HOW do you build a future for a club with no money? You look to the next generation and give them the tools for success.

Lee Grant returned to York City this week on loan from Aston Villa. York born and bred, he spent years at the Minstermen Centre of Excellence before taking up a scholarship with the Premiership big-guns. He has now come back to find a team full of the faces he used to train with as a boy including Bryan Stewart, with the emphasis on quality youth development greater than ever.

Youth coach Brian Neaves said: "It's absolutely vital from the club's point of view. It has been said by many different people at different levels that it is the lifeblood of the club.

"When you look at the size of the professional squad at the moment, it has to be supplemented by the youth team. That is why so many of them have got the opportunity as they have this year.

"That is one of the positives about staying with a smaller club because they are more likely to get an opportunity to get first team football."

City's reputation for turning out high quality youngsters emerged in the late 1990s when four trainees were snapped up by Premiership outfits. Nick Culkin and Jonathan Greening both went to Manchester United, Richard Cresswell commanded a huge transfer to Sheffield Wednesday and Darren Williams joined Sunderland.

Said Neaves: "When Nick Culkin joined Manchester United, even though it wasn't big money, it was enough to buy the training ground and develop it. It was literally a farmer's field so it was a case of buying the land and building in changing rooms, drainage and that kind of thing.

"It is a real legacy. If you go to the training ground now, you will see a plaque saying it was officially opened by Alex Ferguson and that is why. It was all part of the deal and we did actually develop quite a good relationship with them at that stage with Jonathan Greening heading there as well.

"The other spin-off was that not only were clubs coming in for players, there were also players that got into the first team.

"There were basically three different avenues: sell-on, first team, and one or two started to get in international teams all as a result of the youth team.

"And from the development side of things, it was great that they were earning that recognition."

Any doubters as to the justification of having a set-up in place are silenced by the level of consistent success achieved by Neaves, Paul Stancliffe and their team of 14 coaches at the centre of excellence.

Added Neaves: "You only have to look at the numbers that are getting involved with the first team. It's good for the players as long as we make sure they don't get too tired.

"We have got to monitor them and we are doing that with the ones that are in the first team to see if they have reached the point where they need a breather.

"The others also have quite a tough regime with youth team games on a Saturday morning and then reserve matches on a Monday night. Some of them have played five games in 13 days so we have to be very careful with them and maybe we will do not quite so much in training.

"We feel we are on top of it and you have got to hope that you get it right and don't send them into burn-out. We are trying to avoid it rather than cure it after it happens.

"But it is difficult when you consider you have got 16 or 17 full-time professionals and 17 youth trainees, you're basically trying to run three teams from a base of about 32 players."

The satisfaction of seeing a youngster complete the cycle - like with Grant's return - not only proves the success of the system but makes the job worthwhile.

"That's what the job's about really," said Neaves. "Winning youth leagues doesn't matter as much. It's all about can you get players through the youth development scheme into the first team and beyond and we have and the credit goes to everyone - not just Paul Stancliffe and myself who are full time, but the 14 coaches at the centre of excellence as well."

Glovesmen keeping up appearances

YORK City have a good record of turning out young goalkeepers with the help of specialist keeping coach Peter Glanville at the club's Centre of Excellence.

England's Paul Robinson, who was born in Beverley, started at the centre before joining Leeds aged 13.

In addition to current starlet David Stockdale, Andy Warrington is now at Doncaster Rovers, Russell Howarth is at Tranmere Rovers and Nick Culkin went to Manchester United and, more recently, QPR.

Charlton goalkeeper Dean Kiely was not a City youth product. He arrived at Bootham Crescent from Coventry City.

Kids who moved on

Lee Bullock: midfielder, eventually bought by Cardiff in June for £100,000 after protracted deal following extended loan.

Richard Cresswell: forward, became record transfer with £950,000 move to Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the March 1999 transfer window. Signed for Leicester for £750,000 18 months later and is now top scorer at Preston after signing for £500,000 in July 2001.

Nick Culkin: goalkeeper, went to Manchester United in September 1995 for £250,000, snared an undisclosed transfer to Bristol Rovers in May 2001, then went on a free to QPR in 2002.

Lee Grant: defender, joined Aston Villa scholarship programme two years ago after six years in the centre of excellence for £50,000 compensation. Now back at York on loan.

Jonathan Greening: midfielder, signed for Manchester United in a deal worth more than £1million with appearances taken into account, went to Middlesborough for £2million in August 2001. Now playing for West Brom after signing for £1.25million in the summer.

Chris Hogg: defender, transferred to Ipswich Town for £150,000 in July 2001. He later played for Boston United.

Russell Howarth: goalkeeper, joined Tranmere Rovers for an undisclosed amount in November 2002.

Darren Wiliams: defender, left City for Sunderland for £50,000 in 1996. Now on loan at Cardiff.

Through the ranks

Ten of the current City squad have come through the youth ranks. They are:

Bryan Stewart (third year trainee), David Stockdale (third year trainee), Graeme Law (first season professional), Levent Yalcin (first season professional), Sean Davies (first season professional), Matthew Coad (first season professional), Adam Arthur (third year trainee), Robbie Haw (second year trainee), Michael Staley (third year trainee), Kane Ashcroft (third year trainee).

Several others have appeared on the bench or in friendlies and are regulars in the reserves.

Updated: 10:27 Saturday, November 13, 2004