Tag Archives: youth football

Chris Green talks about the issues surrounding ‘Every Boys Dream’

In 1997, the FA decided to revolutionise youth development in this country. Doing away with the national football school based in Lilleshall, Premier League clubs would now provide an academy system.

Late last year, Howard Wilkinson – the man who helped transition the league from the old to the new 21 years ago – called for a review and overhaul of the current system claiming clubs are failing in their ‘moral responisbility’.

With young players being churned out at every decreasing ages – do clubs properly care for the well being of those prospective kids?

Chris Green, along with being the late Cyril Regis’ biographer, has previously worked for BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 4 as a broadcaster.

Along with having written three other books on football, he also charted the trials and tribulations of the academy system since its inception.

Every Boys Dream

‘Every Boys Dream’ is his fourth football tome and was written after years of following various academy systems as a journalist.

He tells me that he decided to write it nine years ago due to the well-being of young players seemingly being a non-issue in football.

“Nobody had really covered what had happened after setting up the academy system in 1997.”

The catalyst for finally writing the book being a local story he had been gathering for Radio 4.

“After I did a really small piece on the FA coming down on a small club in Gloucestershire called Cirencester Town, because they had set something up called an academy and the FA were attempting to take legal action against them for using a word that they deemed in football now belonged to them.”

Howard Wilkinson now believes that the academy system has failed young footballers.

“Cirencester had actually trademarked their academy before the FA had set up the academy system. It was a satirical piece talking about how the FA now think they have ownership of a word with Ancient Greek origin; it was a place where Plato taught his students and now they are claiming it’s theirs.”

This then led Green to writing to the then technical director of football, Wilkinson, to gain a broader knowledge of just what the FA were proposing.

“He kindly sent me the blueprint for how the academy system was going to operate and that was called ‘a charter for quality’.”

Too much too young?

As he began mulling over what was supposedly the new layout for how the future of English football would play out, the journalist was surprised to find that the new regulations meant kids in Primary School would now be scouted.

‘It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this’

Previously the scouting system dictated that players aged 13 and upwards was the past policy when identifying young talents.

“It didn’t take too much imagination to think that this was going to be a big ask for the clubs to now deliver this. It’s going to be fraught with issues surrounding the education of kids, the distance they travel to academies and the safety standards being brought in – many welcome – some I believed were a distraction.”

“I then found out by speaking to people, that was indeed the case. Although, it didn’t mean clubs were getting more players through or producing necessarily better players.”

Chris then highlights the role the media have played in hyping up young kids – after a newspaper in Sunderland published a piece about a young prospect recently signed by the Black Cats.

“They were parading a child around as the next Wayne Rooney. He was five and they had on him on the pitch before a game against Arsenal signing something.”

Green then detailed a story he had also heard recently of “how a Premier League club had signed a four year old and when he got to training, one of the coaches noticed he was still wearing a nappy.”

He continues, “Anybody who says they can spot a five year old and predict that he can be a footballer at 18 is mad, in my opinion. I think there are a lot of coaches who don’t want to be coaching kids at that age, and I know because I’ve spoken with many.

“They don’t see the value in it, they think it’s all about trying to make sure you have kids signed to your academy; just in case.”

Pay to play?

Based in Worcester, Chris now operates from his media centre where I am speaking to him. He believes that since stepping away from his job as an active journalist recently, little improvement in standards have been made.

“Scouts, as I hear it, are currently being paid to get five year olds to development centres that are unregulated – they are getting paid by clubs just simply to fill up the surrounding local centres.

“I know there are scouts operating in the local area, I say scouts in inverted commas of course. We often have no idea whether these are club officials or qualified coaches due to the lack of regulation.”

In light of the recent case of Barry Bennell at Crewe Alexandra – where young players were sexually abused over the course of many years in the 1990s and 1980s – this kind of dream weaving opportunity could present an even greater immediate threat for young footballers.

With no presence of proper regulation, Green questions how the club can truly protect that child and the motives behind this method of recruitment.

“They can get any number of these kids to a centre and go to these things because there is no paperwork; and to me the whole area is where the money is being spent.”

Mental well-being in youth football

More and more we are seeing cases of players after or during their playing careers, struggling and attempting to deal with personal demons.

However the same level of understanding – which is now afforded to those who have been lucky enough to play the game – is often found lacking for those who do not make the grade.

