Women's Academy Technical Director Tom Cruse reflects on a successful season for Charlton’s RTC, ETC, as well as an outstanding Cup campaign for the U21s.
Cruse was appointed RTC Technical Director last June, having previously worked in the academy setup since January 2018, including a role as an assistant to Kim Dixson in the U21s' unbeaten 2021/22 FA Women's National League Reserve South Central Division campaign.
“I think the word that springs to mind is growth, if we start at our development, our ETC, that was our first kind of year running it. We run a six-week programme, lasting for 30 weeks and we saw over 250 girls come into our environment, not all successful, but it allowed them to have a look at us and for us to have a look at them and that’s what the ETC initiative is it is talent identification so that was really pleasing and successful.
"Our RTC, U12s, U14's and U16s all had individual campaigns and seasons, 12s really successful. A lot of them were new to the RTC environment but I don’t think they can speak any higher of that and that’s a credit to the staff involved. 14s and 16s had ups and downs like most age groups but the highlights were obviously the 16s’ cup run, getting to the final and everything that a cup final brings with it, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on the day but a fantastic moment and memory for everyone involved."
The U21s enjoyed success under Cruse this season, securing the Reposs Isthmian Women's Cup, having beaten Billericay Town 5-4 on penalties after a hectic 2-2 draw. The U16s also fulfilled a successful cup campaign, reaching the final and unfortunately losing 3-1 to Sunderland in the FA Plate Final.
“Absolutely, even bigger for the players that represented Charlton. I know there was probably a little bit of nerves and noise around the 21s and they won’t be able to handle it. We went into it with a free hit and I thought we were unfortunate to go to penalties on the day, I thought we created enough chances to win it. That sort of game and moments I will look back on in years to come, the highs of equalising then the lows of conceding in the last minutes, to then equalise again. To win it on penalties was huge.
“You learn more through losing, I know the individuals and players don’t see that right now but fast forward to the season coming up if we get to a cup final we are able to look at that and think what went well and what didn’t and how can we make it better. Those moments will naturally spur players on to be better.
When questioned on the key to success, Cruse identified the clear pathway there is at Charlton within the women’s setup, alongside the success of the men’s academy. Also stating the priority of knowing your players, and building a solid relationship with them in order for them to feel comfortable during their development.
“I think first and foremost recruitment, we’re in a really good area where there are naturally boys and girls that just love the game. We’ve got people in-house that do spot talent and then it's a case of how you nurture that talent. I am a big believer in understanding the individual first and foremost, allowing them to be themselves and guide them along the way.
I’ve been privy to other environments where they try to get the individual to be something they’re not and that has detrimental effects on the individual. Whereas here, I have seen it through Mary Bashford and Taylor Bell from the female point of view especially, the confidence and freedom they play with. From our ETC’s U10s to the first team, people play football because they enjoy it and for me, that is a big burner that if we keep the enjoyment factor the development will go hand in hand."
Two RTC graduates that have gone on to feature within the first team set up in the previous campaign were Taylor Bell and Mary Bashford, Cruse credited the hard work that the pair have produced across the years in order to make that step and admits that others can take inspiration from their journeys.
“It fills me with excitement and pride, the players have deserved it. They’ve been consistent and players in the group look up to them and see their talent day in and day out. It’s nice that we have a first team which allows the youngsters to have an opportunity, once they do go into the first team environment it is solely on them. It has an effect on outsiders looking in now to say let's have a look at Charlton because there is a pathway in there going through to the first team, as Head Coach I would query how often that’s happening elsewhere.
A major catalyst for the significant growth within women’s football over the last few years has been the success of the national team, Cruse claimed that through the fortune at the international level, there has been a substantial growth in the number of girls coming in and taking part in training camps at Charlton.
“There are so many girls now, we’re running out of space every session, the numbers are huge. They’re coming over now not with Messi on the back, but now Russo on the back which is fantastic, another ex-Charlton player. It’s doing wonders for the game and hopefully, we can have another successful campaign with this World Cup, hopefully, a consistent flow of numbers running through.
Cruse also commented on the club recently being awarded a new PGA Licence for the upcoming season. The Professional Game Academy Licence has been awarded to 20 clubs in the WSL and the Women’s Championship and will help secure the club’s already successful youth levels and excel them to the next stage.
“PGA status now puts us in the same pool and bracket as the WSL clubs, those players that may now have been successful in part of their PGA structure can look at Charlton and think let’s try there. Again the pathway that we have and have a history of it puts us in a better light, I’m looking forward to this year because I’m looking forward to the girls developing and challenging the first team."
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