On a visit to Hull City last August several of the club’s youth-team players spoke of their admiration for the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nick Powell – young players who had made their name in the cut and thrust of the Football League at Southampton and Crewe before moving on to bigger stages in the form of Arsenal and Premier League Champions Manchester United.
Now almost 10 months on, five of that group can spend their summer holidays dreaming of making their own mark in the top flight.
The self effacing attitudes of Danny Chambers, Ben Clappison, Joe Cracknell, Matty Dixon and Sam Topliss amongst others at the Ideal Standard training ground that day was perhaps down to their own modest realisation of the stage they were at as players – little over 12 months after coming into the industry as 16-year-old school leavers.
Yet next term the quintet will enter the club’s senior ranks after signing their first professional deals.
All five have been on the clubs books for at least eight years and that unity and cohesiveness was evident in their run to the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals and in the North East Youth Alliance where they pipped Doncaster to the title.
“The boys have done well and worked hard to get these deals, but now it’s about moving on to the next level,” said Russell.
“The best advice I could ever give a youngster moving up into the professional game is to just keep your head down and work hard.”
“While we congratulate them on all on the achievement, it’s only the next rung on the ladder.
“Now they’ve got to make the most of their opportunities and make an impression on all the first-team staff.”
“If there’s one thing all the lads have got in common it is an excellent work ethic. Hopefully, that will stand them in all in good stead and we wish them well.”
Joining Chambers, Clappison, Cracknell, Dixon and Topliss in the senior ranks will be Jack Barlow and Paul McElroy, who had the guarantee of professional contracts written into their scholarship agreements when they signed for the Tigers.
The seven youngsters have all gained experience in Stephen Clemence’s second string team and will look forward to being given their chance to shine at that level.
“It’ll be a big step for them, but the fact they’ve all been in that environment before will help,” continued Russell.
“They’ve all spent time working under Stephen Clemence at the training ground and played in plenty of reserve team games.
“That’s given them an understanding of the standards required and what they must do to push on.
“Getting back to the Premier League is fantastic for the club, but means the bar is set even higher. It’ll be a great challenge for them.”