Youth team centre-half was Ricky Duncan's first ever signing and is now part of the youth team set-up.
Schoolboy centre-half Sonny Coutts is looking to make an impression in the club’s Under-18 team after joining the club eight years ago.
Even in a modern culture that promotes instant success, there are some things that can’t be hurried. Ricky Duncan returned to Southend United as the Head of Youth in 2005 and now, almost a decade later, we are beginning to see the fruits of his initial labour.
Coutts is one such example. Of course, during the intervening period, Duncan has managed to promote a number of youngsters into the first-team frame, with Daniel Bentley, Josh Banton and Jack Payne the latest trio to earn recognition as part of the senior squad at Chesterfield last weekend.
But Coutts has been there from the very start. He takes up the story: “I joined when Ricky first came; I was the first player that they signed, so I joined when I was about 7 or 8 I think. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Mark Bonner and Luke Hobbs signed me. I actually went to one of the open day trials and then played a few games and they signed me and I’ve just kept getting contracts since then. I live in Rayleigh, about 20 minutes away, so it’s good for coming to training.”
The stylish centre-half hasn’t always found the going easy at Boots & Laces but, having been thrown in at the deep end with Banton’s regular requirement to travel with the first-team this term, he has already drawn plenty of praise from his boss after featuring in pre-season and making his competitive Under-18s debut against Peterborough United.
“A couple of seasons ago I had quite a bad season but last year I did well and I’ve played in a year above most seasons, so some of the players I’m playing against now I’ve played against, but the players two years above is a big physical step for me,” he reveals.
“It’s difficult. I come up against a lot more physical strikers, players probably bigger than me, but what you’ve got to do is just defend well, be brave and keep moving the ball quickly when you’re on the ball.”
“Dan [Matsuaka] helps out a lot, obviously. I think he played something like 13 youth team games last season and he only turned 16 a couple of weeks ago, so he’s a beast for his age but he’s a really good defender and he helps out a lot. The whole back four and the goalkeeper, Ted [Smith], everyone helps out so it’s good.”
And, having been afforded the opportunity to feature more prominently, Coutts - who helped his side keep a clean sheet on Saturday in a 3-0 win over Northampton Town - is keen to hold onto his spot throughout the upcoming campaign as well as having one eye on his colleague’s participation in the first team squad.
“Maybe last year, when I used to watch youth team games I used to think, at the time, I couldn’t see myself physically in that game because it would be such a physical game, and I do think that sometimes with the first team now. I’m doing well, so if I keep doing well because Josh Banton’s been in the first team, that’s why I’m here. Hopefully I can get my chance in a couple of years,” he says.
Eight years of work, by Coutts himself and the staff at the club’s Academy, have led to this chance. This impressive youngster, still in full-time education, is determined to grasp it.
“When I get my chance I want to show people that I’m good enough to play at a better level and a higher age group and I enjoy it. I’d like to play in The FA Youth Cup, that’s been my goal this year and, even if Josh is there, to get on the bench and come on, I’ll be happy with that,” he concludes.