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We’re EFL club where Robbie Williams is president, but now we want to be famous for another reason

PORT VALE are famous for being supported by singer Robbie Williams who is their club president.

But Williams – whose hits included Kids – will be thrilled that his League One side are fast becoming known in football for developing some top young England talent.

The nine academy players at Port Vale who have played first-team football this term

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The nine academy players at Port Vale who have played first-team football this term
Singer Robbie Williams is the club president at Port Vale

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Singer Robbie Williams is the club president at Port Vale
Baylee Dipepa scored twice on his England U17s debut against Northern Ireland

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Baylee Dipepa scored twice on his England U17s debut against Northern Ireland

Just ask rookie striker Baylee Dipepa, who on Wednesday scored twice on his Young Lions debut for the under-17s against Northern Ireland at St George’s Park.

Or Wesley Jose who has been part of the England U15s emerging talent camp.

The Valiants have also in the past year received compensation packages from Newcastle for 14-year-old wonder kid Michael Mills and Aston Villa for under-15s player Freddie Lawrie – as well as 18-year-old striker Tommy McDermott joining Burnley.

And the club have so far this season given minutes in senior football to TEN academy products, including the now-departed McDermott … while five of them have made their EFL debuts.

This season Vale are closing in on an incredible FIFTY League One appearances for academy products.

That is not to mention Vale have been entrusted to help England Under-20s duo Dan Gore and Alfie Devine, both 19, develop in the first team on loan from Manchester United and Tottenham respectively.

And Oliver Arblaster spent the first half of this season at Vale and has since broken into the Sheffield United team in the Premier League.

This blossoming of talent are the fruits of a match made in heaven between club owner Carol Shanahan OBE and her family, the people of Burslem and academy director Will Ryder and his staff.

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Oliver Arblaster is now playing Premier League football for Sheffield United after spending the first half of the season on loan at Port Vale

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Oliver Arblaster is now playing Premier League football for Sheffield United after spending the first half of the season on loan at Port Vale

Shanahan fell in love with Port Vale after the family business – fintech company Synectics Solutions – moved next door to their stadium in 2015 and she went to a match.

Her son Patrick told SunSport: “She moved the business along with 350 staff here from Newcastle-under-Lyme.

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“The locals thanked our family for coming to Burslem because they had only been used to people leaving for 20 years.

“Suddenly a high street that had the lowest percentage of shops in the UK started to get life into it because staff were going into the town during lunch breaks.

“We were sent gifts and received so much goodwill. Mum was moved by how much people in a deprived area cared about their community yet no-one was helping them. 

Mum was moved by how much people in a deprived area cared about their community yet no-one was helping them.”

PATRICK SHANAHAN, Port Vale director of strategy

“She recognised Port Vale was at the centre of it so went to a game to learn more.

“I was living in Manchester then and remember calling her. There was the loud noise of lots of people and she said, ‘I’m on a coach with the Vale fans … we’re off to Exeter!”

Shanahan eventually bought the club from unpopular ex-owner Norman Smurthwaite for a hugely-inflated £5million five years ago – a figure she likened to paying a ransom for a loved one held hostage but “someone had to pay it.”

Carol Shanahan OBE fell in love with Port Vale that so much she bought the club

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Carol Shanahan OBE fell in love with Port Vale that so much she bought the club
Will Ryder has worked wonders in charge of Port Vale's academy

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Will Ryder has worked wonders in charge of Port Vale’s academy

Since Vale became free of their captor, her family have put people at the front and centre of the club’s vision. 

They plan to leave a lasting legacy in Burslem – making Vale a welcoming club where local people can go, aspire to better themselves and learn good life skills and values.

And delivering on that vision with flying colours has been Ryder, who took charge of the academy two-and-a-half years ago. 

He said: “We’ve now arrived at a sweet spot where we’re renowned across England as a centre for producing players and good people as well. That sits at the heart of everything we do.

“It’s centred on individual development but within a team structure. There’s opportunity here because of a clear pathway into the first team – and it’s then up to the young players to take that chance.

“Everyone who comes through this door is on their own journey and we’re here to make sure we help every person with their own needs regardless of what level they’re at. 

“When a player ends his journey at Port Vale, whether it’s to go to another professional club, play semi-pro or do something else entirely, we want them to look back fondly at their time here.

“Also, crucially, we want them to remain loving the game because less than one percent of academy kids go on to become pros.

Back, from left: Baylee Dipepa, Patrick Shanahan, Will Ryder, Carol Shanahan, Dave Flitcroft (director of football), Jack Shorrock, James Plant. Bottom, from left: Rhys Walters, Andrew Buah, Logan Cousins, Liam Brazier, Dan Mahaffy, Ben Lomax

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Back, from left: Baylee Dipepa, Patrick Shanahan, Will Ryder, Carol Shanahan, Dave Flitcroft (director of football), Jack Shorrock, James Plant. Bottom, from left: Rhys Walters, Andrew Buah, Logan Cousins, Liam Brazier, Dan Mahaffy, Ben Lomax

VALE’S SUPER KIDS

Here are the academy products who have played in the first team this season.

RHYS WALTERS, 18: Midfielder

JACK SHORROCK, 16: Defender

JAMES PLANT, 19: Winger

TOMMY McDERMOTT, 18: Midfielder *now at Burnley

DAN MAHAFFY, 18: Midfielder

BEN LOMAX, 18: Defender

BAYLEE DIEPA, 17: Forward

LOGAN COUSINS, 17: Midfielder

ANDREW BUAH, 17: Forward

LIAM BRAZIER, 17: Midfielder

“And, because this sport is brutally competitive, we make sure we support people when they’re not playing.

“Sometimes that’s putting an arm around them but also being honest about where they are.

“One of our players was around the first team but wasn’t breaking into the side and I had a frank conversation with him and one of his parents about where he was falling short.

“When he made his debut that parent couldn’t thank me enough because at that point they needed that honest chat.”

Unlike at some pro clubs, the Valiants like players’ families to be at the centre of their development. One scholar for example was treated to some boardroom hospitality at a recent game along with his family.

Baylee Dipepa has had a breakthrough year for club and country

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Baylee Dipepa has had a breakthrough year for club and country

As Ryder said: “It’s important to bring people in, rather than shut them out. Families can play a massive part in the journey and I’ve seen many times in football where they’ve been pushed out.”

Patrick Shanahan, who is the club’s chief strategy officer, added: “Will has been massive in helping us deliver on our family’s vision. We know parents are sending THEIR son to our academy, THEIR boy. 

“And he’s giving away a part of his childhood to be developed and push himself to get into the professional game.

“That deserves huge respect – so it’s important to care about their son as a human being. And that’s what we do.”

You don’t need an endless pit of money to create something special. It’s about maximising what you’ve got to the best to allow you to get the best gains.”

WILL RYDER, Port Vale academy director

The club takes care of helping players develop life skills. Their under-18s went to a local fire station to improve leadership qualities while under-nines are encouraged to stand in front of their peers to talk through their clips.

Ryder added: “The more they do that at a younger age, the more natural and comfortable it becomes.”

The business model relies on good recruitment and either receiving “training compensation fees” when players get taken by Category One academies or selling players at the right price when they are pro.

The Shanahans have invested funds into the academy so over time it can pay for itself. The club are playing catch-up in that department as it had not enjoyed much outlay during the past quarter of a century,

But things are now taking off. 

Ryder added: “You don’t need an endless pit of money to create something special. It’s about maximising what you’ve got to the best to allow you to get the best gains.”

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