Ben Kosky wrote the following article which appeared in the ‘Kilburn Times’ a few days ago. Good luck to Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham – Steve Russell
Remember the days when the youth set-up at QPR churned out first-team players at a regular rate ? So do Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham. No one could accuse Gallen – the newly appointed Youth Development Manager – or Bircham, a former Rangers captain and now back at the club as Gallen’s assistant, of lacking hooped credentials. The pair are determined to re-charge the conveyor belt that once spawned Gerry Francis, Clive Allen and Steve’s brother Kevin – but, since Richard Langley broke through 11 years ago, has drawn a shocking blank.
Gallen, who follows in the footsteps of his older brother, Joe, by taking charge of the R’s Centre of Excellence, is confident of turning that slide around in time. However, any chance of regaining the Academy status QPR surrendered as they hurtled towards administration at the beginning of the decade may rest, he believes, on the fortunes of the first team. “In the last three seasons, our under-18s have finished first or second in the league and reached a Cup Final last year, so what we’re producing on the pitch is not bad,” Gallen reflected.” We might think ‘we’ve cracked it’, but we haven’t – we’re not playing Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea. We’ve only won one FA Youth Cup game in the last 10 years and that’s disgraceful.”
“No-one has told me officially – it’s my opinion that we will be an Academy when we get promoted, because it’s going to cost a lot of money. If you’re an Academy, you get no funding and I believe the cost would be between £800,000 and £1m a year to fulfil the criteria. At the moment, getting promoted is the main focus of the people upstairs and I understand that. But when we both get our feet under the table, I will go in and say, ‘this is what I feel we need to do as a club’. If we’re up amongst it this season, I think the Manager would be in a better position to start pushing for that. He and John Gorman have been very complimentary about the young players – not only the way they play, but their behaviour and discipline as well, which is important to me.”
Gallen estimates that the annual cost of running the Centre of Excellence comes to around £600,000 with approximately half of that funded by the Football League. But, although upgrading to Academy status might have to go on the back burner, Gallen is adamant that the number of scouts and Development Centres at his disposal must increase now. “Last year we had no Development Centres, now we’ve got two going (at Linford Christie Stadium/Westway Sports Centre and Brunel University) and I hope we’ll have four by the end of the season,” he said. “But Tottenham have eight to ten, so we’re miles behind and we want to start clawing it back. Can you believe that Charlton have a Development Centre in Kilburn ? I don’t like that one bit.”
Gallen – who grew up in Acton, captained QPR’s youth team, but was released after a series of injuries and joined Doncaster before a spell in the Far East and then non-league football. After completing his coaching badges, he began working with QPR’s under-10 side – which included goalkeeper Jake Cole –and has since coached at every level up to the under-16s. But he stressed: “When I was the under-10 coach, I didn’t have a say in what was going on higher up. This is the first time I’ve been in a position to have any influence. I’m really pleased to have Birchy – his excitement has gone into overdrive – and I want him to embrace the schoolboy section, as well as managing the under-16 team. It’s so important to get the foundations right for the seven, eight and nine-year-olds, which sounds unbelievably young – but if we don’t, Chelsea will, Watford will and Fulham will.”
There are other positive side-effects of recruiting Bircham, the lifelong Rangers fan who wore his colours with pride before, during and after his five years as a player at Loftus Road. The fiery midfielder spent only two seasons away from the club, during which he played for Yeovil, quit due to a persistent ankle injury and began studying for the coaching licence he is due to complete early next year. “Having Birchy is helping to sell the club to youngsters because he’s just stopped playing,” Gallen added. “The other day some of them started singing the song about when he used to have blue hair. I was surprised they knew it, but no one remembers me as a player, so it’s really helpful – and Birchy loves it of course.”