Under 20s | Ebullient Atkinson excited for new season ahead

Posted on Friday, August 12th, 2022

The Spartans Under 20s side kick off their new season tonight and we caught up with Manager Les Atkinson ahead of what is set to be an exciting campaign for his squad of talented teenagers.

It’s Les Atkinson’s 8th season at the helm of the Under 20s.  Another rollercoaster ride of touchline emotions awaits, but the highly respected figure is in an ebullient mood as he enters his 24th year at Spartans.

“I joined the club at the beginning of the Youth Section when we were Flora Stevenson Soccer School as Inverleith Star and subsequently merged with Spartans.

“It’s been a long journey for me but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, I still love the Spartans Family, especially the Under 20s as I enjoy seeing the lads developing, whether it be reaching the 1st Team here or moving on to progress and achieving their goals.

Last season saw the young side throw up some exciting performances and Atkinson is confident that the best is yet to come.

“We work on a three year cycle within the Under 20s set up. Last season we competed very well, both individually and as a team.  I think we have developed and progressed so I’m really excited for this year.

“We’ve signed six players this season who have moved up via the Player Pathway which on paper gives us a large squad however it is a long campaign.  Their involvement will enhance the squad, bolsters the quality and offers real competition for places too.  Whilst some of the new recruits are from pro-youth others are at the younger end of the age spectrum which not only aids their own development but continues to build our succession planning for the future.” 

The season begins with a North Edinburgh Derby against Civil Service Strollers, ironically being played at Peffermill 3G on the East side of the Capital on Friday evening at 8pm.  What does the season hold in store for Les and the side?

“Our vision is always about step-by-step improvement in age-grade football and looking to progress from the season before.

“Last year we wanted to finish is a cup final however we didn’t quite manage that but did make it to two semi-finals and ended third in a highly competitive league so I was delighted by what the young team achieved.

“This year it’s about building on this and go one further.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that we will be channeling our energies into looking to win the league, but more importantly this would be a by-product of everything else we do.  If we get to a couple of cup finals and pick up silverware that would naturally be great for the squad morale and reward for their effort too.

“Ultimately for me – and the players know this – it’s getting it them into Dougie’s (Samuel) first team squad or onto a player pathway to achieve the best they can in their careers. We’ve identified a group as ‘high-fliers’ where we think in the next two or three years they could be knocking on the door of Lowland League football. “

Atkinson is the key architect behind the Under 20s ongoing successes on and off the pitch. However the Gaffer was keen to put on record that his stewardship was by no means a one-man show.

“I suppose as a Coach the satisfaction of what I’ve mentioned above isn’t necessarily all mine but it’s more the pleasure of seeing the players achieving their goals and their dreams.  Maybe it is pulling on the senior strip at Spartans or following the footsteps of their team-mates who have gone out to SPFL teams this year.

“It’s really rewarding when you read the match day programme on a Saturday and see a player in the line-up who you remember coming in five years ago or so thinking he could make it.  That’s special for me.

“However, all of this wouldn’t be achievable without a strong team around me too.  I’m lucky to have two great Spartans names undertaking the Coaching alongside me in the shape of Eddie Malone and Chris Anderson.  The pair have a tremendous history on the pitch with the club and it’s been refreshing seeing them bring a wealth of knowledge to the coaching set-up.

“We are lucky too to have 1st Team Coach Derek Riddel join us on Match Days for his support and guidance too. His weekly help both home or away, plus bridging between first team and the 20s is invaluable.

“And of course Gary McClelland continues to offer an incredible level of support to me off the field as Team Secretary ensuring that the magic happens where people often assume it just does.”

Next Fixture

Date: 23/07/24
Opponent: Forfar Athletic
Venue:Ainslie Park
Competition: Premier Sports Cup
Kick off: 7.45pm

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