Chris tells me that he considers it “the biggest scandal of the whole system”.

“The fact that clubs can have such a big influence on young people and then just completely wash their hands of any responsibility.”

Often for those who cannot quite realise their ambition after years within a system, this can prove devastating. It has even led to some former academy players taking their own lives after being released.

Whether the FA decide to take advice from the man who provided Chris with the academy system blueprint in 1997 remains to be seen.

But with the emphasis so far simply on putting academy prospects into a professional setting from early; the other issues within the system seem to still be largely ignored.

Chris finishes with a quote from a man he says was a highly respected Premier League youth coach: “He told me that ‘the child is supposed to be first and foremost in the minds of Premier League clubs and that is a f*****g million miles away from how they think’.”

Photos Courtesy of @ChrisGreenMedia

‘Young British football coaches are not getting career support’

Football coaching in the UK is in the midst of a participation problem – compared to other large footballing nations, numbers are on the decline.

So if coaching and management is how you wish to make your career in football, what support are young British coaches getting in a bid to achieve their goals?

Aaron Blackwood, nephew of Eastenders actor Richard Blackwood, fell out of love with playing the game but sought a route back into football from the touchline.

If you starting playing competitively at an extremely young age, the trials and tribulation of Sunday league kids football can often become exhausting.

Be it expletive-shouting parents on the sidelines or over-zealous coaches roasting kids barely out of nappies for not winning a header; the joy of football can sometimes be lost.

Return and disillusion

Blackwood, 23, found that his passion to coach became his eventual gateway back into the game.

“My interest in coaching developed more and more as I went through a frustrating period of falling out of love with the playing side of the game,” he said.

The Ex-Worcester City youth player started coaching in the sixth form at school

After he stepped away from playing, he decided whilst at sixth form he wanted to realise his new found ambition to coach. He also found that stepping onto the touchline gave him a new vigour for the sport.

“I started to watch the game through a different set of eyes, asking a lot more questions and started to pick the brains of other coaches – I suppose you can say that’s where my interest really sparked from.”

But where to begin if you are a young coach with no coaching badges and lack of ability to pay?

“My experience started in sixth form helping coach the year-9s (U-14s) and organising the sixth form (U-19s) team. At 19 years old, I set up and managed Studley FC U-18s in the Midlands Floodlit Youth League ahead of the 2013/14 season which was a real eye-opener, mainly because of the off-the-field running of the club.”

Building a CV

As with most careers or passions, you often have to try and gain plenty of experience as quickly as possible, which is what the newly-blooded coach set out to achieve.

Blackwood is carving a career in non-league football

“I spent three seasons at Studley FC U-18s, winning the Midlands Floodlit Youth League Western Division (14/15) with a fantastic group, before being asked to take over Highgate United’s U-18s ahead of the 2016/17 season, a good club with a lot of ambition – I was involved at Highgate for a year before leaving to set up Feckenham FC U-18s.”

Playing football in a league which often turns out plenty of academy system players in the West Midlands, helped play a role in setting himself up for a momentary switch to men’s football.

“My experience in mens and senior football came on an interim basis, when West Midlands (Regional) League side Bartley Green Illey FC removed their Manager in January 2015.

“I knew the chairman and he asked me to oversee the team until the end of the season who were rock bottom, we had a good 14 games together and managed to put a string of positive results to eventually finish 12th.”

“My intention was to stay involved with Bartley Green Illey FC for the 2015/16 season, but I was asked in the summer if I’d be interested in taking charge at Midland League Division Two side Feckenham FC, and with the club playing at a better level and closer to home I jumped at the opportunity – which is where I am ’til this day.”

The support system

The problems facing football in this country are varied and plentiful, but and a lack of coaches doesn’t appear to be particularly high on the FA’s agenda.

But plenty would argue that more needs to be done to cultivate a better culture of turning out young coaches. Blackwood believes that badges and levels could be funded just like university.

He argues: “If you were to go to university to study for a degree to pursue a career, you’d spend £9,000 per year, but there’s help in paying that tuition back. In football, earning your badges should be no different.

The young coach believes advice from his peers has stood him in good stead

“The costs are nothing short of ridiculous, but in this country, in my opinion, there is also a cultural issue which isn’t just in football and sport, it’s across everything within society.

