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January 2021

At last, the chance for Arsenal to build a nursery club again.

by Tony Attwood

Once upon a time Arsenal had a feeder club – Margate.  If you collect Arsenal programmes and read the Untold Arsenal series the season before last you might just have a faint recollection of the piece about Margate that I did.

If not, well, I’ll put it on the History Blog sometime.

But ultimately, to avoid a “conflict of interest” the nursery clubs were banned from the FA Cup in 1937, (after Clapton Orient had earlier been drawn against their own nursery club Ashstead) and although a few continued to the 1950s the momentum of the idea was lost.  Most major clubs followed Arsenal’s pattern of a first team, reserve team, “A” team, and “B” team (the last two being youth teams).

I’ve argued time and time again however that feeder clubs are a great idea in order to give our younger players a chance to play in real life games without relying on the whims of a manager of another club.  Of course we could still use use clubs in France, Belgium and Spain for players who are not allowed to play in the UK because of our much tougher work permit and residency laws, but for citizens of the EU, a feeder club could be a great idea in my view to help players gather experience in competitive leagues.

Until recently there has been no movement on this idea since I started on the idea of re-considering nursery clubs four years ago, but now it seems that the Football Association, that dinosaur among dinosaurs, is thinking again.  Which I must say surprises me, since I thought that the greatest chance we had would be of putting a team in the lower Scottish Leagues.

However Greg Dyke is the man pushing for a review, not least because feeder clubs are incredibly common across Europe – and the approach is seen as one way of encouraging the development and exploitation of English players.

Did they get the idea from Untold?  It would be nice to think so – after all it is our endless talking about referees that has finally got PGMO to start talking to the press (although not us) about the relationship between refs and clubs.  But I am not convinced that the FA takes in what others are saying, so probably the answer is no.

However whatever the reason for looking again, I think it should be welcomed.

When I wrote my piece about Arsenal and Margate for the piece in the Arsenal programme I had a couple of informal (ie “don’t quote me on this but…”) chats with a few people in football and to my surprise found there was more than passing interest in the resurrection of the feeder clubs.  But it was felt that the allowing the nursery clubs to be included in the FA Cup was vital, so that supporters of the feeder club would have a full range of competitions to support.

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My argument was that including Arsenal reserves playing in a club which had a clear identity and its own name and history would increase crowds at some grounds, where I would thing a visit of a club containing some up and coming Arsenal Reserves would get something of a higher than user crowd.

In this situation Arsenal would have more involvement than with a regular club to whom players are loaned, to ensure that the player really is going to get a range of games, and isn’t just there to cover for any possible injury.

Dyke is expected to be dealing with a report into how to reform English football in order to help the English team, in September.   My guess is that the report will include a discussion of feeder teams, but that the proposal will be for clubs outside of the top four divisions, and with two provisos:
1: First the club cannot be promoted to the Football League, without leaving its association with its parent clubs.
2: Links are to be allowed between the parent club and the nursery club, and agreements can be made to ensure that loan players do get games, but the management of the nursery club must remain separate from the parent club.  In this way, if the two clubs are drawn together in the FA Cup, they can compete without the parent club leaning on the nursery not to play the loan players.
This will mean the nursery level will be clubs in the Conference Premier, Conference North, Conference South, and the various divisions of the Southern League, Northern League and Isthmian League.  Clubs that don’t want to be part of it can still continue on their own way.  Those who are on the edge of financial disaster might see this as a way of keeping their club going.
You might have seen the commentaries that Blacksheep and I have been writing on the non-league matches we have been to.  Clubs in the Southern League are struggling along on crowds of around 250 to 500, while in the Conference Premier the crowds do reach 3,000 – but the clubs have higher wages bills.
But they are real, live clubs with dedicated support. The extra interest from having some connection with a major club could really add to the income of the club.
The change might not come now, but I hope it will come.

16 comments to At last, the chance for Arsenal to build a nursery club again.

  • colario

    “1: First the club cannot be promoted to the Football League, without leaving its association with its parent clubs.”
    2 Points
    West Port Rovers are Arsenal’s feeder club and field a team of 6- 7 Arsenal reserves. The team gets promoted to the football league with these reserves being the key to the promotion.

