BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GARY LOCKE insists Raith Rovers’ new youth development programme can ensure a bright future for the Fife club, on and off the pitch – if they can raise the funds to make it a success.
The Stark’s Park outfit are determined to become self-sustainable through a production line of talented kids and have implemented a new under-20s squad this season to act as a pathway between the Fife Elite Academy and the Rovers first-team.
Former Dundee United midfielder Craig Easton is the man charged with bringing through a new generation of Rovers stars, with a handful of youngsters currently on the books in Kirkcaldy.
Locke said: “Bringing through young players has to be the blueprint for the future here. We’ve just started our youth development squad and we’re trying to get that message out there.
“I firmly believe that is the way forward for Raith Rovers, I spoke to the directors about it and they are massive advocates of it too.
“Craig Easton has come in and is doing a fantastic job with the lads there but, like anything, it requires finances and we need help.
“At the Hall of Fame dinner earlier this month there was a great response and if anyone can help, in terms of sponsorship or anything like that, then they will be playing a big part in the club’s future.
“It is a massive part of this club going forward because if we can produce our own players, sell one or two, then that will keep the club afloat and progressing.”
Locke is adamant a quick glance at the Rovers team this season – build without a regimented pathway for young players – illustrates what could be achieved if the new programme is a success.
Ross Callachan, 23, has been at the club since the age of 10 and has already racked up 138 appearances. Lewis Vaughan, 20, has scored 14 goals in 71 outings, while Ross Matthews has impressed as a combative midfield prospect.
Twenty-year-old defender David Bates is also currently on loan at Rangers after coming through the Raith ranks.
Locke added: “You don’t have to look far to see how it could benefit us.
“I’d say we are one of the youngest sides in the league, with several that have come through the youth ranks. Hopefully in the next four or five years that with be five or six home-grown players in the team.
“Young players are getting their chance here, and that was them coming through without a dedicated youth coach to keep them ticking over. Now we have that in place with Craig [Easton].
“We only have five lads on the ground staff who are full time, in an ideal world we would have 12 or 13, but we don’t have the finances to do that. With backing, that will be the way forward.”