When Clevedon met Manchester City
- Credit: pitchero.com/clubs/clevedontown
Many at Clevedon Town still remember the fantastic night in December 2018 when their successful under-18s faced the daunting task of taking on Manchester City’s star-studded team in the third round of the FA Youth Cup.
A crowd of more than 1,500 looked on at the Everyone Active Stadium as Town put up a brave fight before bowing out against the Premier League youngsters. And Paul Davis looks at what has happened to players from both sides.
The drop-out rate from youth football at all levels is notoriously high, but most of the City players are still at the club or are pursuing professional careers elsewhere and many of the young Seasiders have used the experience to continue their careers.
In fact, as many as eight of the Clevedon side have appeared in the first team and it was the last of those to make his first-team debut who has progressed the furthest.
Ryan Jones had to wait until March 23, 2019 for his first appearance at Bradford Town, but he grasped the opportunity and went on to score in the last two games of the season.
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He then left to re-join Weston and earned a regular first-team place in the Southern League side where he really flourished after being converted to a wing back to draw the interest of a number of League clubs.
After a trial at Premier League side Fulham and four goals in 19 appearances at Weston, Jones joined Bristol Rovers on a three-year deal on transfer deadline day in October 2020 and was loaned back to Weston until the end of the 2020-21 season.
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With Clevedon keen to give young players a chance, two players who played against City had already broken into the first-team squad in 2017.
Defender Tom Baker made his first appearance against Chipping Sodbury on October 28, 2017 and went on to make 42 appearances before leaving, while striker Jack Sell made his debut as a substitute at Street just before the City game and scored his first goal in a 1-1 draw at Bitton just after.
Sell went on to win the Under-18 Managers' Player of the Season award in 2018/19 and moved to Portishead Town after 35 appearances for Clevedon.
Portishead have also played a part in the career of another player who has become a first-team regular as under-18 skipper Mitch Osmond also made his first-team debut before the City game in the opening game of the 2018/19 season at Bitton and scored in the next game, a 4-3 win against Brislington.
Osmond then joined Portishead for the 2019/20 season but returned to the Everyone Active Stadium at the start of this season where he has been a mainstay at the centre of midfield, scoring seven goals in 19 appearances and picking up the Player of the Month award for October along the way.
Ethan Feltham is another first-team regular from the under-18 side, who also left for a short time to Cribbs FC after initially finding himself a regular on the Clevedon bench. He returned to the Seasiders and has scored seven goals in 12 first-team starts this season.
Goalkeeper Sam Blackiston also became a first-team regular after he joined the club whilst studying at Hartpury College in Stroud, making his debut in October 2018 and going on to make 21 appearances.
He returned home to Norwich when he finished his studies and, during lockdown, has been appearing in cooking blogs with his father, the Michelin star chef Galston Blackiston, while also attending goalkeeper training sessions with a view to playing again.
Five members of the squad have continued their studies with an emphasis on sporting qualifications, including the last two layers from the side that played City to make their first-team debuts.
Sam Larkins made eight appearances and has now moved to the USA on a football scholarship and Will Mann, the under-18 Players' Player of the Year for 2018/19, made seven appearances and scored in a 3-0 home win over Shortwood United before going to university.
Fraser Linnitt, who also played for Clevedon United, and Zach Arney who is also a qualified referee, are at Hartpury College.
Another player who looks to have an outstanding future is Alex Kemsley, who took up a football scholarship at Millfield School, where he was a Somerset Schools South West Championship winner and scored twice in the prestigious Boodles Independent Schools FA Cup Final at Stadium MK, to secure a 5-4 win over Yorkshire's Queen Ethelburgas School.
Finally, Will Symonds is currently at Nailsea United, with some of the current Seasiders under-18 team.
Not surprisingly, the City youngsters have loftier ambitions and the most eye-catching success has been Dutch full back Jeremie Fringpong, who like many of the squad had been part of the City Academy from the age of nine.
After appearing at Clevedon, he enjoyed a period on loan at Celtic, making 51 appearances and scoring three times, before joining German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen at the end of the January transfer window for a fee believed to be in excess of £11 million.
Despite the City first team being dominated by big-money signings, seven of the squad have remained at the Etihad, with Tommy Doyle the stand-out performer.
Son of ex-City player Mike, he turned down a loan move to Preston North End to fight for a first-team place and made his debut in the Carabao Cup against Southampton in October 2019, going on to appear in the Premier League, FA Cup and European Champions League and signing a contract until 2025.
Another three players have opted to remain with City but are currently on loan elsewhere with goalkeeper Louie Molden (son of an ex-City player Paul) currently at National League North Gloucester City after an injury-hit 2019/20 season and selected in the November team of the month.
Defender Taylor Harwood Bellis made his debut for City in the Carabao Cup at Preston in September 2019 and has signed a contract until 2024, but is currently on loan at Blackburn Rovers, while forward Lewis Fiorini is on loan at Dutch second tier side NAC Breda, where he has made 20 appearances, scoring twice.
Four players have opted to remain in the Youth set up at City, including their skipper that night at the Everyone Active Stadium, Rowan McDonald.
Joe Hodge is a Republic of Ireland Youth international and won the Scholar of the Year award in 2019/20, which earned him a professional contract, while Ben Knight has been a regular in City’s Premier League 2 side and James Trafford - who was the substitute goalkeeper - is now a regular in the City under-21 side, trains with the first-team squad and was on the bench for the Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Old Trafford, wearing shirt number 85.
Six players have chosen to continue their professional careers elsewhere, with Jayden Braff moving to Holland on a permanent deal with PSV Eindhoven, although he has subsequently been loaned to Italian side Udinese who have an option to purchase.
Defender Nathanael Ogbeta made two appearances for City's under-21s in the EFL Trophy, but in January signed for Shrewsbury Town on an 18-month deal, making his debut in a 2-0 win over Peterborough.
D’Margio Wright-Phillips, the son of Shaun and grandson of Ian, signed for Stoke City in February 2021.
City players who were on the bench at Clevedon who have since moved on include defender Fisayo Dele-Bashirn, who moved to Sheffield Wednesday in July 2020 and has made 11 appearances since his league debut against Bristol City.
Taylor Richards moved to Brighton in September 2019, from where he has been sent out on loan to Doncaster Rovers until the end of the season, while Henri Oganby was on a short-term deal at Burnley last season.
Alex White, manager of the Seasiders under-18 side for the City game and current first-team, remembers the occasion well and said: "It was a very strong group we had there. Most players regrettably drop out of football after finishing with the under-18s, so we as a club can be very proud of the pathways and opportunities we create to enable a high percentage to go on and play first-team football for the Seasiders and elsewhere.
"The City game was a brilliant experience for all of us. It’s just a shame that the current under-18 squad has not been able to show their full potential this season, but hopefully their time will come."