The English Football Association enforced a bizarre rule earlier this week and kicked Reading out of the FA Youth Cup for fielding an under-age player.
Read that again – AN UNDER-AGE PLAYER.
The Royals were not trying to gain an unfair advantage by using a player too old, although that is permitted in Under-23 matches and in fact 32-year-old Charlie Adam has featured for ‘Stoke’s U23s’ in the Checkatrade Trophy earlier this season.
So, over-age players are allowed in England, under certain rules, while under-age players are also allowed week in week out in U18 Premier League action. But for reasons we will explain later, the FA enforced a rule which has penalized an Under-15 side from facing Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the competition and taken away what was probably the biggest game of most of the the lads’ lives.
Fifteen-year-old left-back Imari Samuels is the unfortunate lad, whom Reading fielded by mistake. The Championship club blame an “administrative error” and contacted the FA immediately to inform them in the hope of replaying the tie. A outcome which seems logical.
All players competing in the tournament must have turned 15 before midnight on August 31 of the current season, and Samuels, although 15 now, was only 14 at that cut-off point.
That led to the FA Youth Cup ‘Sub-Committee’ holding a hearing at Wembley, at which they upheld the decision to remove the club from the competition. Reading are pondering an appeal, but why does such a rule exist?
According to the club’s statement, they believe the rule was “initially introduced to ensure the competition would be played on a level playing field in earlier rounds which pitted league clubs against non-league clubs”.
Reading themselves point out that their infringement of the rules was made in a fifth-round tie and not in an early round, and they were also up against another league club in Colchester.
With that in mind the rule has not protected the intended parties, but simply punished the progress of a talented youngster and his team. A 15-year-old, who Reading deemed talented enough to play with lads three years older than him. Why should he be punished and his team-mates for a rule that is not fit for purpose?
Reading are a Category One Academy and their mantra is to “extend and consolidate” youngsters – pushing them beyond their comfort zone and then maintaining what they have learned. The club were doing exactly that when they threw Samuels into the fold.
Reading point out that the “Academy proudly continues to offer the invaluable experience of competitive football to talented players who we feel can benefit from game time ahead of their respective age groups”.
And in fact they included four Under-15s in their Under-18s squad, all legitimately, for a league match earlier this month and they are not the only club to do so, it’s common practice.
Let’s just forget the rules here for one minute. We are talking about a 15-year-old, who was playing against boys three years older. There was no unfair advantage gained, what Reading did was try and develop a talented youngster in a competitive environment with boys older than him. They should be commended not penalized.
Let’s hope Reading see enough optimism to appeal and the FA see the light and apply some common sense.