It has been a tough time for everybody involved with South Shields FC, including the Academy.
After a stellar beginning to the season for our youth side, both training and games have been to a minimum with next to nothing happening at either 1st Cloud Arena or the Washington Hub since before Christmas.
The Academy attracts some of the most talented young footballers in the North East, and recently Ciaran Lines spoke to three of these players: Jack Watson from Wallsend, Ben Errington from Sunderland and Will Morris from Prudhoe.
With no training happening on the field, running challenges have been set to get the best out of the players during lockdown.
‘Endurance week’ came first, with the challenge being to run the most amount of kilometres within a seven-day period.
Under-17 player Ben Fell won this, with a distance of 53km. For this week, each player was put into a team of their age group to compete against their team-mates of different ages. Ben Errington explained that this “really helped to keep competitiveness alive” among the squad.
The coaches then set the test of completing the fastest 1km run. Will Morris won this, and as a runner myself, I was blown away by his winning time of just two minutes and 46 seconds. I don’t think I need to describe how fast this actually is.
Next came ‘grit week’, ultimately the hardest of the lot.
There were seven different challenges throughout the week, each getting more difficult as they progressed through the days.
If a player failed to complete a challenge they were eliminated, with the idea being that the last man standing on Sunday would win.
There was a three-way tie in the Shields squad, with all three of the players we spoke to going through to a knockout day.
On this day, each player was given two runs to get as much elevation gain as possible overall.
Jack Watson won this by doing reps of the hill leading up to Tynemouth Priory, which from experience I can confirm is a very steep climb to run up once, never mind over and over again.
With Ben and Will nearing the end of their time in the Shields academy, both are looking to the future.
Ben is aiming to secure for a contract with the first-team but plans to go to stay local and attend Newcastle University to study marketing.
Will, meanwhile, is fielding scholarship offers from American universities to play football across the pond. He then hopes to return to the North East and continue to play football, possibly in the Northern League.
Jack is part of Shields’ Under-17s side within the Academy, and is confident the side can progress in the coming years.
He said: “I think we just take it game by game and hope to progress through the rounds of the FA Youth Cup again and try and go further than we have done previously.”
After Shields’ excellent run to the third round of the competition in 2019-20, Ben and Will also believe the squad can do well in it and are capable of going very far.
In the meantime, we can just hope that everything will be back to normal soon. All are missing the presence of supporters at matches, and the frustration this also provides for players on the field can only be imagined.