While ‘if you’re good enough you’re old enough’ is often seen as a cliché in modern football with first team opportunities often limited, at Basford United it is being put into practice.
In their 2-1 defeat to Nottingham Forest Under 23s Basford boss Steve Chettle handed Mackenzie Rooney his first team debut, just a day before the young defender’s 17th birthday.
And it was an occasion he will he never forget, writes Harry Worgan.
“It was a brilliant experience,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that he was going to put me on in the game against Nottingham Forest Under 23s.
“It was just unbelievable. I couldn’t think of anything better.”
Rooney, is a first-year scholar in the club’s academy where they train three days a week as well as playing matches every Wednesday. It is this regular contact with coaches and first team players Josh Law and Callum Chettle that he feels prepared him for the step up to first team level.
He said: “It’s prepared me quite a lot. Especially Josh and Chetts (Callum Chettle) who have worked with me on my one v ones and my heading as a defender. It has done everything that I needed for making the step up.”
First team defender and academy coach Law was full of praise for the youngster and said that he had spoken to him before he came onto the pitch.
“I was really pleased for him,” he said. “It is a really good feeling for the player, me and Chetts as coaches and the academy.
“I had a little chat with him beforehand because the gaffer had given me a heads that he was going to go on.
“I just said to him to play his game. That it would be quicker and stronger but don’t be nervous and go and enjoy the occasion.
“You could see when he went on he sprayed a couple of passes about and got into a one v one situation and did really well. He did exactly how I thought he’d do.
“He’s a good lad and he’s progressing well.”
But Law has now called on Rooney to work harder to make sure he can capitalise on his chance.
He said “He’s got to come back and work even harder. He’s had a taste of it and that’s now got to whet his appetite to really drive on and go again. Myself and Chetts are telling the lads every day that we want to drive standards and let them know what it takes to get into that environment. He’s now got to do that and more.”
It is not just on the football pitch that Rooney is expected to work hard. His work in the classroom is as equally important according to the head of the academy Steve Chettle.
“We’re very pleased with him as staff, myself, Josh and Callum,” he said. “We know what his potential is but he’s got to get his head down and carry on with the work.
“He has to stay humble and get on with his education first. At the end of his two years here he has to leave with the qualification he set out to do. The football in between is a bonus to that but if he can get around the first team more it will be fantastic for him and Basford United.”
The club recently announced their academy trials and Steve Chettle hopes that Rooney’s achievement will show anyone thinking of attending that there is a clear pathway into the first team.
He said: “The boys come into our 16-19’s programme for an education firstly. But productivity to the first team is vital so the kids can see a pathway. Be that’s educational or playing in the first team like Mackenzie, which is a fantastic achievement for himself. It shows that academies do work.”
While Law echoes his boss’ views and wants those currently in the set up or that are thinking of joining it to see that hard work will be rewarded.
“It shows that if you turn up every day, do the right things and do well in games you get rewarded,” he said. “I tell the lads a lot that they are so fortunate every day that the first team manager is here watching and taking part in training. He’s there to be impressed.
“If he sees that they are putting the work in, improving and listening to what we’re telling them they will get the rewards.”
Having experienced the academy for a full season, Rooney had some advice for the next group of players who join the set up.
He said: “I’d say just work hard every time you train and make sure that you’re prepared for everything that the coaches set up.”
The club’s academy trials take place on Monday 17th February 10:30am-1:30pm. Contact Jessmunroe@basfordunitedfc.com to confirm your place or for more information.