by Jeff King
Do Chester-Le-Street United want to win the Wearside League? Do they want to move up to The Northern League? Do they want to win the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup? Do they want to win every game they play?
The answer to all these questions is obviously yes but there’s a bigger question that underpins everything the Club is trying to do and what it stands for. Do they want to help young players find a pathway to a higher level and hopefully a professional career?
The answer to that one is a HUGE BIG resounding YES and then some! The good news is that in less than two years as a senior Club they have already started following that vision and opening up opportunities.
In the summer of 2021, 18-year-old Harrison Clark signed professional forms with Scottish Premier League side Livingston, a fantastic achievement. He’s already had the opportunity to play at a higher level with Livingston loaning him out to Championship leaders Arbroath.
Harrison was a regular in the Arbroath side pushing for promotion to The Premiership. When his loan ended he returned to his parent club before going back out on loan to runaway Second Division leaders Kelty Hearts.
Harrison was the first of what everyone at Chester-Le-Street United hopes is a continuous conveyor belt of talent spreading far and wide and even close to home. Already there has been a second breakthrough with the highly talented Michael Spellman completing a successful trial period at Sunderland AFC.
A trial period that has seen Spellman sign to play for Sunderland u23s this season and will sign a professional contract on the 1st of June when the transfer window opens. He is ineligible to be named in the first team squad this season due to EFL regulation because he did not sign during the January transfer window.
A mere technical issue as Spellman has done really well during his playing time in the u23s and during training sessions impressing all that have seen him at SAFC. It comes as no surprise to the officials at Chester-Le-Street who always felt he was destined for bigger things.
Spellman who came to Park View Academy as a 16-year-old after helping North Tyneside’s John Spence Academy lift the English Schools u16 Championship and has improved year on year and has attracted a bevy of scouts to United’s games this season.
That in turn could open up even more opportunities for others to follow in Spellman’s footsteps but for now it’s the mercurial midfielder that is celebrating taking the step that so many thought he could make.
United’s Chairman Lewis Pendleton had this to say about the news of Spellman signing a pre-professional contract.
“We are delighted that Michael has signed for SAFC and will have the opportunity next season to progress from their u23s to the senior squad which has to be his target. Michael has developed a lot in the past three years with Park View and Chester-Le-Street United.”
“He is a quiet, unassuming young man. He has worked really hard to get to the position he has and fulfilled his ambition of becoming a professional footballer.”
“Huge credit to everyone who has helped in his development from his boys club through to our programme and especially the coaches, physios, strength and conditioning staff and the management team.”
“We are delighted for Michael and his family and we look forward to following his journey.”
Spellman has even played at the Stadium of Light for the U-23s alongside five players that have seen first-team action this season. That was against Burnley and although Sunderland lost 2 – 0 Spellman almost grabbed his first goal for the Club with a terrific close-range header that was bettered by the Burnley keeper’s save.
It’s fair to say though that first goal is only just around the corner for a talented youngster doing Chester-Le-Street United, his family and most importantly himself proud. Spellman is naturally and obviously delighted to fulfil a dream of becoming a professional footballer.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got offered the contract. I went in with an open mind, to work hard and take in the experience of it all. I originally got offered a trial after scouts had been watching my games.”
“After training with them for a few weeks and playing a couple of matches they called me in and I was offered the contract which I almost immediately signed. I’m honoured that I’m going to be part of such a historic Club and don’t even have to leave the region to fulfil my dream.”
“The training has been really good. At first it took a few sessions to adapt to how they train, very high intensity. But I’m really enjoying it and feel like I’m learning new things already. It’s been easy to fit in as the lads and coaches have all been really welcoming.”
“Now my aim is to keep learning and growing as a player. Keep working hard and see where it takes me.”
Whilst it came as no surprise to almost everyone that has watched Spellman this season that his trial with Sunderland has been successful it does mean he leaves Chester-le-Street with a tinge of sadness.
“I’m definitely sad to be leaving. I’ve made some great friendships with the lads, coaches and all involved with the club. We’ve had some great experiences as a club in such a short time. I’ve learned so much and become a better person as well as a player from my time with United.”
“I would probably say I’ve gained so many friendships, not only with my teammates but the coaching staff. We’ve had some fantastic times. I’d like to say to the players who are still there to always believe in themselves. Set long-and short-term goals and to always work hard giving 100% as you never know who is watching.”
“I wish the lads and all coaching staff the best of luck for the rest of the season and I’ll be at as many of their games as I can supporting them as best I can.”
Terrific words and sentiments from a young man hopefully going places and one that Director of Football at Park View Academy and First Team Head Coach John Gamble was always sure could make the step up.
“Michael has been with us at The Academy for 3 years and has made massive improvements over the time he has been with us. We saw very early his potential and his attitude to get better and improve and now he’s reaped the rewards of those efforts and in particular this season’s performances.”
“He played in our very successful senior team last season as well as this and caught the attention of a number of clubs, Huddersfield, Burnley, Manchester United amongst others. But Sunderland made a big effort to get him in and he has done very well to earn a contract.”
“We, as an Academy and Club, are very proud of what he has achieved and hopefully he’ll go onto bigger things in the future. We wish him well and thank him for his time at The Club.”
Those words from Gamble are echoed, agreed and celebrated from the youth players who looked up to Spellman and can draw inspiration and motivation from his achievements. From the supporters who were regally entertained by his superb abilities.
Coaches, teammates and officials of the Club are also loud in the praises they sing as they watch with pride one of their own making his way into a world he’s craved for so many a day. Let’s hope that this is the start of a career for a very likeable, unassuming but extremely talented young man.
As for Chester-le-Street United? Well, the attitude is a star was born and has moved on. Now is the time for the next star to reach for the sky.