The forgotten youth academy of Luton Town

Kenilworth Road

Youth academies in British football are certainly dwindling. There has been a distinct slow down in the talent which is being produced over the past five years, and even if some good players have managed to make their way through, their lack of first team action hinders their ability to progress successfully.

However, there have been some world class talents developed within English clubs. Just take a look back at some players over the past fifteen years who have managed to make it through: Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, all of whom have been some of the lucky ones to  make it. When you do begin to look at some of the more successful teams with better youth system than most, it is not surprising you think of Premiership teams. Southampton, West Ham, Arsenal, all of whom are certainly renowned for their ability to produce Championship or Premier League level players, but one club who never receive the accolade they perhaps deserve are not a top level team, nor are they even in the football league. In fact, Conference outfit Luton Town are a squad who have produced some of the best talent from their academy.

Players such as Curtis Davies, Kelvin Davis and Emmerson Boyce are just a few who now ply their trade in the higher divisions, all of whom came through the ranks at Luton. It is often easy to judge, and assume that only the highest teams are those producing these players, when  it is often the case that they have been poached by the seemingly ever-rich clubs near the summit of English football. With financial issues being constant for teams lower down the leagues, especially in Luton’s case, it is often impossible to turn down offers for these players, both due to the financial implications it will have on the club, but also due to the desire for these players to be part of a team in the upper echelons of football.

This season alone, Luton will have 5 former players in the Premier League, as well as a variety in the Championship and League 1, thus it is of no surprise that in all of England, Luton are in the top 20 teams for producing youth talent who are now playing in any of the top 5 leagues in Europe. Nations included in this selection are of course England, as well as Germany, Italy, France and Spain. The fact The Hatters are just behind the likes of Manchester United, Southampton and West Ham emphasises quite how successful the set up is.

One of the most successful talents to have emerged from the Bedfordshire based team is that of England and Arsenal star Jack Wilshere. Whilst it is evident that most of the footballing world believes that the midfielder emerged from The Gunners’ academy, it is just another example of how Premier League clubs can snap up players with relative ease and then take the glory for the success achieved by the player. Wilshere was part of Luton as a youngster before Arsenal saw the talent he possessed, and snapped him away in 2001. Merely last season a similar occurrence took place. Three brothers, who have been part of The Hatters set up since they were seven, were recently snapped up in one swoop by big spenders Chelsea, and it is a certainty it will be forgotten that Luton helped to kick-start their careers. Now, granted, they are only 13 and therefore people will claim that not much can really be achieved in terms of development, however this couldn’t be further from the truth. Having spent just shy of 7 years at Kenilworth Road, it is obvious that much of their basic talents and key development would have taken place, and that now at Chelsea, they will just further enhance this.

It is alleged that if the three brothers break in to Chelsea’s first team, the deal could be worth £1million pounds to the conference side and therefore this just goes to show why they were willing to let the youngsters leave.

Possibly one of the best examples of the talent which Luton possess, even now becomes evident when in 2009, Luton’s youngsters won the under-eleven European Championships. The final involved German giants Bayern Munich, and the lowly underdogs of Luton Town. The victory was shocking, and meant that Luton had finished first ahead of some of the best teams in world football including Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and CSKA Moscow. This is coupled by the fact the Luton Town under 15s became the first English side to be victorious in the Hassia Bingen International Tournament when defeating Mainz 05 in the final in January 2010.

It certainly is a shame that Luton are losing the recognition that the club deserve. Only the fanatics or older generation football fans will remember either Luton having been a top division club merely the season before the Premier League came into existence, or indeed some of the quality they have produced. Matthew Upson and Jack Wilshere have both been played at International level, with the later being tipped as the future of England’s national side. Curtis Davies, Kevin Foley, Leon Barnett and Emmerson Boyce represent a fine list of Premier League players both past and present, and The Hatters academy has not stopped producing despite their plunge from The Championship to Conference in 3 seasons.

Luton have just embarked on their 5th consecutive season outside of the football league, and still through the bleakest days, fans have remained loyal, their academy has remained strong, and thus it should not be long before the team can rise once more, and hopefully garner more appreciation from football fans near the peak of English football for something which is certainly not noticed as much as it should be.