Opportunity knocks for Ilkeston striker Simons
Rai Simons, the Ilkeston FC striker, has attracted interest from several English Football League clubs and could be set for trials early next season.
Simons, who signed a two-year contract with the Derbyshire-based side last summer, made a blistering start to his Ilkeston career, helping the club’s academy side reach the second round of the FA Youth Cup.
The 18-year-old also forced his way into Ilkeston’s first team, who play in the Evo-Stik League Northern Premier — the eighth tier of the English football — before enduring a stop-start second half of the season because of niggling injuries.
Paul Scope, the Bermuda Hogges owner, who forged a partnership with Ilkeston last year, said that next season could bring plenty of exciting opportunities for Simons if he continues to impress at the New Manor Ground.
“Rai will be too old for the Ilkeston Academy next season and should be very much part of their first team squad,” Scope said.
“His exploits in the FA Youth Cup have been well recorded and he has attracted the interest of Football League clubs. He will return to England after the summer and will, no doubt, have trials with League clubs with Ilkeston’s blessing.”
Simons, who is likely to spearhead the Bermuda Under-20 attack in their World Cup qualifiers in the Dominican Republic next month, will have further chances to impress during Ilkeston’s pre-season with games against Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Derby County scheduled for July.
Lejaun Simmons is also likely to be involved in those matches, with the former Devonshire Cougars forward returning to Ilkeston next season to continue his apprenticeship as part of the club’s education programme.
Simmons, who went on loan at Mickleover Sports in the league below Ilkeston last term, featured in the team’s recent tour of Spain along with Simons, with games against RCD Mallorca, who play in the Segunda Division, and several local sides.
“Lejuan Simmons has progressed really well and broke into the first team last season because of his work ethic,” Scope said. “He earned himself an apprenticeship where he has continued his education while being a full-time professional.
“He made the trip to Spain but picked up an injury that restricted his playing time, but he will be definitely be back at Ilkeston next season and will be pushing for a first team place in what could be a more youthful looking side.”
Scope said that he would be meeting with striker Antwan Russell, who played a handful of games of Ilkeston’s first team last season and also went on loan at Mickleover Sports, and his Bermuda team-mate Roger Lee, who featured in a few reserve team games at the end of the campaign.
“Antwan didn’t played for the first team as much as we, or he, would have liked, but both parties are open to him returning if he wants to,” Scope said.
“He’s already back in Bermuda for the summer and I will sit down with Antwan to see what the best next step is for him.”
Scope expects that Bermuda’s links with Ilkeston will be strengthened next season and believes the club is a perfect fit for some of the Island’s promising youngsters.
“All of our lads have been enriched by the experience and I would suggest have become stronger physically, mentally and skilfully.” said Scope, who attended his former team Gateshead’s S 2-1 defeat against Cambridge United in the Skrill Conference Premier play-off final at Wembley Stadium along with Nigel Harrop, Ilkeston’s commercial director, last weekend.
“I think it’s definitely a level where a lot of Bermuda players can compete and hopefully improve on.”
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