Shaftesbury’s youngsters will be able to study for a qualification that could help them pursue football, sports management or sports media careers. It’s part of a series of community projects launched by Shaftesbury Football Club.
Many young men and women would love to work as football professionals. From this autumn, Dorset-based Champion Football Academy will be helping local 16 to 19-year-olds achieve their dream. Director Danny Neville says his staff will encourage academically capable students who feel ‘school isn’t right for them’ to ‘move on and better themselves’.
Full-time, two-year NCFE courses will be taught at the Coppice Street clubhouse. “You can either do a level III diploma or level III extended diploma. That will carry enough UCAS points to take you into a university, if that’s what you want to do when you go on,” said Danny.
He understands that parents might initially dismiss a football course as ‘a pipe dream’. His team isn’t promising Premier League playing positions, but they will help youngsters who want to pursue a long-term career within the game. “We have got two staff who work for us, who are both professionals at Bournemouth. They have come out of that, but they are playing a really good standard of nonleague and they are coaching every day. They’re a lot happier than they were when they were in an under 21’s group – technically, a professional footballer,” said Danny.
He believes these colleagues have ‘made it’ in football. “They are working full-time in football, both playing and coaching. It will be a career that they will have until they are in their fifties, not playing, but they will be in coaching and education,” said Danny. “Football is quite a short career, but they can grow into this. We can’t guarantee you a pro contract. Nobody can. But we can guarantee you really good life experience and the best possible standard of education we can provide. The ancillary things around the course will be beneficial if you want to work in sport.”
Danny says the range of football-related roles has expanded since he was the age of his potential Shaftesbury students. “When I was their age, if you wanted to work in football you had to be a first-team manager, an assistant manager, a youth team manager or a physio. If the club was particularly salubrious, you might have a first-team coach. That is five roles and ex-players would occupy them. The business of football is incredible. There are so many jobs outside those roles now.”
Shaftesbury-based football academy courses will help students develop sports media skills too. Danny realised how many opportunities are now on offer when he visited Premier League club, Southampton. “I went to St Mary’s and we took a group on a stadium tour. I went behind one door and walked into some offices and there were fourteen people there. They were full-time staff working in football reporting and football. I was surprised. Teams like Liverpool have thirty people in the social media department. To me, that’s a job in football,” said Danny.
He says that performance analysis is also a growth area. “I went into the first-team pavilion at Bournemouth, to the analysis department. They went from two to ten people working there. With the growth of private academies like ourselves, the academy system and community trusts, there are so many different coaching roles you can take up. I do believe that coaching and working in football is a genuine career now,” he explained.
Danny and his key team members are qualified teachers. He has lectured at Southampton Solent University for thirteen years. Academic classes will be timetabled alongside football coaching. “The students will come in and study in the morning. They will train in the early afternoon and then take part in their employability programme, where they will look at social media and marketing, PE coaching and after-school coaching. They will be working alongside a men’s team and running events as well.”
His existing students have achieved a 100% pass rate in their level III sports diploma studies. “Education first, then we’ll add the football to it. We can guarantee them a good education as long as they buy into it. That’s where we keep their feet on the ground. They will play in a league and we would hope to get them into Shaftesbury’s first-team to get some good opportunities, both playing and in employment as well,” said Danny.
He hopes that the academy will launch this autumn for the next academic year. That’s why he spoke to youngsters at an information session at the football club yesterday. “We’ve started probably a little bit later than we would have liked to have done for September, so we’re playing catch up a bit in terms of recruitment,” said Danny. “We had a good day today with a lot of interest. We’ve had emails from people who are unable to come but who are still interested.”
He says that they would need ten students to start with. “Next academic year we are likely to have forty. The numbers do grow. All of our teaching resources and staffing are in place, as is the agreement with Shaftesbury Football Club for the use of the facilities. It is really now just making sure that we get the numbers through the door.”
The courses are free. “There is no cost to it,” said Danny. “It is very similar to a state school. We get our funding to run the course. We cover everything.” And the courses are open to both boys and girls. “We don’t have as many girls as we would like on the programme but that’s something we’re working on. Women’s football is booming, and it is brilliant to see.”
The project was born in Wimborne. Danny believes it benefits rural areas like Shaftesbury, where youngsters don’t get the football training opportunities offered in the coastal conurbation. “I think this is a great area for us because there are some really good players in the town. There’s some real interest in football but perhaps there isn’t the coaching infrastructure, other than one or two individual people who are offering coaching at the moment,” Danny said.
Danny’s talk captivated the dozen or so lads listening to him explaining how the academy works. You could have heard a pin drop when he spoke about opportunities for work placement in the Caribbean. It’s an area that Danny knows well. For the past two years, he served as the assistant national team coach for the British Virgin Islands’ side.
“We sent three players over there that have become coaches for a year. We have two or three that play on the national team and, naturally, we got quite a few people from the Virgin Islands coming here,” said Danny. “We also have links with America and Bulgaria, so if you want to work abroad that’s something we can help with. I would recommend to any player, even if they want to go to university, that a gap year teaching abroad offers life experience.”
When Danny shared his plans at last night’s Shaftesbury Town Council meeting, Cllr Alex Chase welcomed the proposal, which he said, ‘looked fantastic’. The academy is the first stage in a range of enhancements planned for Shaftesbury Football Club. They have plans to develop the pitch into a 3G facility. That’s nothing to do with mobile phones. It’s an all-weather surface that looks and feels like natural grass. It also considered environmentally friendly and low maintenance. It should enable wheelchair football, walking football and other recreational activities.
Danny considers the all-weather pitch to be a necessity. “Having a surface that you can play on all day – and all night – is really important. We’ve been out there running the session and you’re almost tiptoeing around. You are careful about which parts you use because the pitch is wet. If you have 3G, you can put on whatever session you want. You could host many different games and events and it becomes a centrepiece. It would be beneficial to the town,” he said.
Danny says if you slip on this artificial grass you won’t be hurt. “It’s not like the old-style ones, where if you fell over you might need a skin graft,” he laughs. “The pile can be two or three inches long, so it does feel and play like real grass. These are a lot safer.”
Football camps for 7 to 13-year-olds will be offered from this Friday, too. “We have got nearly fifty booked on already. That’s fantastic for a first foray into it. We are also looking at running some coaching centres for young people as well,” said Danny.
If you want to be considered for the courses or want more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.