“I received no real help directly from the FA, but that’s not to say others haven’t [helped].

“Without the guidance of previous managers and people’s footballing opinions that I hold in high regard, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today and that has nothing to do with the FA.

“They have updated the coaching badges and improved certain facilities and given grants for 3G pitches, which is what we train on, but is that enough?”

A lack of minority managers

Brighton & Hove Albion’s Chris Hughton last month became the first black team boss to win the Premier League manager of the month award.

But, despite black British players featuring prominently in professional football, non-white senior coaches and managers remain a rarity.

‘There seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches’

Blackwood said: “I’d like to see more people of colour being encouraged to pursue a career on the sideline – those that have ambition, drive, a willingness to learn and be successful will eventually get opportunities.

“But I feel more needs to be done. The figures are alarming, considering the pool of talent out there. I believe at all levels, but at the elite level especially, there seems to be institutionally embedded barriers in this country for ethnic coaches.”

So is positive discrimination needed to make things fairer? “I’m a strong strong believer in people being given opportunities on merit, so for me it’s important regardless of religion, gender or ethnicity people are given managerial and coaching posts because they’re deemed the best person for the vacancy.”

Whether Blackwood will be given chances to further develop a career in coaching remains to be seen, but he is optimistic.

“If it’s something I really want, then why not?”

“I’ll continue in non-league football, which is improving in quality year on year. Each level is becoming more and more professional in regards to matchdays, training, how players now look after themselves, and if I do well and opportunities present themselves, then we’ll see.”

‘Kicks kept me out of prison’

Nathan Owor reckons he owes a lot to the Premier League’s Kicks community scheme – maybe even his life.

‘Growing up on a rough council estate in East London, most my friends were getting into trouble with police and around the neighbourhood,” he recalls.

“The Kicks project is the reason I believe I’m not in prison or who knows maybe even worse.”

‘Before Kickz I had never played for a football team because I never had the funding.

One of the highlights of the programme is the annual Premier League Kicks Cup, which brings together all of the clubs for a showpiece small-sided football competition.

Owor added: “The free football allowed me to develop my skills and even go on to play  in regional tournaments in Derby, Manchester and Blackburn which I will never forget.”

Free sessions

Currently in its tenth year, the Premier League Kicks is one of the Premier League’s flagship community programmes.

“I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs”

Jointly funded by Sport England, the project (formerly known as ‘Kickz’) uses the power of football and the value of sports participation to change young lives in some of Britain’s toughest and most troubled neighbourhoods.

Kicks runs free sessions to bring together 12-to-19 year olds who are potentially vulnerable to involvement in street crime but have a keen interest in sport.

It’s backed by all of the Premier League’s clubs, plus many others in the Football League, and also has the support of the Football Association.

Over 50,000 young people took part in the programme in 2014-15 alone, and it has helped thousands of youngsters to find routes into education, training and employment – and even kickstarted some football careers in the process.

Darren Johnson, a coach affiliated to Tottenham Hotspur’s Kicks scheme told Elephant Sport: “I’ve had young men come through project with natural raw talent which just needed a bit of coaching to then see them earn trials at various clubs.”

Star names

In some areas where Kicks is active in the community, police have reported falls of up to 50% in incidents of anti-social behaviour.

West Brom KickzIt began in 2006 as a pilot project in London between the Premier League and Metropolitan Police, with the aim of using football to bring communities together and engage with young people.

It is currently in operation at 56 Premier League and Football League clubs across the country, with the involvement of several police forces.

Footballers such as Jermaine Defoe and Heurelho Gomes have previously visited Tottenham’s project for kickabouts, with the likes of Yannick Bolasie  and Wilfried Zaha visiting Everton’s and Crystal Palace’s versions.

Engagement

Johnson added: “Professional footballers such as brothers Matty [now at Man Utd] and Chris [Arsenal] Willock used to train here alongside playing for Arsenal which shows our level of coaching is very high.”

Despite the name, Kicks is not all about football as the project introduces young people to other sports and activities, including table tennis, dancing and basketball – all part of its efforts to build ‘a safer, stronger and more respectful community’.

The scheme’s long-term goal is to give participants something to work towards for the future, whether it is football or other career paths, while other non-sporting elements of it seek to engage teenagers in music, educational and other personal development activities.