Pools have significantly reduced their youth squad after the untimely end of the 2019-20 season.
Three seasons of non-league football had taken its toll and Pools’ paid academy system was scrapped in favor of an unpaid partnership with Hartlepool College.
It was perhaps not the most popular decision at the time, as young players had to either commit to playing for free or find a new club.
But in hindsight, this bold move ultimately freed up funds that would help promote Pools out of the National League through the June qualifiers.
But the extremely rapid turnaround ahead of the Pools’ Football League’s return has made it nearly impossible for the club to kick off a new academy setup for the current season.
The collegiate partnership is still in place this season but it has already posed some problems for the club.
The hens were forced to withdraw from the FA Youth Cup in the first round as they were unable to register enough college players to participate in the competition.
Exclusive: Why Hartlepool United were forced to withdraw from 2021-22 FA Yo …
The club have also failed to compete in the Durham Challenge Cup for the second season in a row due to the lack of a fully established youth squad or development squad.
But that could all change next season, with the club currently preparing to seek category four academy status for the 2022-2023 season.
The club are said to be on track to apply for the academy before the January deadline.
A category four academy is a late development model that focuses on players aged 17 and over.
But a new academy setup at Pools still depends on one very important thing, staying in the Football League.
As it stands, the club are on track to do so having collected 23 points in their opening 16 games – but there is still a long way to go.
And interim manager Antoine Sweeney, who is itself a product of Pools’ youth development program, stressed the importance for Hartlepool of keeping his EFL status intact as the search for a new permanent director continues.
“This football club has to remain an EFL football club for many reasons,” he said.
âWhether it’s the reinstatement of the academy, the financial rewards that we have, all of that stuff with the fan base, the attendance, all of that, they all go into it, so it’s extremely important that we remain an EFL club and the club makes the right decision to do so.
“Whatever decision a manager makes, whether you are a fan, player, staff or journalist, if he makes the right decision, it will be overwhelmingly supported.”
After leaving the club’s youth program, Sweeney made 444 appearances for the pools and is a certified club legend. It is one of the many successes that flow from setting up a youth system.
Adam Boyd is another notable alumnus while Luke James first joined the club at the age of 11 and became the club’s youngest league goalscorer.
More recently England Under-19 international goalkeeper Brad Young was sold to Leicester City this summer for a lucrative price with an attractive sell-out clause despite not making a competitive appearance as a team first for Hartlepool.
Joe Gray is the only current first-team player to graduate from the club as a youth. The 18-year-old signed his first professional contract shortly after the club’s youth scholarship program was phased out last summer.
Despite a major injury setback, the forward has become a regular at the Pools this season, mostly on the bench.
Investing in a proper youth system could be seen as an unnecessary expense as a non-league club. But in the EFL, this could prove to be an effective trading move that will provide potentially huge returns if handled properly.
And the importance of the academy was reiterated by President Raj Singh, who confirmed his planned return.
“Yes, we are planning to get the academy back, I think that’s really important,” he said on the club’s website.
âA lot has happened off the pitch that people like Rose [Stoker, operations manager] and StÃ©phane [Hobin, chief operations officer] brought. We are certainly headed in the right direction.
âI think a lot of work has been done on the academy and we plan to bring it back. We unfortunately had to get rid of it when we were in the National League, but the plan is to bring the academy back because we all know who brings the community together, the young people come together and bring in the stars of the future.
âIt’s very important for a Ligue 2 club. As Brad Young just proved, it gives you a success story for the city and you are rewarded financially, which keeps the club going. “
The creation of a new academy will not provide the club with immediate resources or income. It will be a slow process, starting from scratch and attracting a new generation of young players to add to those the club want to recruit from the university side.
But this is a long-term project, an investment that Hartlepool can reap the rewards of for years to come once fully established.
And this is another important step in the right direction.