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Saturday 18 August 2012

Fans flock to Barclays U21 Premier League debut

Chelsea drew 0-0 with Man City before 3,000 people at Griffin Park on first day of new league

Chelsea's Billy Clifford, right, vies with Manchester City's Marcos Lopes at Griffin Park

The inaugural season of the Barclays U21 Premier League kicked off on Friday evening as West Ham United beat Reading 3-1 and Chelsea drew 0-0 with Manchester City at Griffin Park, home of Brentford.

Tickets for the Chelsea-Manchester City match were available at Griffin Park on the night, and the price of £3 for adults and £1 for children tempted about 3,000 to the stadium.

They witnessed an exciting game, albeit without goals and some were lucky enough to get up close to Patrick Vieira, City's Football Development Executive, who watched the game along with some of his club's U18 players.

Inaugural season to feature 22 clubs

The Barclays U21 Premier League was devised as part of the most comprehensive review of youth development in over a decade with the aim of bridging the gap between Academy and First Team by providing regular competitive games of a high standard.

The 2012/13 Barclays Under-21 Premier League will feature 22 clubs (17 Premier League and five Championship) who applied for Category One status as part of the categorisation process of the Elite Player Performance Plan, the new youth development system.

The emphasis will be on playing under-21 players with each team limited to three over-age outfield players and one over-age goalkeeper. Matches will be played from Friday to Monday, ensuring that young players will still have the opportunity to play for the first team.

"The Barclays U21 Premier League aims to provide that vital transitional step and will become the hardest playground in the world as part of a player's total education, because the next game may well be a debut in the Barclays Premier League itself,” said Ged Roddy, the Premier League Director of Youth.

"It will become the hardest playground in the world as part of a player's education"
Ged Roddy

"The matches will be structured to complement the Premier League game rounds. So, as a first-team manager there is a great benefit in knowing that you can have your U21 player on the bench for the first team, but if he doesn’t play then there’s still the option for him to have high-quality competitive football that weekend in the U21 League."

The groups are:

National Group One
Arsenal, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Norwich City, Reading, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United

National Group Two
Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur

National Group Three
Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Wolverhampton Wanderers

A minimum of two matches at club's main stadium

Each team will play each other home and away with at least two fixtures taking place at the team’s main stadium. After this first group stage, the clubs will be placed into three groups based on their performance.

The top three teams from National Group One and the top two from Groups Two and Three will qualify for the Elite Group, with the other clubs making it into Qualification Group Tier One or Qualification Group Tier Two depending on their finishing position.

The teams will again play each other home and away with the top three teams from the Elite Group qualifying for the knockout semi-finals.

The winners of the two Qualification Groups will take part in a play-off to decide who will make up the quartet. The semi-final winners will contest the final.

Opening weekend fixtures

Friday, August 17th, 2012

GROUP 1 - West Ham United v. Reading (Rush Green) 7pm

GROUP 3 - Chelsea v. Manchester City (Brentford FC) 7.05pm

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

GROUP 2 - Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur (NUFC Training Ground) 12pm; Stoke City v. Manchester United (Weaver Stadium) 11am.

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

GROUP 1 - West Bromwich Albion v. Everton (WBA Training Ground) 2pm.

Monday, August 20th, 2012

GROUP 1 - Arsenal v. Bolton Wanderers (Emirates Stadium) 7pm; Norwich City v. Blackburn Rovers (TBC) 7pm

GROUP 2 - Southampton v. Sunderland (Staplewood TG) 2.30pm

GROUP 3 - Liverpool v. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Liverpool’s Academy) 2pm; Middlesbrough v. Crystal Palace (Rockliffe Park) 2pm

You can follow developments on Twitter with the Premier League’s account @premierleague or via #bplU21

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Key Points

  • Inaugural season of Barclays U21 Premier League starts
  • Tickets for sale at £3 and £1 brings big crowd to Griffin Park
  • New structure designed to produce more and better home-grown players