Academy manager John Dempster feels Stags’ under 18s winning the Football League Youth Alliance title is ‘something that the whole town can be proud of’.
The youth team were crowned champions on Saturday afternoon in their first ever season at the respective league level, following their comfortable 2-0 victory over Grimsby Town in Lincolnshire.
And Dempster, who captained the club before hanging up his boots last year, lauded the club’s staff on and off the pitch for their unexpected success.
“Early on, we recognised that we had a good bunch of lads who were willing to go through brick walls for us but realistically, should we have go on to win the league? Probably not in our first year,” said Dempster.
“Full credit to all of the academy staff who have worked extremely hard and, essentially, full credit has got to go to the players because they’re the ones who do the business on a Saturday.
“It sets a precedent that we do things properly here. It lets everyone know that we’re doing things properly here. It’s something that the whole town can be proud of.”
The 33-year-old also praised his squad for showing strength in character to come back from rare defeats in the campaign.
“You often hear the argument about whether it should be about development or winning when it comes to youth football. In my opinion, it’s important to create a winning environment because essentially the next step for these boys is to go into the first team environment if they’re successful.
“We’ve took a few knocks this season along the way – we’ve learnt from them, but all in all it’s been an unbelievable season. It’s been an absolute privilege to be a part of it, I’ve learnt loads.”
Dempster reflected on how he has watched players develop throughout the season thanks to the efforts they’ve put in behind closed doors.
“I’ve actually seen them grow physically in front of my eyes. They’ve embraced the strength and conditioning facilities here at the college (Brooksby Melton College, where the youth team are based).
“If they adopt the kind of attitude they have done over the nine or ten months, I’m sure they’ll be successful in whatever they choose to do.”
The under 18s are set to be in attendance as Adam Murray’s senior side take on Cambridge United at One Call Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off) and Dempster hopes that their silverware can be paraded around the pitch at some point in the afternoon.
“I know the lads would be ecstatic to be in and around the first team on Saturday and get a feel for what it’s like on a matchday. If we’re a part of Saturday and get the chance to show the supporters what we’ve won, I’m sure it would be a great experience for the boys.”