Andrew Boyce, Steve Holmes, Anthony Elding, Jonny Margetts, John Schofield and Luke Waterfall.
Could you tell me what they all have in common? Before making a strong career in the Football League, or impressing with the Imps, they all played for Gainsborough Trinity. Perhaps now with the news that Imps professional development phase lead Tom Shaw is the new head coach at the Northolme, that list will grow.
On the face of it, yesterday’s appointment does seem a little odd to some fans. Surely, the coach and developing the young players is a full-time job and it feels a little like that area is suddenly weakened? I doubt that will be the case, both Jez George and Liam Scully have been involved in discussions over Tom, and if I know those two, then this will definitely be the best thing for the club, and for Tom.
Firstly, a bit about Tom. I’ve forgiven him for once scoring the winner against us playing for Cambridge, a game that left us teetering on the brink of relegation at the time. Since then, he played for Chester, Kidderminster and Alfreton, scoring in the 5-2 win we registered against Chester in 2016/17. He’s a member of the one appearance club, having come on for the first team under the Cowleys, but he has since been completely focused on developing our young talent. Every time I speak to people at the club they talk highly of him as a coach and a person, as do the young players who have worked closely with him. It seems he is a focused and knowledgeable individual who has a bright career in the game.
Of course, that career must also show progression and managing Gainsborough Trinity is a job that can open doors. If he were to find success with the Holy Blues and take them back to the National League North, or maybe even the National League itself, he would swiftly become hot property. Remember, managers like Martin O’Neill, Jim Smith and Howard Wilkinson all started out in the Lincolnshire non-league scene, and this is a huge opportunity for Tom to make a name for himself as a coach. He is named as ‘head coach’, which I guess is a little different to a manager, although I will easily slip into calling him as such. After all, if they lose, it is him the fans will want sacked, so he’s the manager in my eyes!
How will this benefit Lincoln? I see it as a potential for creating a feeder club of sorts. That won’t be how it is labelled, the mere thought of such a thing is abhorrent and would rob a club with a long and proud tradition of their own identity, but this new found relationship is sure to see some of our young players move to the Northolme. Gainsborough’s ground is just 13 miles from the EPC, whilst Sincil Bank is seven, so logistically this makes great sense. If we are to loan young players to Gainsborough, not only will they get senior football, but they can remain based at the EPC and still benefit from Tom’s training through the week. One would imagine he’ll take sessions at Lincoln and Gainsborough, so there will be plenty of continuity.
We will know the welfare of our young players is paramount. It’s been disappointing to see Jordan Adebayo-Smith and Joan Luque head out on loan in recent years and get no game time, but it sounds to me as if the Gainsborough business model is going to rely a little more on loans and youth.
“Tom is an extremely bright and talented young coach, highly rated by Lincoln City and within professional football,” said their statement. “He will use all the contacts that he has developed through his various roles in football, to build a new young squad within a vastly reduced playing budget due to the financial pressures brought on by the pandemic.”
That, in itself, is enough to suggest some of our young players will get loan spells at the Northolme. They benefit from having exciting, League One level youth players in their squad, and we get to see some of our talent in proper matches, fighting for three points. I’ve seen calls for Freddie Draper to be in our first team squad recently, something that feels a bit early, but what if he had three months at Gainsborough, with four or five goals to his name? He’s far more likely to step up this way.
I also wonder if Tom heading to Gainsborough will help bridge the gap between our Under 18s and the first team in a way a costly Under 23 side might. Yesterday, Huddersfield B played against the Imps in a friendly (we lost 4-0) and it looked to be a very youthful Lincoln side. Some of those young players, such as Sean Roughan, are surely on the cusp of significant first team involvement, but have not been as close as they might like this season. Yes, regular Under 23 football might have helped, but it is also another stage between our academy and the first team. Instead of making it a three-step process, Tom being at Gainsborough could still make it under 18s to first team squad, just with a smattering of non-league senior football to help soften the transition.
Look, I might be way out here. This move could see Tom working independently of the Imps and drawing from a talent pool away from us, but I doubt that. I think it helps clear a pathway for some of the young players we need to get senior experience, and even those we choose to release. That decision will be made soon and some of the side that played Watford in the FA Youth Cup might well move on. If Tom feels they have talent, but not League One talent, then I could see him taking them to Gainsborough and helping build them back up as players there.
At the very least, I do expect to see the likes of Hayden Cann getting a short spell up the A15 (and then along the A157) next season, to help their development and to help get the Holy Blues back into the National League North. I know one thing; I just got a new ‘second’ team to support, and one I might even go and watch a bit if I get the chance, especially if a few of our exciting young stars of the future get some game time.
Schofield, Waterfall and Holmes all featured for Trinity and ended up (in some people’s eyes) as firm Imps favourites. Perhaps Tom Shaw taking the Head Coach role at the Northolme means that lurking somewhere in our Under 18s side is another young player about to make a name for himself in exactly the same way.