It can be argued that one of the best ways a young footballer can learn is through the experience of their coach and at Matlock Town, the Development Manager has experienced it all.
Justin Tellus quickly experienced a high standard of football from a young age, playing and captaining London School Boys at Fulham’s Craven Cottage. He then went on to feature in various youth teams including Stoke City before moving to Malta, in order to play in the Maltese Premier League.
During his time in Malta, Tellus played for two of the country’s top clubs, Birkirkara and Valletta. Being managed by Arsenal Legend, Alan Sunderland and playing in Europe’s top competitions, the UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League has only helped the Maltese football legend’s knowledge of the game.
In three years, Tellus has already helped guide Matlock’s youth academy side to seven major youth titles. This success can also be seen in the club’s business with Max Hunt being sold to Derby County after spending two years coming through the Club’s Development Scouting System. A further eight players have gone on to play in Non-League football as well as six featuring in the Matlock first team.
As an academy, the club receives very limited funding in comparison to those in the Football League or in the CAT system, being in the CAT system allows clubs to get FA and Premier League Funding.
There are four Category Systems with the FA that Matlock Town are not a part of. However, this has not prevented the club from receiving an official invite to take part in the Shanghai International Youth Tournament to represent England. The invitation has been based on the academy’s achievements in the last 18 months.
Development Manager, Justin Tellus has sat down for an exclusive Q&A with ElWriteBack.
How does an academy with so much success run on such a limited budget?
JT: It’s a question which has been asked by many in the game on a professional and semi-professional level over the last few months. We have been part of a documentary filmed by a Southern European TV Station at our club last month. My answer to them was our commitment to our structured five-year plan, that we are currently starting our fourth year. This has included many key aspects including setting the foundations, building the connectivity and finding the right young and motivated staff who have their own inspirations to achieve as well as they can in the game.
How does the development side get funding?
JT: We are not classified as a category academy within the four Levels which allows clubs to be supported by the Football League and Premier League. So, our funding currently comes from an education provider linked with the Northern Premier League. Which means we are working on a small fraction of what a category club three or four would have, that makes our task all the more difficult compared to separate academy’s we are competing with. We do look for community sponsorship as well as the sale of players which both contribute to the small yearly budget we work too.
Is this something you see regularly in Non-League?
JT: There are some less ambitious clubs that sit within this status and don’t have the drive or objective to move forward as a club, which is common. But there are some really forward-thinking Non-League clubs like Hyde United who played a level below Matlock Town FC last season. They have an Academy that is a very professional set up, it is something I am hugely impressed with and they are a credit to the Non-League clubs at this level.
How can you grow as an academy from this season’s success?
JT: We have progressed so much in the last three years, we have now got to a stage where we are faced with more internal and external challenges than what we faced in the early stages. This is due to our progression that has brought huge success including seven major titles and the transfer of 18-year-old, Max Hunt to Derby County FC this season to become the first Matlock Town FC product to be sold in 140 years. It’s these challenges on many levels we have to overcome in order to continue to grow and we as a Development Sector all have the drive and the spirit to face these challenges and help our club continue to grow to the benefit of the club itself, supporters, and more importantly the ever-growing community of Matlock and the Derbyshire Dales.
How does the club’s board play a part in the academy?
JT: We have our own development committee who have been overlooking the sector including the Academy over the last three successful years. We are supported by the executive committee and main board within the club who have always tried over the last three years to allow us to move this club forward. We are always looking for support from the board to move forward and the next 18 months of the long-term plan will be crucial. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the board members who have given us the opportunity and support to progress over the last three seasons.
How do you compare yourself with some of the country’s top academy sides such as Spurs and Man City?
JT: We are a world apart from category clubs from a financial perspective but on our limited resources we have been able to adopt an internal system that allows us to compete from a playing perspective with Football League category three and four clubs which is a huge achievement for a small non-league club like Matlock Town FC. The higher category teams like Man City and Spurs as well as Derby County who we have close links with are a shining inspiration to all young players and people within the game. While they are at dizzy heights compared to our club, there is a role for our academy in finding the young talented local players released at a young age by Football League clubs and scouted grassroots players and giving them the foundations to move forward as well as progress to a career in semi or professional football. This has been proven this season within our own club and over the last three years with 12 players moving onto semi-professional football as well as one into professional football with another on the brink of a transfer to another Championship Club.
How have tours abroad helped the academy side on and off the pitch?
JT: They have been very beneficial to expose our young players to the footballing world and to win three euro-sporting titles in three years has proved the foundations and philosophy we have in place from a footballing perspective are giving our young players the tools to progress in the game both at home and abroad. We have been recently invited to represent England at the world-renowned Shanghai Youth Tournament in July, which is a huge achievement for a non-League club. We were chosen due to our success and progression over the last three years within the U.K. The final last year was played in front of over 20,000 supporters, which in itself gives our young players a taste of the professional atmosphere they would need to play in. All is in place and we are just waiting for the FA approval to make history for the club and non-league academies across the country in China this July.
You have had offers from higher profile clubs to take up a position within their technical staff. Why have you decided to stay with Matlock?
JT: It was always as a player and now a development manager an honour to be offered a position by higher ranked professional clubs to join their playing staff or in this case, the technical team. While the approach and decision throughout my footballing career on and off the pitch has always been based on timing and progression generally on professional advice. I took out a lot from football and was lucky to have a good career that took me to many countries and has provided me with many fantastic experiences. So, helping my local club build the foundations to have a stable, structured and progressive development sector to the long-term benefit of the club and community I live in, gives me the satisfaction of putting something back into the great game that gave me so much in my playing days.
When do you plan to move on?
JT: I am happy at my local club and enjoy working with the hard-working people within the development sector who I also try to support from a progression perspective in football as they are still working their way up the football ladder. I have my own work commitments and as long as the club continues to move forward I will continue to face the challenges head on to help this great Non-League club move in the right direction. If there comes a time the club itself does not want to progress forward, I will then cross that bridge when I come to it but will always be a Matlock Town FC supporter as it’s my local team who I will continue support in any way I can.
Will this be abroad or will you remain in England?
JT: I am happy at the moment and have no plans moving forward, but as I always say to the young players at the club, never rule out anything in football as it’s an amazing game that can give people fantastic opportunities both at home and abroad.
Finally, how has success such as players moving to professional clubs helped the academy’s profile?
JT: Hugely, the transfer of 18-year-old, Max Hunt to Derby County FC this season after his two-year spell within our system has helped the club gain both local, national and international exposure. The achievement shows the hard work, dedication and strong internal development system we have set out over the last three years. This historic transfer along with the 12 players progressing into semi-professional football, which is hopefully just the beginning shows the success we have already experienced.
While we already had six players involved in the first team this season, a new first team manager who came through our development sector and a new internally recruited pipeline of players that will be the next batch of candidates to hopefully progress in the game and be part of this club’s progression within the next two-year plan.