MARTIN LING: Signing up our two latest 'pros' Danny and Jake made my week
ONE of the most difficult jobs for any manager to carry out is telling his club's 'scholars' – they were apprentices in my day – that they're not going to be offered professional contracts.
In many ways, it's harder than telling a pro that you're releasing him.
Kids have set their hearts on being a professional footballer, and for two years as a scholar they're so close to realising their dream.
I've known lads go into a long, stunned silence or even break down in tears – and that's the ones who've just been given the good news!
So it made my week when I was able to tell two of our youngsters, Jake Hutchings and Danny Sullivan, that we were offering them pro deals.
Jake, a centre-half, is just 17 and only halfway through his first year's scholarship, and a pro contract reflects how highly we think of him.
Danny is in his second year, and he's looked our youth team's best attacking player for some time.
Incidentally, both boys have reached this stage in their careers after being turned down earlier.
Jake was released from Leyton Orient's Academy last year and Danny didn't make it as a schoolboy at Plymouth Argyle.
It says a lot about them that they have bounced back from those disappointments, and that strength of character should serve them well in the years ahead.
I'll take a little bit of credit for Jake being at Plainmoor, because he sometimes played in the same Orient age-group Centres team as my own son Sam.
Sam's a year below Jake, but they played together when Sam was pushed up and I always liked the look of him.
Several other clubs around London ummed and aahed about offering Jake a scholarship, but while they were still thinking about it, we managed to get in first.
One swallow doesn't make a summer, so they say, and now we'll see what sort of reaction we get from both lads when they start training with the first team regularly.
It's a bit strange for me, because my own son is about to start a two-year scholarship at Leyton Orient next summer.
Sam is a right-back, and I tell everyone that he's a better player now than I was at his age.
I got my chance of an apprenticeship at Exeter City 30-odd years ago when I was 15 going on 16.
I had to leave home in London and take my first steps in the game without my dad near me.
Now, although he's got his mum to do the running around, Sam is doing the same thing without me looking on most of the time.
It's in reverse – he's up there and I'm down here
Before you get the wrong idea, I'm definitely NOT a 'touchline dad'!
You'll never hear me shouting and bawling like we've all heard some parents do.
I believe that if you put your boy into the hands of decent coaches, you've got to not interfere.
If Sam wants to talk to me about anything, of course I talk things over with him.
But just as being away from my dad helped me to grow up fast – in fairness, he was very quiet and let me get on with it anyway – I'm hoping that Sam will find his own way even better without me looking over his shoulder all the time.
In many ways, football is a tougher game to become a pro now than it was in my day.
I think about a third of pros in the Premier League are foreign players.
That inevitably squeezes down to the lower divisions, so it's a harder place for a young English player to make a living.
You also need to be more of an athlete at a younger age than when I was starting out.
There's a lot more Sports Science involved now, and everyone is trying to be ahead of the game in those areas.
I was never given a serious weights or diet programme when I was 16, but even the nine or ten-year-olds in our Centres of Excellence are getting information about all that stuff.
Ability and talent is still top of the 'tick' list, but even Lionel Messi didn't become the player he is without going through the best growth, strength, fitness and health regimes that Barcelona could offer.
If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for the rest of us to try and follow.