The V9 Academy – Where are the graduates now?

In 2016, Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy created the V9 Academy, a training programme at Manchester City’s state of the art training ground documented on Sky TV. It allowed non-league players the opportunity to progress up the football pyramid with club scouts watching on.

Vardy began his career in non-league and balanced playing with a job in a factory. In this article, I will be looking at some of the graduates from the V9 Academy and where they are plying their trade now.

Firstly, we have the 31-year-old striker Danny Newton who made a name for himself while at National League North side Tamworth. After various spells at non-league clubs, he joined Tamworth for the 2015/16 season and despite a slow start, Newton found his goalscoring form and flourished at The Lamb Ground.

While being a fan favourite, he spent two seasons there before joining up with the V9 Academy where he was noticed by several Football League clubs and joined League Two team Stevenage that summer. Newton regularly played for them and was the club’s top goalscorer in his maiden season but injuries curtailed his stay there.

In the summer, he was released and joined National League team, Solihull Moors, on a free transfer.

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Alex Penny was another successful graduate as shown when, with his current club Kidderminster Harriers, the defender scored the opening goal in their FA Cup fourth round tie against West Ham. A composed finish was unfortunately not enough as the Hammers managed to scrape a narrow 2-1 win.

Penny began his career with Hull City and after three non-league clubs, he joined Nuneaton Town where after he soon trialled for the V9 Academy. He had many suitors after that but he opted to join then League One side Peterborough United on a three-year deal, however, Penny only stayed for one season.

Moves to Scottish side Hamilton Academical and Boston United followed before joining Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North in 2020.

Blair Turgott had a big future ahead of him when he was at West Ham United’s academy. He joined the East London side aged eight but only went on to make one appearance for the first team.

Loan moves to four clubs including Colchester United and Bradford City were not a success as Turgott had did not play often. A move to Coventry City transpired after his release from West Ham in 2015 but a lack of game time was his problem again however moves to Leyton Orient and Boreham Wood ensured he got a chance to play.

Stevenage was his opportunity to progress up the football pyramid following his trial period at the V9 Academy. He ended up not making a single appearance for Stevenage and since 2019, he has been playing in the Allsvenskan for the Swedish side Östersunds FK.

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Last on this list is tricky winger Ashley Nathaniel-George who grew up in the same place as Raheem Sterling in Brent, North London. He played for the likes of Arsenal, Watford, Wycombe Wanderers and Wealdstone in his youth days before moving to non-league sides Potters Bar Town and Hendon.

The now 26-year-old impressed at Isthmian League Premier Division side Hendon, scoring a total of 13 goals. This goal tally stood out to scouts at the V9 Academy and certainly the ones at Crawley Town who he signed for.

Nathaniel-George then joined Southend United in 2020 where despite playing the majority of the game for the Shrimpers last campaign, he was fairly inconsistent. A month-long loan deal to Ebbsfleet United in February was important for Nathaniel-George as he wasn’t getting sufficient game time at Southend.

In summary, this was a great initiative by Jamie Vardy to set up this academy to give non-league players a chance in the Football League. Some have stayed put and had success in Football League whereas some have had to return to non-league football. But do you think there is an efficient pathway to the Football League for players who have part-time jobs elsewhere?

The Author

Jack Patmore

• Media volunteer at Billericay Town • Featured in The Non-League Paper, Essex Echo, The Real EFL/NL, World Football Index and All At Sea Fanzine

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