Following the news that the Club’s Academy has been awarded Category 1 status, the Head of Academy has talked to BCFC.com about what this means for the next generation of Blues youngsters.
Mike Dodds, who has worked at the Club for over ten years, begun by outlining his sheer delight at the news.
Speaking through a beaming smile, he said: “We are massively proud. We’re going to be pitching ourselves against the biggest and the best. We’re going to have a core of Birmingham boys who are going to have a platform to showcase how good they can be.
“It’s been a very good week. Our Under-23s won the Professional Development League National Final, the Under-18s narrowly missed out with a very young team. We have been awarded Category 1 status and we are hopefully going to have a Birmingham boy who came through this Academy in the England squad.
“It’s an incredibly positive week for everyone associated with youth football in Birmingham.”
Dodds has held his current role since the end of 2020 and – in a typically humble fashion – signposted the ongoing commitment of both existing and former staff in delivering the highest categorisation of Academy to Wast Hills.
He explained: “This has really been a long-term project for the Football Club. People like Kristjaan Speakman, Stuart English, Mark Sinclair, Simon Jones, Danny Barham, Tim Smith, Adam Roche and Dave Singleton. So many people have put the work in, and they all deserve a mention. Those people laid the infrastructure at the Club and the Category 1 comes from that.
“The Board has invested in the Academy Programme and as staff and players, we now have to live up to the pressure that comes with that. The investment isn’t a goodwill gesture, it’s about committing to producing young players and providing them with all the tools to break into the First Team. It’s our responsibility to do that and we have to ensure we continue to do that. Whether that’s to improve the standard of the First Team or to get them in the team to sell on and reinvest into the Academy set-up.”
🌟 Category 1 status! 🌟— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) May 25, 2021
Full details on an exciting development for the #BCFC Academy. 👇
The Academy’s new-found status means that from the start of the 2021/22 season, the Club’s Under-23s and Under-18s teams will compete in the highest-level games programme available to English academies.
Blues' Under-23s, who on Monday were crowned Professional Development League National Champions, will enter the Premier League 2 Division 2, playing for the chance of promotion to Division One. They will also continue to participate in the Premier League Cup.
The Under-18s, who made the play-offs in their Professional Development League programme, will compete in either the North or South division, with the opportunity to be crowned national winners at the season’s conclusion.
And Dodds is unequivocal in his belief that this change of competition is the best challenge for Blues’ players.
He said: “We don’t want to change what we are doing too much. We think our Academy programme works but we want to offer a better version. The best way to do that is to enhance the Under-18s and Under-23s games programme. This games programme will now pitch us against some of the most financially rich clubs, not just in England but in World football. It will only improve the standard of players we currently have.
“This is biggest pull towards Category 1. It’s the games programme and the standard of opposition we’ll be playing against.
“Under-9s to Under-16s we think we are highly competitive. It’s been incredibly productive. For the Under-18s to Under-23s, we have to improve the standard of product that we’re exposing our players to, and the games programme is at the heart of that.”
Although, one thing that is certainly not to change is Blues’ ethos of recruiting and developing local talent, with the Academy proving a hotbed for future First Team stars.
Speaking passionately about his vision for harnessing Birmingham talent, Dodds explained: “It opens doors in terms of national recruitment but just because we’re changing categorisation, it doesn’t mean we have to change our philosophy on player development.
He said: “Ultimately the Category One games programme is only going to develop the players we already have in the building.
“We have to keep a grip on giving Birmingham boys an opportunity. Jude Bellingham, Amari Miller and Zack Jeacock are all local lads and we want to preserve our identity of being a Club with local players at its core. Nathan Redmond, Demari Gray as well.
“We want to get boys from the stands, onto the pitch. It’s a core value of what we’re about - connecting the stands to the pitch.
“Transitioning to Category 1 isn’t about recruiting a higher standard of player because I think we already have the standard at our disposal. It’s about giving them a better product which will get them closer to the first team.”