Here at the NPLFA we love to see our students progressing through the academy systems and being involved with the first team. Since the programme started, there have been 59 students that have made their first team debuts. The main promoters from their academy so far have been Mickleover Sports who have progressed 16 students into the first team since the programme started in 2014. The first ever debutant for an NPLFA student was Romulus student Yohan Rutty-Smith. He made his debut in the first round of the NPL Cup back in November 2014 and since then 59 more students have followed in his footsteps and made an appearance for their clubs first team.
This season we have seen 10 students called up to the first team and make an appearance in a competitive game. At the start of the campaign, waiting for a first team debut was like waiting for a bus. It took nearly three months for the first one to happen but on 5th November we had three students make their debut in the same night. First to cause a bang on bonfire night was seventeen-year-old Rhys Moseley, who came on in the 55th minute for Radcliffe in their Lancashire Cup fixture against AFC Darwen. Moseley replaced Ben Wharton who was making his 250th appearance for the club and made an immediate impact, having a shot on target that was well saved by the keeper after being on the pitch for less than two minutes. Radcliffe went on to win the game 1-0. Rhys became the 50th player from the NPL Football Academy to make their first-team debut. Stafford Rangers first year student Ethan Stubbs came on in the 53rd minute of Stafford’s 4-0 victory over Brocton in the Walsall Senior Cup that night, as well as Mickleover Sports’ Josh Satchwell, who came on as a 74th-minute substitute, replacing Durrell Berry. The seventeen-year-olds appearance came in a 2-4 defeat to Long Eaton United in the DCFA Senior Challenge cup.
Next up to make their debut from the NPLFA was Widnes student Amir Hajri. A short time before making his first team debut, Hajri’s academy coach, Craig Davies was appointed as Widnes first team coach and made it clear that there would be opportunities for his academy side to progress into his first team. The following week, Hajri and fellow Widnes student Matthew Jefferson signed first team forms, as well as Hajri making his first team debut. Hajri was named on the bench for Widnes’s Northern Division One North West home fixture against Brighouse Town and replaced Fisnik Hajdari in the 77th minute to make his senior debut on December 14th and become the 53rd student from the NPLFA to do so.
January was a busy month for first team debutants in the NPLFA as we saw five separate students make the step up to the first team. The first to do so in January and the 54th player to make their first team debut was Brighouse Town goalkeeper Jamie White. He became just the third ever shot stopper to graduate from the NPL football academy to the first team and also the only Brighouse Town student to play for the first team so far. He was named on the bench for Towns Integro Sports Cup match up but was called up to the starting line-up following an injury to Jordan Porter in the warm up.
On the same evening, Mickleover Sports gave their second debut of the season when Ben Lewin was named on the bench for their Integro Cup tie against Buxton. Lewin was called upon in the 72nd minute when he replaced fellow NPLFA student Josh Satchwell and became the 55th NPLFA student to make his first team debut.
On the 18th January, NPLFA new boys Skelmersdale United made Gerrard Traynor their first ever graduate from the academy side to the first team and the 56th NPLFA student to do so. He was on the bench for Skems’ North West Counties Football League game against Squires Gate and was brought on by the manager in the 71st minute.
Ossett United rounded off the January haul of debuts on the 21st when they called up four NPLFA students to the bench for a West Riding County Cup fixture against Garforth Town. Carl Clarkson and Aiden Croft were the ones to make their debut on the night, becoming the 57th and 58th students to do so. This is the first time two students have made their first team debut in the same game since Jack Thatcher and Marcus Calderone did for Mickleover Sports on 24th April 2019.
Despite being an unused substitute on the 21st January, Tyler Walker didn’t have to wait long for his full debut. On the 4th February, Walker was again named on the bench for Ossett United’s West Ridings County Cup game against Thackley AFC. He was subbed on in the second half to become the 59th NPLFA student to make their debut.
Most recently to make their first team debut was Matthew Jefferson from Widnes. He became the landmark 60th NPLFA student to make their first team debut and he did so in a North West Division One league fixture against Pickering Town.
We are immensely proud of all the students that have made their first team debut and are delighted to have 11 debuts already this season. It’s amazing to see the students hard work being recognised, not just by the academy coaches but also by their first team managers and we hope to see the flow of debutants continue this season.