you don’t necessarily have to flood your squad with an influx of foreign imports to mix it with the big boys. Young talent from the local area can be nurtured and developed and more importantly save the football club millions of pounds.The Teesside club are noted for their development and with Steve Gibson investing heavily in a youth academy with facilities at Rockcliffe Park that rivals any from around Europe. Boro have seen many home grown young players go on to make a career in football whether it is with them or making a career with bigger clubs.
The team that day was:
GK: Ross Turnbull- 21 years 123 days.
DF: Andrew Taylor- 19 years 279 days.
DF: Matthew Bates- 19 years 148 days.
DF: David Wheater – 19 years 82 days.
DF: Andrew Davies- 21 years 141 days.
MF: James Morrison- 19 years 347 days.
MF: Lee Cattermole- 18 years 43 days.
MF: JasonKennedy- 19 years 238 days.
MF: Adam Johnson – 18 years 298 days.
FW: Danny Graham- 20 years 268 days.
FW: Malcolm Christie -27 years 26 days.
The academy has had such a bearing on the football club in recent years that local newspaper The Evening Gazette ran a dream team academy XI where fans could pick their favourite graduate academy team from all of the players to come through.
Investment in youth has given the club stability when things weren’t so good. When paying for big names like flop Afonso Alves haven’t worked and when the club have been relegated they have been able to balance the books by selling some of that young talent and having more youngsters coming through to plug the gaps.
You only have to look at some of the high profile football league clubs and their fall from grace due to overspending, gambling with big money buys and failing on the pitch. Teams like Portsmouth and Sheffield United are prime examples.