Four years after the first team tumbled out of the Premier League and just over 12 months since the club downgraded its academy from category one to category two, the landscape has changed significantly for young players looking to get their shot at the Macron.
Spooner believes the talent coming through the academy are now being better prepared for what awaits them after forging stronger links with Phil Parkinson’s first team at their shared Lostock base.
“My brief is different now,” he told The Bolton News. “The DNA of players is changing at Bolton.
“Maybe before we were looking at players who could handle Premier League football, concentrating on different areas of technique. Now we are looking at things like defensive heading, we need defenders who can handle League One and hopefully Championship football.
“You have to start bringing through a different type of player. They have to be ready for the challenges you get at senior level, and to be men.
“We need a winning mentality and that is really enforced from the Under-15s through to the under-18s now.
“Academy football is great but we are introducing more game management because the basics of the first team require a different type of player. You get turned for the first 10 minutes and it’s not nicey-nicey football.
“Our boys attend every game now and watch exactly what happens.
“When Peter Reid was here he’d always be banging on about ‘the diagonal ball’ and that we needed to use it more. When England played against Iceland at the Euros he texted me at half time and though I can’t use the exact words he said, let’s say he highlighted the fact they were not using them.
“It’s great playing out from the back but we have to face facts, it’s not real football at this level and what you’ll see on Saturday.
“But we are still producing - Alex Perry played the other night, so did Jack Earing, and we’ve had boys involved in pre-season, so it has been great for everyone.”
Rob Holding’s transition from development squad to first team came as some surprise last season – but that is nothing compared with the progress he has made since moving to Arsenal, where he has commanded a first team spot under Arsene Wenger for the Gunners’ opening three games.
“He has blown them away down there, hasn’t he?” Spooner said.
“Last season Rob was our big prospect in the Academy, never mind the Premier League.
“To go with the big lads and settle in like that is strange. They must be thinking what a great bargain they have picked up.
“He is such a nice lad but the family are great. When the boys were over in Denmark for pre-season, his dad and grandad came and watched the Under-21s at Radcliffe Borough.”