    Once in the 2nd Divisioon the Arsenal reserves who got them the promotion cannot play and the the club doesn’t have replacements and are relgated. Don’t see the point of this.

    Would a club like Arsenal want to put youngsters into a team at the none league level? I don’t think so.

  • tony, while i like the idea of a nursery or feeder club, i wonder at the benefit to our players of dropping so far down the food chain. i can understand the value of an aneke or akpom playing competitive football in league 1 at a club where we can instruct them how often to field those types of players. it’s not readily apparent how beneficial it would be for their development among a bunch of semi-pros.

    you would also need some type of guarantee that the feeder club would play the ball on the ground rather than stoke it forward at every opportunity.

  • Sceptical

    +1 to Mike’s point about dropping so far down. The Conference isn’t as high a standard as the youth league!

    It’d be more efficient to buy some small town lower league outfit in a Benelux country, install our coaching staff & let them run up their leagues. What would a Belgian Div 2 club cost? Can’t see it being more than 3 weeks wages for Bentner

  • colario

    I think in Spain and may be other countries the reserve team competes in the national league but I don’t know how this is administrated.

    I think this might be the solution to providing younger players with first team football at a reasonable level and the club can easily develop the players.

    As I see it there would be the 1st team squad and the second team squad. Once the squads have been named players could only change squads in the transfer times.

  • Mickeyk

    We’re a nursery club for Barcelona

  • nicky

    @Mike in Atlanta,
    I tend to share your view that many of our reserves would blossom more quickly by spells in the Championship League, rather than via a nursery or feeder club.
    Experience has shown that there is no shortage of interest by managers of clubs at this level.

  • gouresh

    Mickeyk and barca are a nursary club for us.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Mickeyk will be supporting for Stoke tomorrow…

  • WalterBroeckx

    Just watching MOTD. Why didn’t they start with the defeat of this mornings league leaders? Imagine if it would have been Arsenal starting as league leaders and losing at home to Southampton? They would start MOTD 15mins earlier to show it and shove it down our throat.

  • westy

    surely these feeder and parent club systems already are in use? regular friendlies between them, regular loans etc. What we need is to be able to do what they do in spain and enter our reserves into the league system. Means we could have same tactics, coaches and use it to blood our yth and keep fringers fit. I see no benefit to having just a link to a small club not even in a proper league.

  • sceptical has a good point about buying a team in belgium (or holland, maybe france ligue 2). that could turn out to be a nursery for our future managers too.

  • blacksheep63

    MickeyK posted at 9.52, I’d have thought that was dangerously close to his bed time…

  • Jax

    No Walter, MOTD starts with the most entertaining match and progresses (regresses if you like) through to the least entertaining irrespective of league positions. Considering the timescale they have in which to edit the matches and get them ready for transmission I think they do quite a good job to have it all ready for 10.30 pm transmission. Occasionally they’ll front the show with a game that has more of a significant perspective, but not this early in the season. Liverpool’s defeat was a pretty dull affair wasn’t it and not worthy of being the first game.

  • colario

    @Mickeyk Real are our nursery club and spuds our ‘tip’ or dumpster as they say in the us of a.

  • Jax,

    I’ve got to disagree with you and agree with Walter on this. Had Arsenal, as the league leader, lost to any other team, even by 1 – 0 from a penalty kick, MoTD would have shown it first. Then Alan Hansen and Shearer would gloat about how they said in the previous episode(s) that Arsenal’s stay atop the table wouldn’t last.

    And no, the time it takes to do the edit doesn’t matter. The Man United Chelsea borefest was what they wanted to show first on that Monday, after they have decided by fiat to move MoTD2 to Monday. They were only stopped from showing the highlights of the game that was completed about half an hour earlier because of the regulation against showing highlights of before certain period has elapsed. The time it takes to do the edits can’t be use to excuse them here.

    They had enough time to show Liverpool’s loss (a 3pm game!) first but chose not to. Typically, MoTD either shows the league leaders’ or a shock result’s highlights first. Liverpool vs Southampton fits both requirements and I was as surprised as Walter to see them fail to show it first.

  • Mickeyk

    I love the USA but they don’t anything about football.