Explained: Why Bristol City’s academy won’t move up to Category 1 and play against Chelsea and Man Utd

The Young Robins almost won the Category 2 Professional Development League, but they wouldn’t have gained promotion.

<p>The Robins High Performance Centre training ground.</p>

The Robins High Performance Centre training ground.

Bristol City won the Professional Development League 2 South section in 2020/21. And they followed it up with second place this season, 2021/22.

Unfortunately the Young Robins lost in the Play-off Semi-final to Birmingham a year ago, and the National Final this week - just missing out on the PDL2 trophy itself.

The second-string competition is for Category 2 academies around England to compete in.

There is no promotion or relegation. English football clubs’ academies are graded from Category 1 to 4. Bristol City are designated as a Category 2 academy and do not get to face the biggest Premier League clubs as a result.

The academies are audited periodically, with the determining criteria including productivity rates, training facilities and coaching, education and welfare provisions.

Birmingham City have made the headlines this week as the only academy so far to be downgraded. Following the Blues winning the 2020/21 PDL2 competition - where they beat Bristol City at Ashton Gate in the semi-final - the Midlands-based side were granted a one year licence to play at Category 1 level.

But that has been revoked recently, meaning that they will return to the PDL2 and face the Young Robins again next season.

Of course, the top status categories feature the big boys: Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.

The top clubs play in the Premier League 2 competition, which is for U23s players but with up to four over-age players allowed to play (one must be a goalkeeper) per game - and the PDL2 rules are the same.

The Premier League is reported as having no plans to cap the number of academies awarded Category 1 status, despite that figure increasing from 22 teams in 2012, when the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) was introduced, to the current number of 27 (with Birmingham demoted).

There will now be 18 sides competing at the PDL2 level, split nine in the North section and nine in the South.

Other teams in Bristol City’s section include:

Ipswich Town (who won the 2021/22 South section), Cardiff City, Millwall, Swansea City, Watford, QPR, Colchester United and Charlton, though City also face the teams in the North section: Sheffield United, Coventry, Hull, Wigan, Crewe, Peterborough, Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham.

Meanwhile, Bristol City have no plans to apply to become a Category 1 academy, despite the club’s investment and aim to develop young talent at the club.

Academy director Brian Tinnion explained recently to the 3 Peaps in a Podcast podcast why the club have decided that Category 2 is right for the Robins just at the moment, though that could change in the future.

“About £5m a year!” joked Tinnion on the podcast. “There’s a big, big gap from Category 3 which is your Exeters and your Bristol Rovers and your Plymouths.

“Cat 2 is mostly Championship and around League One, and then your Cat 1 becomes your different level altogether. It is very much more expensive.

“At the moment we feel that the model we have here that allows us to loan players out, we can still be competitive in the 23s but playing a lot of U18s. Cat 2 allows us to have a predominantly under-17 focus for the under-18s and generally an under-20 focus for the under-23s.

“I think if we went into that Category 1 it would be very difficult to compete with your Chelseas and your Liverpools and your Man Utds, financially and player wise,” he explained.

The Young Robins have enjoyed two successful years at Category 2 level, with a team featuring plenty of U18s players such as Olly Thomas, Seb Palmer-Houlden and Marley Rose, but also the more experienced Sam Bell and Tommy Conway at times too.

And the Robins have seen progression from the likes of Alex Scott, Antoine Semenyo, Ayman Benarous and others into the first team picture.

There were 174 first team appearances from Bristol City academy graduates, including Sam Bell, Ayman Benarous, Tommy Conway and Max O'Leary, this season, and manager Nigel Pearson has publicly explained that he is encouraged by the pathway under the directorship of Tinnion.

The club says that an average of 6.5 academy players have been included in first-team matchday squads this year.

No application is expected to go up to Category 1 any time soon, but should Bristol City achieve their ambitions then that could be reviewed again in the future.