At Wednesday night’s End of Season gala, 16-year-old Abraham Kanu became the latest in a long line of youngsters to win the prestigious award given out to an overachieving Academy star.

In an emotional part of the evening, the award was given out by the family of the late, great former Academy manager Eamonn Dolan.

His wife, two children and brother, former scout with the club, Pat Dolan, handed over the award which wouldn’t be what it is today without the man for which the North Stand is now named after.


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A pride of the football club, the Academy is one of the best in the country at producing talented young players. Not all of them make the grade at RG2, but they are given the skills required to seek a career in football.

More than 70 have made appearances for the first team since the Academy was restructured in 1999, including almost 10 this campaign alone.

So, what makes the Academy at Reading what it is?

Former Academy coach, Geoff Warner, spent a decade at Reading after previously coaching with Crystal Palace, and went on to manage the likes of Bracknell Town and Reading Town.

Arriving right at the very start of the Academy’s existence as we know it, Warner believes it is the coaches that make it what it is.


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Above: Academy group photo, Eamonn Dolan (far left), Geoff Warner (far right)


Speaking to the Reading Chronicle, he said: “I joined in 2000 and they had just moved from a Centre of Excellence to an Academy. I was there when the Academy started which was a good time to move there.

“We had some really good staff at that time. Tom Jones, Micky Lewis, Martin Kuhl, Alex Dyer those were the type of people. We had some real good staff that knew what was required to improve players.

“The success grew over a period of time. When we first moved there, there weren’t many in the first team but gradually, we had more and more, we had one year where we had Pearcey [Alex Pearce], Jem [Karacan], [James] Henry, [Hal] Robson-Kanu, [Simon] Church and that started the success.

“The people we had involved and the players we were producing is what made it successful. It’s a gradual process. When I was at Palace, we were more organised than Reading at that stage- we had a centre at Bracknell and a lot of them went with us. Nick [Hammond] was very instrumental in changing the philosophy of the academy and he improved the recruitment so much.

“We tried not to let any good players go out of this area. We lost [Liam] Bridcutt and a few others, but they generally stopped going to Palace and Oxford and they were coming to us.”

Of course, the figurehead for the Academy is, and forever will be, Dolan.

Joining the club from Exeter City in 2004, he was in charge until his untimely passing in 2016 and brought through more than 50 graduates into the first team.

Warner explained that it was his lack of quick change that benefitted the Academy at the time of his arrival.


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“He walked into something that was moving forward very quickly anyway, and he didn’t alter too much.

“He kept everything ticking over nicely, had a great personality and was a great coach.”

Alex Pearce, current club captain at Championship side Millwall, believes a lot of credit must go to Dolan for developing their drive to make the first team.

Speaking exclusively to the Reading Chronicle, he said: “A lot of credit goes to Eamonn Dolan. The way he grounded us and developed us. He broke us all down and rebuilt us through the training and the pressure he would put on us. He knew that if we wanted a career in the game, we would need testing mentally and physically to deal with the pressures you’ll get in football.

“Everyone who came through, especially at my age group, are very grateful to Eamonn. It’s been the base of my career, a lot of the time as footballer things aren’t going well for you, and you have to fall back on a set of basics that will get you through, and that’s what we were given at the Academy.”

Simon Church, teammate of Pearce and another Championship title winner, echoed Pearce’s words on Dolan.

“He was like a dad to us,” the former Wales international explained. “He would be hard but at the same time he’d put his arm around you and tell you where you need to improve. There was a lot of time spent off of the pitch making us into people that are prepared for a life in football; to handle to ups and downs of life as well.

“I had some family health problems at the time, and he was a massive figure in my career, even when I burst into the first team, he brought me back to Earth. It was about much more than being ready to play football, we were growing up as men.”


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With former teammate of Church and Pearce, Noel Hunt, now in charge of the Under-23s, ex-Royals captain Jem Karacan believes it is something that will continue to be the jewel in the crown in Berkshire.

He concluded: “It’s great to see Noel with the Under 23s and Ledge [Mikele Leigertwood] with the first team coaching, because they’re Reading through and through. 

“A massive part of the club is the Academy. When you can see [Tom] McIntyre and [Tom] Holmes, who is probably a future captain, it could be like me and Pearcey vying for being skipper. You’ve got two people there who are set up to lead the club for the next 10 years.”


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With the likes of Rashawn Scott and Kelvin Abrefa making appearances in Saturday’s curtain-closer at Luton Town, and Hunt’s Under-23s winning the Berks and Bucks Senior Cup for the first time since 1995, the future of the Academy continues to look bright in blue and white.