‘It is a team effort and everyone has played their part,’ was the message from Exeter City academy manager Simon Hayward following a brilliant week for the club’s youth setup.City’s academy was thrust into the national media spotlight on Tuesday night when Ethan Ampadu made his professional debut for the club aged just 15 years, 10 months and 26 days – making him the youngest ever player to make his first team debut for City beating a record held by Cliff Bastin since 1928.
The match came in the EFL Cup – when fellow Exeter academy players Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ollie Watkins and Connor Riley-Lowe helped the Grecians to a shock 1-0 victory over Championship side Brentford.
Added to that, former City academy players Liam Sercombe, now at Oxford United, and Tom Nichols, at Peterborough, played their part in wins for their new clubs. Hayward said it was a great week for the academy and a result of the hard work of so many people.
Hayward said: “I’m pleased to play my part, but on Tuesday night when I got home from the Brentford match I probably spent 30 minutes sending individual text messages to all the coaches that have worked with Ethan, since he was an under-seven player, to thank them for their time and effort in it. It is a long road and a long journey, but nights like Tuesday make the job worthwhile.
“Tuesday night was a really good night for everyone involved in our football club and our academy, not just because Ethan but the other players as well.
“You have got Jordan [Moore-Taylor] captaining the side who has got 100-plus appearances under his belt and is just such a consistent performer these days. Ollie [Watkins] got an assist and we were obviously delighted with his form at the end of last season and hoping he carries that on to this season.
“We were also delighted to see Connor [Riley-Lowe] on the pitch getting a start. I have not seen every performance he has had with the first team – some have been away and we have been busy with youth teams – but of the first team games that I have seen him play in, I thought the Brentford match was his best.
“So, fingers crossed, he can use this season to take a step closer to being a regular in the team, but then beyond that Liam Sercombe scored the winner for Oxford in their EFL Cup game; Tom Nichols got himself two goals, including the winner, for Peterborough in their EFL Cup games, and I think on Saturday, all being well, George Friend should captain Middlesbrough in the Premier League.
“George references the history and the continuity we have had at the club – and that goes back to Eamonn [Dolan]. There are so many people involved in the process of developing these youngsters and there are too many to name, but I think it is timely to mention Eamonn and the massive part he played.”
Hayward also referenced the role of Ethan’s family – his father Kwame played for City and is currently an academy coach at Arsenal – and City first team manager Paul Tisdale.
“His parents a very, very considered and very sensible and they are a massive influence on him,” he said. “You can see what a positive influence they are having and it just highlights again, to our young players, that there is possibly not a better club in the country to be at or a better manager for young players to be around, because it is a sign that Tis believes that when you are good enough, you are old enough.
“Tis is unbelievably clever in when he uses people and how he uses people and he’d have picked the right time, the right type of game and the right tone that he thought the match was going to have, against a Championship side that might pass the ball, to find the right game to give Ethan his chance.”
He says both Tis and himself are helped by the fact that they are given time in their roles to succeed – something which a lot of coaches and managers are not allowed at other football clubs.
“The club’s board of directors support breeds continuity and that helps massively as well,” said Hayward. “Tis has done 10 years into 11 and I have done 12 into 13 and that continuity gives people a chance to do their jobs and hopefully do it well.
“It is a team and club-wide effort and we might not have had Ethan on the pitch last night had we been a club that chopped and changed first team manager and academy manager every 12 months like a lot of clubs do.
“It starts at the top and it filters its way down. I’m thankful that I have been given that time to build the continuity in my role as it enables me to build continuity with my staff and off the back of that you get some success stories.”