The positive recommendation follows an extensive independent audit of the club’s youth development programme that inspected criteria such as vision and strategy, the coaching programme, quality of facilities and education and welfare processes.
The category ranking, which follows a ‘one’ to ‘four’ scale, is further testimony to the talent production line that is the Blues Academy. The quartet of Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond, Callum Reilly and Will Packwood are the most recent examples of players that have progressed through the Blues Academy system to play regularly in the first-team and represent their respective nations. Meanwhile, academy stars Mitch Hancox, Nick Townsend, James Fry, Reece Hales and Emmitt Delfouneso are also starting to make their presence known in Lee Clark’s squad.
The audit is a national two-stage process and Birmingham City was selected for the first round of Category 2 applicants in December 2012. Initially the audit saw the club submit a comprehensive database of evidence detailing its youth programme and its role within the football club. Once submitted, a four day visit was undertaken with auditors to observe and discuss the programme in detail.
Blues Academy Manager, Kristjaan Speakman, said: “We have seen significant improvements in our programme over recent years culminating in the players that have featured in our first-team and the positive assessment undertaken during the audit. The audit process has provided an opportunity to compare ourselves against best practice and it has been really pleasing to see that in many of the key areas we have received very high marks demonstrating the quality of our programme.
“The club and my staff have done a fantastic job to drive change on and off the pitch and place us in a really healthy position with some excellent feedback providing a platform to continue this improvement. It’s a great achievement for the club and the significant investment required in order to achieve Category 2 reflects the commitment to the club’s academy programme by the Board and senior management team at St. Andrew’s.
“Since arriving at the club, manager Lee Clark has been instrumental in leading this project - not only on the pitch with training, observing and selecting young players but also off the pitch with his attendance and input in the many meetings held. This involvement has helped us to shape the programme.
“The modernisation process and the audit procedure are in their infancy and we are really looking forward to developing the programme further within this framework; ultimately with the aim of gaining Category 1 status in the future.
“It’s certainly exciting times at our club for young players and it’s a great incentive for them to know that the programme is moving forward in practice and infrastructure, whilst also providing a genuine opportunity for them to reach the first-team - which is our core objective.”
Julia Shelton, Head of Football Administration, continued: “This recommendation is a real reinforcement of the excellent job our academy department are doing in developing young players for our club and we have been delighted at the excellent feedback our programme has gained through this process.
“It has been an 18-month evolution to align our operations and infrastructure to the new criteria which has been managed by our academy manager and the club’s technical board. The technical board has been vital in the development of the academy programme and its integration with the first-team and wider club. You only have to look at the audit feedback to see how highly our structure has been looked upon.
“The club’s youth development policy is at the heart of our vision and strategy and will continue to receive the necessary support it requires, both financially and operationally. It is by no means a stagnant process but a year-on-year commitment to developing all areas of the programme which has been demonstrated with the training ground refurbishment and a new artificial pitch due for installation in May 2013.
“As a club, we have enjoyed producing talent for many years with the likes of Darren Carter, Sone Aluko, Mat Sadler, Andrew Johnson and Colin Doyle but more recently with academy graduates such as Nathan, Jack, Callum, Mitch and Will becoming first-team regulars. We can now look forward to building on this even further under the new processes implemented through the EPPP.”
Lee Clark added: “This is fantastic news for everybody involved. There’s been a lot of hard work put in behind the scenes and they’ve recommended this category because they’ve seen the results of all that hard work.
“Certainly this season, we’ve seen young players being given an opportunity to progress into the first-team. Being able to bring from within shows that what we coach them and what they’re being taught is along the lines of what is required to become a first-team player.
“You’ve got to have some part of your squad who have come through your academy system and it’s good to have that relationship between the players and the supporters; that’s what keeps clubs running along.”
Blues’ Acting Chairman, Peter Pannu, commented: “I’d like to give praise to all of the staff who have worked hard to secure this recommendation. It’s a very proud achievement for all involved and lays down a good foundation for the future of the football club.”