Bodin well for the future
In his first contribution for The Washbag, Andrew Steele-Davis looks at whether Swindon Town’s future is home-grown.
When Billy Bodin’s name was bellowed over the tannoy system at the County Ground on Saturday announcing that the young forward was in the starting eleven, it is safe to say you could not have seen that coming a few weeks ago.
Having attended all of Swindon’s pre-season games in England, I had expected the paring of Raffaele De Vita and Alan Connell to start upfront against Crewe, as both had the beginnings of a burgeoning striking partnership in the games against Supermarine, Cirencester and Reading. As surprised as I was by Connell’s exclusion and Bodin’s inclusion, I was also rather pleased by the change as there is nothing better than seeing a home grown talent progress through the ranks.
I have followed Billy’s career with much interest. Here is the story of a son of a Swindon legend, joining Town as an eight year old in the hope that one day he too will emulate his dad. Despite signing his first professional contract last summer it took until Paul Hart’s departure and a familiar face in the dugout to see any real first team action. After impressive performances against Oldham and Tranmere at the tail end of last season, a season we all want to forget in a hurry, hopes were high that Billy would kick on and make a concentrated push for the first team in 2011/2012. But the question remained, would he be given the chance?
With the arrival of Di Canio over the summer and the flurry of players he brought with him, many people, including Billy himself, had expected a loan move represented the best chance of guaranteed first team football. Yet he started against Crewe and put in an assured performance, which nearly brought the Welsh Under 21 international his first goal in Town colours. In doing so Bodin has put himself firmly in the mix for a much coveted place in Di Canio’s first eleven this season.
Did Bodin’s solid performance really come as a surprise? The predictions were there before the match reading Michael Timlin’s comments in the Swindon Advertiser’s ‘Kick Off’ supplement. Having watched Billy for those 75 minutes, who could disagree with Timlin’s assessment he is one of the “most gifted players in the squad”. It is clear to see this boy has a high level of technical ability, with tremendous balance, playing his way out of trouble with a silky bit of skill which left a few Crewe players bamboozled on Saturday.
Another player in the starting eleven that day, Callum Kennedy, has been in the same situation for arguably much of his Town career. After making his debut way back in 2007, when lovable Scot Paul Sturrock was at the helm, hopes were high for the former Reading youngster. But a series of unlucky injuries followed by the arrivals of Alan Sheehan and Michael Rose saw Callum wasting away on the touchline, constantly overlooked despite his potential being there for all to see. Loan moves to Gillingham and Rotherham followed and it was these spells that has arguably changed the direction of Kennedy’s career. A successful loan at Gillingham was then bettered at Rotherham where he will best be remembered – by Town fans – for being sent off on his debut… against Oxford of all teams! Always a good way to endear yourself to the Swindon faithful.
However, as is the case with Bodin, Di Canio’s arrival has marked an upturn in fortunes for Kennedy who was promptly handed the number three shirt over the summer and impressed in pre-season and again against Crewe. Not only has Callum proved solid defensively but also providing an attacking threat down the wings with his electric pace and pinpoint crosses, combining to send the Crewe backline into all sorts of trouble. Saturday’s game also saw Kennedy notch his first ever competitive goal which came from the penalty spot. That goal, as well as his majestic performance helped him earn a place in the League Two Team of the week. That would have put a smile across many a Swindon fan’s face who have always wanted Callum to do well.
Matt Clark and Leigh Bedwell have also featured in Swindon’s pre-season campaign with Bedwell being named on the bench for the Crewe game. The club have high hopes for both players, and with Di Canio seemingly prepared to give youth a chance, don’t be surprised to see both players involved in the first team at one point this season. But let’s not forget about the other shining lights at the County Ground, the likes of Abdul Said, Aaron Oakley and Miles Storey have big futures ahead of them. Like Bodin, Storey also put in a majestic performance against Oldham last year in what was one of the only bright spots in an altogether diabolical season for the club.
On that note it’s important to recognise the huge impact Paul Bodin has had on the youth set up. Since Paul was brought back to the club to oversee the development of the youth system, it’s fair to say the quality of players coming through have improved tenfold. However the problem always was talents such as Bodin junior, Kennedy, Nathan Thompson and Mark Scott were frequently overlooked by recent Town managers, who have instead opted to bring in more experienced players.
Now Di Canio’s arrival has seen a fresh impetus on youth and perhaps, his best signing of the season could prove to be the decision to keep Bodin senior as part of the Town setup. Putting Billy into the starting eleven from the off and putting faith in Leigh Bedwell as opposed to bringing in a loan keeper says a lot about a much welcome change of direction by our new manager.
So after a bright start to the new season which included two of the youth team’s brightest young talents in recent years playing a starring role in Kennedy and Bodin and other young stars in the making, the future looks very bright indeed for Swindon Town.