Alexander: It Really is the Stuff of Dreams
Tuesday, 11th May 2021 17:39
Fraser Alexander admits it is “the stuff of dreams” as he prepares to lead the Town U18 side against their Liverpool counterparts in tomorrow’s FA Youth Cup semi-final at Portman Road.
The game, which kicks off at 6pm and is being covered live by BT Sport, is the young Blues’ reward for eliminating Southend, Chelmsford, Fulham, Swindon, Middlesbrough and, most recently, Sheffield United to earn a place in the last four of the country’s most prestigious youth tournament.
Alexander has been at the club for a decade, since he accepted an invitation to join the academy when he was eight, and recalled: “I came in when I was really young and I have photos of the various squads all the way through from the U7s to the U18s. So it’s a huge honour to captain this team, especially with what we’ve achieved and the performances we’ve put in.
“But it’s a team game and there are many players out there on the pitch, not just those who start but others who are on the bench and come on, who are also captains within their own minds and real leaders.
“We’ve got organisers who use their voices really well and players who lead by example and put in 100 per cent effort wherever they are on the pitch and whatever minute it is.
“It’s an honour for me to have the armband but there are so many players out there who could easily take up that role and that also helps to make us such a great team.”
“It really is the stuff of dreams because while you always dream about it you never really think it is going to happen. A semi-final is a huge stage to get to and all the boys are really looking forward to it. We’re excited, we feel we’re ready and prepared, and we’re ready to put up a huge fight against a big opponent in Liverpool.”
U18 manager Adem Atay, himself a former youth player at the club, is immensely proud of what the players have achieved so far, with him and Alexander going back a few years together.
“I’ve known Adem since the very start and he’s been my head coach for three or four years,” Alexander added. “He has been the U18 manager for the last two years and he’s been fantastic with all the boys. He pushes us really hard on the pitch but also makes sure our standards off the pitch aren’t slipping.
“He realises that if they start slipping, with regard to either education or discipline, it will affect our performances. He’s all about team winning, making progress as a team and this has shown all the way through our FA Youth Cup run.”
Alexander and his team-mates intend to enjoy the occasion and the skipper doesn’t believe the presence of the television cameras will prove a distraction, continuing: “We’ve had games streamed in the past but we won’t be thinking about the live TV coverage once the game kicks off.
“Sometimes it adds extra pressure beforehand because we know what’s going on and there are going to be more cameras around to what we’re used to. But as soon as we kick off we’ll be focused only on the game and trying to win it.”
Alexander used the opportunity of appearing at a rare press conference to thank his parents for their part in his journey so far, acknowledging their part in his progress by chauffeuring him the three-hour round trip to attend regular training sessions and fixtures at the various age groups.
He said: “When I was younger it was probably once a week and as you get older it’s twice a week for training and once a week for games. At 15 or 16 it’s three times a week for training and once for games, so I owe a huge thank-you to my parents for their commitment on my behalf since I was a young kid who just wanted to play football.
“I was really lucky that they were able to take me and I’ve also had favours from other boys’ parents because they were able to take me when my own parents were too busy looking after my siblings. It has been a huge commitment and without them I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.
“My brother had to sacrifice a huge amount at times, like walking home and being unable to attend after-school clubs, to enable me to get to training because my mum couldn’t be in two places at once. I know the other boys have also had hugely supportive parents and families as well but there are plenty out there who missed out on that sort of thing.
“It’s a real shame to see some talented players who have been unable to progress because they weren’t always able to get to training.”
Atay announced that some of the Town youngsters own up to being Liverpool fans but Alexander was quick to point out: “I’m not one of them. I’ve followed my dad and I’m a Manchester United fan, which might make for some controversy with those Liverpool fans, but I’ll be sure to be keeping everyone on the Tractor Boys’ side.”
Looking ahead, Alexander added: “The dream is always to play first team football, whether it’s for Ipswich or other clubs. I know it’s a long game and that it’s not going to happen immediately. Sometimes there are opportunities in cup ties to impress the manager but ultimately you take each step as it comes.
“The first one would be to play regular U23 football and hopefully getting an opportunity to play for the first team in cup games, to show what I’m capable of, then training regularly with the first team to prove I’ve got what it takes to earn a place in the first team.
“Some of us who came in at an early age — Alfie Cutbush, Liam Gibbs and Ben Wyss for example — are still here today but we’ve seen other lads drop off at various stages.
“Football is a really tough industry and if you’re not good enough clubs won’t have you. It has been tough to see some of our mates leave the club as we’ve got older and we hope they can find other clubs to progress their careers.”
With Town boss Paul Cook, a self-confessed Liverpool fan, as is Atay, able to attend tomorrow’s game the big hope is that the after-match celebrations in the dressing room are a repeat of those that followed victory over Sheffield United in the quarter-final clash.
Alexander added: “The manager has been very supportive. At each game he wishes us huge good luck and if it’s being streamed he makes sure he is watching. He was at the Sheffield United game and he just wants us to do well because it reflects well on the club as a whole and hopefully he’ll be managing quite a few of us in the future.”
Photos: Matchday Images
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