BROWNE ON THE BALL: From Boston to Burnley... via Wisbech! Can the Pilgrims realistically hold on to young talent like Harry Limb?

Harry Limb.
Harry Limb.

As Harry Limb signs an 18-month deal with the Premier League Clarets, Duncan Browne looks at another young talent that slipped through the Boston United net...

It’s fair to say that John Blackwell knows a good player when he sees one.

In his 38 years as Boston United’s secretary and general manager he was there to sign on all but two of the Pilgrims who joined the club in that near-four decade period.

But speaking with him after he announced his retirement last year, the new club president spoke glowingly about one young striker who captivated his imagination, who he believed had the potential to go on and become something special, both at the club and in the game.

That lad was Harry Limb.

In his capacity as a scout for Swansea City, Blackwell helped get the 17-year-old a trial with the Welsh club.

Things didn’t work out there, but cream always rises.

This week Limb joined a Premier League side, leaving UCL Premier Wisbech for Burnley’s academy and scoring twice for the under 23s in a 5-0 victory over Derby on Friday - making him a top contender for the title of the best player Boston United never really had.

Aged 15, and too young to even sign his first deal with the club, Limb was introduced to Pilgrims fans in a pre-season friendly at Boston Town in the summer of ‘16.

But despite rave reviews from then-manager Dennis Greene, a promotion push remained the priority and Limb wasn’t handed his chance.

Eleven matches sat on the bench and a loan spell in Loughborough was as close as he got to competitive first-team action before he was allowed to leave and seek regular football in the summer.

United have a proud record of putting local lads and youth teamers into the first team, from Lewis Brooks and Jamie Stevens in the Football League days to the likes of Harry and Sam Vince, Adam Millson, Charley Sanders, James Reed, Alex Beck and Simon Ashton in more recent memory.

But it will always remain tough to get claws into those top players from the patch.

Even tougher to keep hold of them.

Matt Hocking, Julian Joachim and Danny Butterfield enjoyed professional careers after coming through the youth ranks at Sheffield United, Leicester City and Grimsby Town respectively, while Tom Hopper made one appearance from the bench before being snapped up by Leicester City’s academy.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame at the club for not holding onto their young assets.

But the fact of the matter is that running a football club isn’t cheap, and once the debts are paid off there isn’t really enough left over to put together a reserve team to compete in a strong league week-in, week-out.

After storming to the Lincs League title in 2011, Mickey Stones was the only player in that United reserve side who could come close to challenging for a first team spot.

So what’s the natural progression?

The United Counties League?

Running a club at that level isn’t cheap and, coupled with travelling costs, and most players at that level claiming some sort of salary, United would be bleeding cash in the hope they could one day hold on to the next big thing.

United are unable to contract under 18s in full-time education, meaning players wanting regular football can easily look elsewhere.

And why should they waste their youth and talent hanging around?

If you had the ability, the drive and the dream, how many of your teenage years would you realistically spend telling your mates you won’t be going to the pub because you’ve got to be up early the next morning to get the bus to Fylde as the squad needs a 17th man?

Had he not been given his chance with Wisbech this season, Limb may not have picked up vital experience which caught the eye of Burnley.

Had he stayed with Boston he would have struggled to oust Dayle Southwell last season.

And would he have been picked ahead of Gregg Smith and Jay Rollins for a scrap down the bottom of the National League North this campaign?

John Blackwell - like Burnley, like many others - knows a good player when he sees one.

Limb is undoubtedly that.

But the problem for United is figuring out how to keep future talents involved in a stimulating, affordable way.