It was fascinating this week to peek inside Hamilton Academical and to see the inner makings of this remarkable club.

With their tiny support, a previously untested manager and youth players galore, Hamilton are currently riding high in the SPFL Premiership. How can this be?

Alex Neil, the player-manager, says the key is "patience". Ronnie MacDonald, once the club chairman and currently vice-chairman, says it is all about "continuity". Between these two men are numerous coaches, dieticians and scouts who have made Hamilton, in their own way, one of the remarkable stories of British football.

The club has just risen from having around 600 season-ticket holders to a giddy 1000. Apart from three or four seasoned campaigners, such as Martin Canning and Dougie Imrie, Neil basically works with a troupe of home-produced youngsters who, from 15 years of age or lower, have been taught and honed specifically to become Hamilton first-team players.

This club might well be unique, in that its manager is under no pressure in terms of the club falling down the pecking-order of Scottish football. Alex Neil, as it happens, appears to be a very good coach, but he operates in a cynicism-free environment.

"Continuity is everything for us," says MacDonald. "We want to give Scottish kids a chance. We have a modest budget, but the one thing we don't skimp on at Accies is scouting and coaching and facilities. We try to give these talented kids everything they need, the best they can get.

"If they're good, and they want to sign for us, then they'll receive a very modest salary to start off. If they don't want it and want to go elsewhere, that's fine by us. It's no skin off our nose. We just carry on.

"I had Alex Neil marked down as a manager five years ago. We put him in charge of the under-17s, with a view to him down the line becoming our manager once Billy Reid tired of it all.

"We say to Alex, 'look, we want you to play kids, to give them a chance in the team. And if it doesn't work out, it's not your fault, it's ours.' That's the way we go. People say, 'you can't play kids.' Well, we do, and if we end up at the bottom of division three for doing so, so be it. Our philosophy is, we want to rear and play our own."

The Hamilton first-team squad, which is currently putting many other Scottish clubs to shame and will face Celtic in Glasgow tomorrow, is packed with home-grown talent. Still just 19, defender Stephen Hendrie has played almost 100 matches for the club. This season alone Michael Devlin (21), Ziggy Gordon (21), Eamonn Brophy (18), Greg Docherty (18), Darren Lyon (19) and others have emerged amid the usual harvest of bright young Hamilton hopefuls.

Neil says it is all part of a club ethos which is absolutely ingrained in the club. "This current Accies team has been years in the making," he says. "I was under-17s coach under Billy Reid, so actually I've been working with some of these lads for three or four years now. A team won't just happen overnight. With good, talented young kids, you still need to be patient. You are basically teaching them the game.

"Compared to this time last year, this team has made considerable progress. What I do is, I get a spine of experience in the side. So, within my budget, I've got guys like our goalie, Michael McGovern, Martin Canning, Darian McKinnon, Jon Routledge and others. These are guys who know the game, who have been around. Then I graft our kids on to them.

"Obviously it would be easier to just have 11 experienced pros - they would all know their job. But the most enjoyable part of my job is bringing kids along and basically teaching them the game of football. I've brought a bunch of guys through from under-17 level to our first team - Brophy, Ali Crawford, Grant Gillespie, Micky Devlin - and that aspect is hugely satisfying. It's the way it is at Hamilton."

Neil came to the club nine years ago as a player and at first thought he had made a career mistake, having been at Barnsley and Mansfield Town, in coming to such a small club. But, gradually, he fell in love with the place, and is now steeped in what Hamilton are all about.

"I have 36 full-time - or nearly full-time - players who I work with," he says. "That includes the first team, our under-20 development squad and our under-17s.

"But at Accies we go right down through under-15s, under-14s, under-13s right down to under-10s. In fact, if we were allowed, we'd have under-5s and under-6s but you're not allowed to sign players that young in this country. We actually have six year olds and seven year olds in our community programme, which is allowed. It's the only way to go."

When he is not coaching, teaching and encouraging his players, Neil spends half his week examining his next opponents, plotting a way for his young side to bring them down. Hamilton have a full-time games-analyst and player-recruitment figure in Joe Savage, who was brought back from Celtic to fill an essential role in the club's success.

"Joe's role here is vital," says Neil. "Between us we study our opponents in depth, for their strengths and weaknesses. Every Friday morning, for example, Joe and I will go through our next opponents' game with our players. It is a very thorough job we try to do."

Last week, continuing their unbeaten run in the Premiership, Hamilton went to neighbours Motherwell and registered their biggest away win over their Lanarkshire rivals in almost 100 years with their 4-0 thumping.

"In the games themselves, if circumstances allow, I'll try to continually bring on our young players," says Neil. "For example, in that Motherwell match I deliberately brought on Darren Lyon and Greg Docherty just to give them more experience. That is an important part of my job here."

MacDonald insists Hamilton will continue to be a community club, aiming to be a nursery for gifted young Scottish footballers. Nor is the club there for mere charity. Hamilton have taken in nearly £6m from selling the likes of James McCarthy, James McArthur and Brian Easton in recent years. The club, quite rightly, stands tall as one of the best football nurseries in Britain.

"It's about hard work and dedication to the club," says MacDonald. "We also try to have a laugh while we're at it. We don't have a big support, for obvious reasons, but we want our fans to have a laugh and make a noise. We're basically just a happy wee bunch bumping along."