McNicholl returns as Rangers seek ‘50-man’ squad

THE new head of youth development at Berwick Rangers has reinforced Ian Little’s view that moving the club’s training operation to Edinburgh to link-up with Salveson Boys Club could give the first-team manager as many as 50 players to pick from.

Former Coldstream boss Mark Lamb, who will manage Berwick’s reserve team in the East of Scotland First Division and oversee the under-19 side in the East Region of the SFL Youth Division, has already made an impact by signing former Berwick skipper Grant McNicoll to captain the reserves.

He has also appointed former Spartans defender Jim Rae as his assistant and Kevin Martin as under-19s manager.

The process of building a pool of youngsters for the reserves and under-19s who have the potential to push for a place in the first-team squad is also well under way.

Only three players from last season’s reserves squad and four from the under-19s are being kept on, but new players are being brought in by the truckload. Five Alloa Athletic youngsters and seven of Haddington Athletic Under-17s have joined Berwick’s under-19 squad.

“We have brought in young players with plenty of pace and potential, but they lack experience at senior level,” said Lamb. “My job is to find and develop players who Ian Little can then consider for the first-team.”

He added: “Grant McNicholl knows Berwick well and his experience will be important for such a young squad. But it will be a hard season for the young lads at East of Scotland League level.”

He plans to add one more experienced player to a reserve squad that will be made up predominantly of players aged between 17 and 22.

Lamb, who left Lothain Thistle Hutchison Vale after less than three months in charge last season ans has previously managed Peebles Rovers, Spartans Juniors and Coldstream, is exciting about the opportunity to work with younger players.

“I needed to take some time out after leaving Lothian and wanted something that would be interesting before getting involved again,” he explained. “I’m excited about the opportunity to work with youngsters who have potential and hopefully develop them for senior football in the SFL. I have a good working relationship with Yano (Ian Little) and his assistant Robbie Horn and I will do everything I can to help them.”

Little is confident moving the training base for the first team, reserves and under-19s from Meadowmill, near Prestonpans to Forrester High School near the Gyle on the western outskirts of Edinburgh will help foster a pathway for youth players through to the first team.

Last season Berwick’s three teams ended up training at three different locations, a situation the club is keen to avoid. Under the new arrangement, Berwick’s three teams will train alongside Salvesen youth teams, while the head of youth at the boys club will double up as Berwick under-19s assistant manager under Kevin Martin.

“It’s vital that Robbie Horn and I get to see the reserves and youth team at least once each week,” said Little. “If we do this well, we could have a pool of over 50 players to choose from each week.”

Lamb has confirmed that Michael Robinson, the only player from Berwick who was still at the club as last season ended, is in his plans for the reserves.

But the move to the west side of Edinburgh rules out the prospect of any more local players joining Berwick. “We need to look further afield than the Borders because there are more players to chose from in the Edinburgh area,” Lamb added.

Although Salvesen have produced several players who have gone on to represent Scotland, the chance to tie up with an SFL club proved an attractive proposition.

John Bell, Berwick Rangers’ director for youth development, explained: “In the last two seasons we’ve fielded teams in the SFL U-17 and U-19 Leagues. It’s been tough, especially last year when we lost two excellent coaches through illness and relocation, but the progress of players such as Ben Miller into the first team demonstrates that it can have its rewards.

“For 2012/13, there is no external financial support available to us as we’re quite far away from meeting the demands of the new SFA Youth Academy, and both the SFA and SFL youth initiatives require that we have SFA level 4 coaches in place.

“The connection with Salvesen has been developed over recent months and has a mutual benefit to both organisations”.