TAUNTON Town Football Club has joined forces with Bishops Lydeard AFC, Bridgwater & Taunton College (BTC) and University Centre Somerset to create a 'Player Pathway' for young footballers in the Taunton area, running from the age of four through to young adult.

The new pathway structure, which will be implemented from the start of the 2021/22 season, will build on the current arrangement which sees youngsters progress from Taunton Youth Football Club to BTC, with the additional link of Bishops Lydeard - which has its men's 1st XI playing in Division 1 of the Western League (Step 6 of the National League System).

The ultimate end point of the pathway is for local players to progress into Taunton Town's 1st XI, which is currently at Southern League Premier South level (Step 3).

Taunton Youth FC Community Trust chairman Steve Willis commented: "We have long recognised that we needed to fill a gap, both in terms of our offering and for those players who might, for example, choose an apprenticeship option rather than continuing with formal education after Year 11.

"As far as we are concerned, this arrangement ticks all of the boxes.”

The pathway begins with Taunton Youth FC Juniors, which caters for young players from the age of four up to age 11, at which point they would move on to Taunton Youth FC, and competition in the Junior Premier League.

At the age of 16, players will now have three choices should they want to continue with their football: development with BTC, Taunton Town's education partner; playing for Bishops Lydeard Under-18s; or playing for a Taunton Youth FC Under-18 side which will be taking part in the Somerset FA U18 League on Sunday afternoons.

The final steps in the pathway allow players to carry on with their educational and footballing development at University Centre Somerset, while also being able to link up with Bishops Lydeard's 1st XI and Reserves, and then move into the Taunton Town 1st XI squad.

Taunton's head of football Rob Dray said: “The new link with Bishops Lydeard, alongside our existing partnership with BTC, can only be a good pathway for young players in the Taunton area.

"As we continue our progression, the best players in the area will be key as we aim to drive the standard higher in and around the town.

"The opportunities that will open up can only be a positive and we look forward to these players coming through.”

Taunton Town chairman Kevin Sturmey added: “We have recognised for many years that 16-21 is an age group where the drop-out from football is alarming.

"Our Partnership with BTC/UCS has helped bridge this gap over the last four years but of course it isn’t a 'one size fits all'.

"While BTC is still our recommended pathway for education/elite football, we also feel we have needed an enhanced pathway to still give opportunities to play youth football and progress into adult football.

"Not every potential player will go to college, and some will go into an apprenticeship or start work.

"This covers all bases at the most complicated age group of 16-18, then 18-21.

"Players who develop later can still find their way to the pinnacle by playing in any of the teams available and also sample adult football with Bishops Lydeard, who have had a great set-up for many years now and it will also add another age group who may choose to go through the elite football Pathway with BTC, so this opens up more doors for the college.”