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Youth coach Nicky helps Wanderers get back to the future

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers are bringing back the boot-boy mentality, much to the delight of a man who has lived and breathed the club for 30 years.

Nicky Spooner has experienced it all in a Bolton shirt as trainee, first team player and then coach, but only now is he starting to recognise the environment he first walked into as a teenager.

Moving from the state-of-the-art Euxton training ground to the Spartan climes of the Lostock Academy came as a culture shock to some of the players reared on Premier League luxuries.

But Spooner says bringing the whole club into one base has had some incredibly positive results too, and better enabled coaches like himself to prepare players for the harsh realities of senior football.

One such move has been to establish a link between the senior professionals and the scholars, reminiscent of the one Spooner had as a trainee on YTS forms under Phil Neal in the late eighties.

“It sounds daft but I came here as a 15-year-old and the club has gone a full circle, we’re now back to the kind of club I remember,” he told The Bolton News.

“Everyone knows the facilities at Euxton were great and things at Lostock are maybe not what people are used to – but we are rolling up our sleeves and finding out a lot more about the players now as people.

“Everyone is welcome, everyone is smiling. When the press come down to Lostock we can have a chat, the gaffer’s office is there a few yards from the academy’s, the first team lads have got the younger ones doing jobs – not what we had to do years ago and scrubbing showers and baths, but they have to clean equipment and football boots.

“Gary Madine pulled one of the lads aside last week because his boots were wet. I thought ‘that’s great’ because they learn that little bit more responsibility.

“They can see the pyramid. Lostock has always been a great facility as an academy but the Under-18s used to think they were at the top of the tree – they are not now. And when you get a first teamer like Madine laying the law down the lads respect it.

“There is a progression there from the 16s to the 18s and it becomes a fight to play on those top pitches.”

Spooner was recently appointed as Wanderers’ Under-18s coach after David Lee – another name etched in a glorious past – was promoted to the development squad. It marks another stage in a coaching journey which began with the Under-7s, shortly after the former defender’s injury-ravaged career came to an end.

“It’s a very proud moment for me,” he said. “Once I finished playing I started coaching with the babies and then it has been a gradual step up – but the likes of Harry Brockbank and Cameron Moore, I had them as eight-year-olds.

“It has been great to see them come through in the last few years in particular and it’s only when you get a text from someone like Rob Holding, thanking you for the rollocking I gave him as a 14-year-old that you appreciate you’ve really been able to play a part.

“We have a rule about not allowing players to hand their socks in inside-out. I heard Matthew Fearnley say today that I once ran them 12 times around the pitch as 11-year-olds because I’d counted 12 pairs at Blackburn St Joseph’s. Little things like that make me think ‘wow it has been a long time.’”

There was a time, not so long ago, when Wanderers’ academy felt a lot further away from the first team set up.

The back-biting and in-fighting during Dougie Freedman’s time in charge made for an unhappy atmosphere but Spooner is happy to report that since Neil Lennon made inroads into repairing the relationship between first team and academy, Phil Parkinson’s arrival has taken it to even greater heights.

“It has been a massive bonus for us,” he said of the first team’s proximity. “The gaffer has been great and now if they need a player they shout down to the bottom field. When they were at Euxton there was no integration, we just didn’t see them.

“It feels like a club now. Me and David Lee were speaking the other day about the number of lads who went through the system who didn’t get that chance, and it’s such a shame. Euxton was a great facility but a good number of young players came through without ever having the benefit of working closely with the first team lads like they can now.”

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