David Clegg Speaks With Recently Appointed Player Development Manager And U16s’ Head Coach, Danny Barton
It will be as a former loose forward with the then Salford City Reds, that Danny Barton will be best remembered by many fans. Salford born Danny had come through the club Youth system to graduate to first team status, making his debut, at home, against Wakefield in the last game of the 2002 season.
That he returned in 2008, to join the Salford City Reds Foundation, may not have attracted as much attention, but, during the time since, he has gained considerable experience in a variety of posts, which combined to secure him the newly formed position of Player Development Manager.
His responsibility, it is, to organise, and run, both the Salford Schools’ High School Programme, together with the Salford Red Devils’ U16s Programme. These, basically, provide a pathway for lads between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Danny sees the time they are under his jurisdiction as an opportunity to instil the club’s philosophy into them at an early age so that they are ready for when they progress on to our U19s squad, and, in some cases, to the first team.
“This is a totally new approach the club is taking, this year,” he informs us. “I came through the system myself, as a player, from the age of fifteen, and went right through to the first team. Having done so, it has made me passionate about the Salford Club, and now about helping the local youngsters to follow in my footsteps.”
Not that this is limited to lads from Salford. Indeed, they have already spread the net to encompass youths from Bury, Trafford and Manchester, and even boast some who have found their way here from Warrington and Widnes.
“We now have more youngsters here than ever before,” he announces, “with forty-nine U16s, and thirty U15s, who are all keen and eager to do well. There is no requirement on them to attain certain levels by a specified age; it is more about attaining these at their own pace.”
Alongside all this, is his complementary role of U16s’ Head Coach. This follows upon his roles of assistant coach, first with the U19s, and then with the U16s, over the past three seasons. Prior even to this, as part of his early work with the Foundation, he had been coach to Salford University team, between 2008 and 2013.
During this time, they had some notable successes, including going through a whole season undefeated, getting to the semi-final of the Universities’ National Cup before losing to that bastion of universities’ rugby, Leeds Met, and beating Manchester on all five occasions, in their Varsity match.
The U16s season is really quite short, with a total of six games only, which take place in January and February so as not to affect the amateur game, as the main purpose of the programme is the development of the players. Once they have completed these fixtures, they all return to their amateur clubs and school teams, where their performance and progress is continued to be monitored by Danny and his assistants.
“We stress to them at the very start that these teams and clubs are their main focus for the season,” he insists.
This, as can well be imagined, requires there being extremely good relations with the schools and amateur clubs, and, indeed, Danny has made it his priority to establish these. Alongside developing an up to date scouting system, there is also the intention of providing training and assistance for local coaches and clubs.
“I see it as our role to enhance their work in building good foundations for these lads,” he explains. “We are happy just to help them along, and to assist their development as rugby players and as people. We hope to give them good experiences which will stand them in good stead throughout their adult lives.”
Danny considers that his role is potentially very rewarding, though at this early stage he has been more aware of the amount of hard work he has been involved with, and the amount that still remains to be done.
“It is because I have such a love for the club that I find it enjoyable,” he says. “Although I certainly never envisaged being in this position, and having such responsibility when I was here as a player, I know the pride I had of signing for my home town club.”
When you take into account the fact that whilst he was an apprentice, making his way through the Youth system himself, he undertook some considerable amount of outreach work with the local schools and community then, it would be difficult to find anyone more experienced, and versed in, the wide range of requirements for this most demanding, but important, of roles.