DEREK NICHOLSON would have been forgiven had he decided not to return to Alloa after an eye-opening first day.

The much-touted youth coach hadn't quite realised the scale of the rebuilding job handed to him by Jim Goodwin when he was convinced to return to football last September.

His move cam following the departure of Graham Livingstone, amid years of stagnation.

Upon arrival, he noted that the Alloa youth set-up hadn't just failed in its core task of preparing players for the first team – but it barely had any players at all.

Only six bodies were available to the former head of Cowdenbeath's youth academy, who during his time in Fife helped the likes of Lewis Milne and Alloa's own Jon Robertson fulfill their potential.

It became clear that the set-up needed torn up from top-to-bottom.

"We were losing players to Sauchie and the teams round about us." Nicholson told Advertiser Sport. "Jim and I both agreed that shouldn't have been happening as we are the senior club in the area."

The pair quickly realised the club was failing to capture youth talent due to the lack of connection between Alloa Athletic FC and the Wasps Community FC.

Youngsters were joining the Wasps as soon as they could walk, but with no teams beyond U16s the bridge to the Alloa FC first team was a gap too far.

"From the outside looking in, I always thought the Wasps Community was a major part of the club but it wasn't quite like I thought it was," Nicholson said.

"As much as everyone wanted it to be, it hadn't quite happened that way. For Alloa Football Club to lose players to teams round about wasn't good enough.

"Jim made it very easy for me as we were singing from the same hymn sheet and it was clear that there were no egos at all – hat's the way it's got to be throughout the club."

Nicholson's first move was to meet with Alex Brown, the head of Wasps Community Club, and bring the volunteer-led academy in line with Alloa by implementing a player development pathway.

From the grassroots to the first team, the two clubs now go hand-in-hand in discovering the Wee County's diamonds in the rough.

Kids as young as four join the Wasps and when they reach 11-a-side football, they then either stay with the community club or join Alloa's Junior Academy.

From there, those who make the grade step up to the Youth Academy before, in theory, going on to play for the newly-formed reserves and then the first team.

Nicholson added: "We are just wanting to make it a place where people want to be and we are now being inundated with people contacting us for trials.

"The link between us and the Wasps Community Football Club is so much closer now and I've got to give Alex Brown credit.

"We all get on well and the synergy of the team from the coaching staff and right through the club is better than it's ever been.

"The pathway is basically the set-up we had at Cowdenbeath and the idea is to make players ready for the senior level.

"To get from a standing start to where we are now is massive; even although it's maybe not grown as quickly as I would have liked it to.

"We now have this senior pathway and a route to a senior club in Clackmannanshire and I can't praise the work of Alex enough."

The former Raith Rovers coach continued: "The community club are all volunteers and all helping out and now we are planning together and working with them.

"The gaffer always said he wanted a legacy and that's what I want. We want to get the best players we can."

It's a legacy which is already bearing fruit with youngster Cameron O'Donnell making the step up to the first team and shining in the Wasps' pre-season fixtures.

Nicholson continued: "If we can push one or two boys up every season then the academy has done its job.

"If then they are sold to somewhere else, then the money will go straight back into the academy and we can use that for the next generation.

"We work on being an open and transparent club and we treat them like professional players; you've got to do that if you want them to make the first team.

"We now watch a lot of the stuff on the television and we warm-up properly pre-match and look after their nutrition.

"Whether it be the 16s or the 18s or the reserves, we are doing that. It's not for everybody and it's fine if people want to go back to play with their pals.

"From the first minute of meeting Jim and going through the things it was blatantly obvious we had similar ideas in the discipline side and the footballing side.

"I don't care if it's the best or worst player in the side, but if they don't fit into our ideas then they won't be here.

"We want people to be creative and to express themselves but we don't want egos or people trying to run the dressing room.

"We want young players in the community to go and play with the community club because they know there's a chance they could make it into the academy."

Nicholson and Brown have already started to go into schools in the area and they hope to create a link between local colleges and the Wasps as they tirelessly work to unearth the next generation of Alloa star.

The academy sides are being led by Derek's son Max, Owen Kelly and Mark McAuley, with the coaches holding sessions with Wasps volunteers in a bid to share their knowledge.

Lee Sharp had also been involved before leaving the club to join up at St Mirren with the former Wasps manager.

While Goodwin himself may have now departed for pastures new, he previously told Advertiser Sport of his ambition for the revamp of the youth set-up.

"We spent most of last pre-season stripping back the academy and bringing in coaches," he said.

"Derek was available at the time and I felt he was a good appointment and a good addition to the backroom staff.

"I wanted us to be able to develop our own players and I think that's a really important part of any small club like Alloa.

"We are trying to develop our own and while I am not afraid to give youth a chance, I just don't think the levels have been good enough.

"With what we have now and the coaches who are in place I can see the progression that has been made already.

"We are hoping we will be able to get one young guy in the squad then we will be doing our job."