Huddersfield's young guns heading to the top
Nobody older than 27 has pulled on the famous blue and white stripes of Huddersfield Town this season, with every matchday squad rich in players to have graduated from the club's Academy.
In recent years of financial difficulty it had been out of necessity. Now, with the Terriers bankrolled by local lad done good Dean Hoyle, it appears to be a firm policy.
"The criteria I set out for signings is this - I want young and hungry players who want to get better and have the desire to play at a higher level," said manager Lee Clark, who has been in charge since last December.
Town have now had Academy status for 10 years and although League One rivals such as Leeds, Norwich and MK Dons have them too, the Terriers' is particularly successful.
Goalkeeper Alex Smithies is extremely highly rated, yet Nathan and Tom Clarke, Joe Skarz, Michael Collins and James Berrett have been in and around the first team this season. Three of them started against Hartlepool on Saturday and two more were on the bench.
Tom Clarke, Smithies and Collins have been at the club since they were nine. All are from the Huddersfield area and I think it is both admirable and refreshing that in an age when football is a global game Town have retained a culture of producing local lads.
I canvassed Huddersfield supporters on the 606 boards recently about their club and one theme that emerged more than just about any other was the pride they felt in the club's Academy. I think it has something to do with identity and the excitement of seeing a local lad play for your team.
A lot of the credit for its success is given to Gerry Murphy. As well as three spells as caretaker manager of the first team, the Irishman was in charge of the youth set up at the club for almost 20 years before retiring in February.
Huddersfield's young players need to work on their goal celebrations
Graham Mitchell is now the Academy Manager. A local lad who lives in Baildon, he had a long playing career with the club and has been on the coaching staff since 2002.
"I wish I had a magic formula but one of the biggest things for me is the quality of opposition we play against," said Mitchell when I asked him about Academy success.
"Most of our opposition teams are from clubs in the Premier League or the Championship and that is a big factor in bringing on our boys."
Between 15 and 18 - the years Mitchell terms the "nitty gritty" - there is an emphasis placed on the importance of learning how to win games.
"They need to learn that because if they become professional they will go into an environment where the bottom line is all about winning," he said.
But ultimately a lot of the success of Town's Academy comes down to the strength of their recruitment. The logic is simple - the more talented the youngster, the better quality of player they can ultimately produce.
"We can always improve boys but they have always got to have that little bit of something," said Mitchell.
"We have scouts all over the place and we work extremely hard to try to get the best players in at the start."
Recruitment - it is a crucial factor in the success of any club and is as relevant to Clark as it is to Mitchell.
"It is a major aspect of being a manager," said Clark. "You have to get more signings right than wrong or you could be looking at falling on your sword."
In contrast, Clark has signed almost exclusively young players, his oldest recruit being 27-year-old defender Peter Clarke.
He does not care where they come from - Danny Drinkwater is on loan from Manchester United while Lee Novak arrived from Gateshead - as long as they have the potential, hunger and desire.
Clark reckons he is looking at players most nights and is constantly discussing with Hoyle or chief executive Nigel Clibbens how his squad can be improved. If he likes a player he will check them out himself several times, compile a dossier on them and dig into all aspects of their life.
Clark, a talented midfielder who came through the ranks at Newcastle, his hometown club, is undoubtedly fortunate to be at such a financially secure club so early in his managerial career.
Town ended the summer with a reputation as League One's big spenders after recruiting the likes of Peter Clarke, Lee Peltier, Antony Kay, Robbie Simpson, Theo Robinson and Jordan Rhodes, while Anthony Pilkington was signed for £500,000 in January.
But having money to spend is one thing, doing so wisely another entirely.
The fact that Town are currently third in a very tough-looking League One suggests he has bought well. Town have conceded just twice in their last five games while scoring 19 in the process.
Rhodes, 19, has nine League One goals so far and is a particularly interesting example of Clark's buying policy. The Town manager first became aware of him two years ago when Rhodes, then 17, was at Ipswich and Clark was reserve team boss at Norwich.
Rhodes is one of the players attracting interest from other clubs
Rhodes was gaining a big reputation and impressed playing against Norwich's reserves. Clark monitored his progress and noticed that his goals-to-game ratio remained at roughly one in two during several loan spells. Roy Keane replaced Jim Magilton as Ipswich manager towards the end of last season and Clark decided to test the water.
"I was really just trying my luck in the summer but we were never turned away or our advances rejected - we just had to come to an agreement over figures," said the manager.
Many Ipswich fans were dismayed by Rhodes' departure. Was Clark surprised to get him? "I was pleasantly surprised," is all he will say.
The potential of Town's squad has not gone unnoticed and more scouts have been at their games this season than attend a jamboree - something that 37-year-old Clark is fully aware of.
"We don't have to sell any player," said Clark, whose sentences are sparse and economical, with few words wasted. After a long pause, he continued: "For any price."
It is a luxury beyond most managers in the lower divisions - and the strength of his resolve could be severely tested in January.
Whether the squad can last the distance this season remains to be seen. Clark is confident that the fitness work done by performance coach Steve Black, who has mentored Jonny Wilkinson throughout his career, will ensure his team do not run out of steam.
Clark is fiercely ambitious and is constructing a squad to match.
Yet if Town do start to move through the leagues it will surely make it harder for the Academy to produce first-team players.
Mitchell reckons: "One of our major pulling points is the success rate we have had in getting boys into the first team. That is a big attraction to parents."
Will they still want to sign for Town if those opportunities become increasingly scarce?
Clark himself is adamant that Huddersfield's Academy must remain a central part of the club.
"Manchester United still produces its own players and it is vitally important," he said.
"My ultimate goal and vision is for the first team and the Academy to be located on the same site so that my staff and I get to know the younger lads on a personal basis."
Perhaps the last word should go to Mitchell.
"The standards that we set will have to be higher but Huddersfield has always been my club and I hope we see a lot more boys from the area pull on the blue and white in the future," he said.