The news that Colchester United could enter a newly-formed under-21 league next season is a welcome development.
Over recent years, U’s managers have commented on how detrimental the absence of a competitive reserve league has been.
With very few fixtures available in a much-reduced Football Combination these days, some of the U’s promising youngsters have been deprived match action at a senior level when they need it most.
And it is not only their younger players who are affected.
In years gone by, a thriving reserve-team league has been effective in helping clubs give some of their senior players valuable match time when they need it most, such as when they are coming back
from injury and need to build their fitness up.
Although Colchester have tried hard to organised behind-closed-doors friendly as often as possible in order to compensate for the absence of reserve-team games, there has still not been enough
football to be played, outside of first-team level.
That is why a new under-21 league would be a valuable asset to clubs such as the U’s, who are aiming to bring through numerous talented youngsters in the coming years.
With Colchester closing in on achieving Category Two status for next season as part of the Elite Player Performance Programme, they will be able to play at a high standard.
That would help give U’s players emerging through their youth system such as young professionals Alex Gilbey, Freddie Ladapo and Jordan Sanderson plenty of crucial game-time, something they do not
really get enough of at present.
In addition, the under-21 league, which still needs to be finalised, is likely to permit clubs to field a set number of over-age players in games, something that would also be beneficial to
Colchester manager John Ward is understandably keen to see the league ratified so that in a few years’ time, the club’s players might be better prepared for the demands of senior football.
While training and coaching is undeniably important, it is also key that they receive an adequate amount of game-time, something that many argue that the current reserve system in this country does
not currently provide.