Hard work paying off for future St John’s stars, says former Dundee United defender Jenkins

Iain Jenkins during his playing days, featured here against Rangers.
Iain Jenkins during his playing days, featured here against Rangers.

It’s been a breakthrough season for former St John’s pupils but the hard work is only beginning for the SFA’s Performance School.

The same goes for the 27 kids who have already earned full-time contracts with senior football clubs, according to coach Iain Jenkins.

And the former Dundee United full-back insists it’s only the tip of the iceberg of talented young footballers able to make the grade from the Dundee school.

St John’s RC High School on Harefield Road was chosen as one of seven Performance Schools across the country by the Scottish FA to help shape the next generation of Scottish footballers.

The work has already begun to pay off with a raft of pupils signed up on pro deals with United in May, days before a Dundee debut.

However, seeing St John’s graduate Chris Mochrie become the Tangerines’ youngest-ever player at the end of last season as he replaced another of the ‘Johnnies’ in Logan Chalmers against Greenock Morton was a moment of real pride for the school.

Then came Finn Robertson’s debut for the Dark Blues on May 18 with fellow school-mates Lyall Cameron and Max Anderson making the squad against St Mirren.

Jenkins, the SFA’s in-house coach at St John’s said: “The players we have here at St John’s – what a standard!

“Things are going well, we are getting a lot more into international youth teams and a lot more into professional contracts.

“Over the last four years we have seen 27 players get pro contracts with seven already making full-time football debuts.

“There are a lot of quality players here and we’ve got a number at Dundee United, some at Dundee and other clubs.

“We had nine leave the school to go professional this year.

“We have girls here, too, and every single one at St John’s has played at international level, it’s been really successful. We’ve had Phillipa McCallum at United, Leah Fleming for St Johnstone, Neve Guthrie and Megan Robb at United, too.”

As much as he’s delighted to see his young charges make their first steps in professional football, Jenkins is keen to see some establish themselves.

He said: “The biggest thing I say to them is they’ve done well through four years at the Performance School but this is where the work starts.

“The big aim for us here is to get players established in first teams.

“The Performance Schools across the country are starting to get there – we’ve seen Harry Cochrane at Hearts and Billy Gilmour head down to Chelsea – but our target is to see players getting to 20, 22 appearances and then beyond.

“Slowly but surely we are seeing the work come to fruition but we know at the Performance Schools we need to keep going.

“However, as an ex-pro I can see there is a lot of talent coming through – if the fans at clubs across the country are patient, they’ll get the reward through these players.

“The association is looking for managers to give youth a chance and we are fortunate in this area to see that at Dundee United, St Johnstone and Dundee.

“It’s music to my ears to hear from managers like Tommy Wright, James McPake and Robbie Neilson because I know them all and they all give young players chances at first-team level.

“The Performance School system only really works by working closely with the football clubs and they deserve a lot of credit for the work put in all across this region, as do all the staff at St John’s.”

And that hard work has seen talented youngsters willing to travel from far and wide just for a place at the school.

“Although we are based in the East Region, we have kids travelling from 30, 40 miles away,” Jenkins added.

“They are willing to travel on trains and taxis and everything – that’s a tough thing for a 12-year-old to do but they do it.

“I don’t think people realise how much work these youngsters put into it, along with their families, to travel every week to clubs and get their education.

“It’s not easy for the parents either and it’s very costly.

“But when the kids come here the application and willingness to learn and progress is unbelievable.”