PAUL Crarey’s dream of seeing academy rugby league return to Barrow became a reality this week.
Barrow Raiders have formed a partnership with Furness College to put out an under-19s side who will compete in the Premier Division of the RFL College League.
There the level three academy side will face the likes of other college teams from Wigan and Warrington as well as Yorkshire and Humberside.
The Furness Raiders college team hold their first official training session on Monday and are due to begin a series of friendlies in March in the build-up to the season which kicks off in September.
Led by head coach Darren Carter and assisted by Dave High with Dennis Potter as team manager, the 26 hand-picked lads will play all of their home matches at Craven Park.
They will also train at the ground – where Raiders players Nathan Mossop and Ryan Fieldhouse will assist – and at Furness College making use of the 3G pitch
For many of the young players it will be the first step on the ladder to progress into the Barrow Raiders senior squad and even beyond to Super League.
The beauty of the system is that the academy youngsters will be able remain amateur but are linked to a professional club. They will be able to stay with their community clubs and turn out for them at the weekend.
The plan, backed by the Rugby Football League, has come together after almost a year of hard behind the scenes work and the project is a pathway for what will hopefully be a bright future for the players and Barrow Raiders.
Raiders coach Crarey will also assist and will sit on development steering group, along with people like associate director Keith Nutter, and former Raiders lottery manager John Spoor.
The main funding for the academy team will come through the Super Lotto with other parties weighing in to assist.
The are Furness College, the Furness Building Society, the Ambrose public house, Travel the Globe and Knightsbridge Cars.
Raiders launched the Super Lotto Development Programme last year which attracted 140 12 to 16-year-olds and the academy is the next step of progression for players.
The academy is very much Crarey’s baby and without his drive it is doubtful the project would have got under way.
Crarey got the ball rolling and after pitching the plan to RFL Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer, originally from Ulverston, the momentum gathered pace.
The Raiders boss is excited about seeing youngsters develop and was keen to thank the partners who have backed the academy.
Crarey was a major influence behind a previous academy at Craven Park during his first spell as coach at the club from 2005 to 2007, but when he departed so did the set-up.
But he feels the new challenge has longevity, especially with the support it is receiving from businesses.
The partnership is run independently of the Raiders, and cannot be disbanded unless the funding stops. There have been assurances all the money from the Super Lotto will be put into youth development.
“It is a level three academy and we are in conjunction with Furness College so it is really the Furness Raiders college team for under-19s,” said Crarey.
“It will give the kids in the area a choice of staying in education and linking to Barrow Raiders.
“At the moment kids are travelling three or four hours (to other clubs) with a massive financial burden on their parents so we have now given the kids a choice of where they can aspire and play for Barrow and get education, find a job and progress through our club.
“We won’t hold them back if they go to Super League. Ade Gardner is a fine example of somebody who has gone through the system and gone on to play Super League. Liam Harrison could have gone to Super League, but he is a fine example of somebody who has had a great career at Barrow and done well for the club. He had the opportunity to go and decided not to.
“We have given the kids a choice. Now they have got a link with Barrow Raiders and they have got a chance to play in their own age group.”
He added: “It will have no impact on the local clubs because games will be on Wednesday nights, they won’t be classed as professionals and they will be affiliated with the own clubs and play for them on a weekend.
“It is something that has badly been needed in this area for a long time. We have talked about it. We had it before and it was disbanded.
“When Dave Sharp (Raiders chairman) spoke to me when we (coaching team) first took the job we wanted to build the club from the roots up. We have a development programme with 140 on, now we will have an under-19s college team all linked to Barrow Raiders, using the same systems the same programmes.
“We haven’t got a massive financial backer but what we are going to do is work with the community and the community clubs and youth in the area.”
Crarey added one of the reasons for returning as head coach in 2014 was to put something back into the community and he feels with the coaching staff and partners he has discovered the right blend for supporting the academy.
“The people we have brought in are very passionate about rugby league and the area,” he said.
“We approached people that really care and they jumped at the chance. We have a great coaching team with Darren (Carter), Dennis (Porter) and Dave High and great management with Keith Nutter.”
He continued: “It probably all started with a phone call to Ralph Rimmer. We wanted to start a youth thing and I actually rang up Ralph and said we are a little bit different, we are isolated from the other two Cumbrian teams and we can finance and build our own side, there are enough quality kids in the area. He listened and Tony Fretwell, another guy from the RFL, supported us all the way and gave us genuine advice.
“It has been a real team effort to get this far, it has been hard work, a lot of meetings. We have got a lot of great financial partners, we are calling them partners because they are offering us long term support.
“Without these people it wouldn’t have been possible.
“The RFL are setting up some friendlies which will be from March onwards for the team. We have got Liam Harrison as an ambassador for the project, so it is all positive.”
Looking to the future he said: “Hopefully if we get enough players we can set up a reserve team down the track but we don’t want to upset the balance of the local leagues.
“With the launch of this college team it is a giant step for the club.
“When they come out of under-16s the gap between 16s and open age is massive so we have filled the gap. We support the kids, hopefully people will support us.”