Yesterday was a proud day for local boy Luke Haines who signed his first professional contract with Swindon Town.
Haines, who hails from Highworth, has been part of the youth system at the County Ground since the age of six and has now made the final step up to professional with the club.
Alongside fellow graduates Ralph Graham, Jacob Bancroft and Archie Matthews signed professional terms with first-team manager Richie Wellens and the 18-year-old was delighted to have made the step.
“It means a lot for my family. I’m a local lad – I come from Highworth and going all the way through, going on journeys all around the place, being dragged around by my family. It means a lot being offered and it’s a good opportunity for me to show that local talent can come through as well.”
Haines and his fellow grads have been under the watchful eye of Town legend and Academy Manager, Alan McLoughlin alongside Under-18s manager Dave Farrell and the youngster says their wisdom has been a blessing.
“It’s a privilege for us to learn from someone like that (McLoughlin). Two World Cups, he’s played God-knows-how-many league games and has played at the highest level but also the lowest level so he knows what he’s on about. When you listen to him – if it’s a training session or he’s talking to you one-on-one, you learn something every time.”
“It’s been the exact same with Dave and it’s been a real privilege to work with both.”
Haines has been a regular part of friendlies and behind-closed-doors fixtures throughout this season and has noticed a big difference in the environment of first-team football.
“It’s a lot more intense compared to – I wouldn’t say ‘kids’ football but – youth team football. It’s more of an intense environment with the first team – if you’re not at it, you won’t be involved. That’s the nature of the game in men’s football.”
And after a positive season with the Under-18s, where it was only on the final day that they were denied the title, Haines said the next batch of youngsters will continue a positive trend for the academy.
“It was a big season for us – first half of it we struggled to find each other as a group. We got an understanding and managed to get ourselves into the top league and until the last game of the season we were competing to win the league.
“The year below us, as a group of lads, have got a good attitude and have something to look forward to.”