New academy aims to develop footballers — and young people

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The future is looking bright at Alfreton Town FC as it looks to rebuild from last season’s relegation — and not just because first-team manager Nicky Law is determined to lead his side back into the National League.This summer the club established its first youth academy in a unique partnership with Hucknall-based Rolls Royce Leisure.

It will use Rolls Royce’s top-class facilities to try to uncover and develop football players of the future — and give youngsters the chance to make a career in other areas of sport than just playing by continuing their education.

Already the academy has tasted success after 16-year-old defender Moziah Selassie was selected for the Bermuda Under-17 World Cup Qualifying squad, while the academy side made progress in the FA Youth Cup.

Alfreton also plan to form a development/under-21/reserve team next season, using some of the players leaving the youth academy.

Academy manager Jamie Brough said: “You only have to look at Jamie Vardy to see what can be achieved by being in and around a good non-league football club and I’m hopeful we’ll find some talented footballers.

“This is a great opportunity for young players to be part of a fantastic new academy and under-21 development group within a forward thinking and progressive football club.

“Ultimately we are looking at trying to get players into the Football League. To help their development at a crucial age, from 16 to 18, and give them the skills, not just as footballers but as young people, to move forward. At that age the changes, physically and mentally, can be phenomenal.

“But it is not just about playing football. It is about developing them as young people and giving them the skills and chance to go on to something else within sport if they don’t make it as a player.”

Alfreton Youth Academy, which plays home matches at the Impact Arena, has been set up for talented 16 to 18-year-old footballers from across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

They will play matches in the Central Conference League on Wednesdays, possibly alongside first-team players returning from injury or needing game time, and compete in the Notts Youth League Under-18 Premier Division on Saturdays.

Youngsters train three to four times per week at Rolls-Royce Leisure’s outstanding facility, which includes high-quality football pitches, a 3G surface, state-of-the-art gym, canteen and meeting rooms.

There are also classrooms on-site where players study on one or two-year courses towards a Btec qualification in sports excellence – giving them a grounding in areas such as sport and leisure, physiotherapy, sports nutrition, strength and conditioning, fitness, personal training and coaching.

Brough said: “It is vitally important they receive a first-class education while they are doing this because, for example, they are only one bad tackle away from not playing again. That’s not me being negative, that’s the harsh reality of football at any level.”

Youngsters spend four half-days a week in the classroom and four half-days on the training field as well as their Wednesday and Saturday game time.

Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley with academy manager Jamie Brough

Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley with academy manager Jamie Brough

Brough took up coaching after he had to finish playing in his late teens/early 20s with a serious knee injury.

He won a league and cup double with Carlton Town Reserves and then went to Hucknall Town as first-team coach. He also worked at Eastwood Town and with former England international Andy Sinton at AFC Telford.

He then decided to go into full-time coaching, at a lower level, and took on the role of director of football at Rolls Royce Leisure.

“It was anything but the Sven Goran Erikkson-type of role that people tend to think of,” he joked. “It was more about football development and developing the project they had started at Hucknall.

“Over the last few years the role has evolved and the project has been a good success, both at grassroots football level and as a leisure facility.

“Part of my plan was to start a football academy, which is what we have done there after working towards it over the past four years with the help of Notts County.

“The idea was that there were children who flirt with academy football from 12 to 16 and never quite make it for whatever reason.

“Most clubs release half of the 16-year-olds on their books. They then go to other clubs, fall away or pursue new careers.”

Brough launched the Notts County Pathway Academy at Rolls Royce Leisure last year, aiming to give youngsters who might have slipped through the net the chance to make it into professional football.

On the back of that success, he decided to start a similar scheme for youngsters at a non-league club “at a good level” and formed an alliance with Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley.

Brough said: “I thought it was best to be realistic so we needed a non-league link as it is very difficult for players to make it as a professional.

It was important that I found a secure club to start this project, whatever the link became. This is not just a flash-in-the-pan idea, it is about building for the future, and I wanted to go somewhere that was well-run.

“There is a security about Alfreton Town Football Club that has been built over a number of years. It is in very safe hands.

“We want this academy project to be something we can all be proud of. There are two great names in Derbyshire involved — Alfreton Town and a globally-recognised company (Rolls Royce) who take pride in their facilities. It is an unbelievable opportunity for people and I am really excited about it.

“This can be a real benefit for Alfreton Football Club. It had only one team, which was unusual for a club at that level, and must have been difficult for managers to keep players fit and when they were coming back from injuries.

“Now first–teamers can drop into the academy side for the Conference matches on a Wednesday when they need to get some minutes on the pitch or are getting back to fitness.

“I know that is something the manager is keen to explore. And in terms of development and progression for the younger players, what an opportunity.

“For the 16, 17 and 18-year-old lads to be on the same pitch as the senior players like maybe Liam Hearn or Craig Westcarr would be a real learning curve for them — and put them in the shop window.”

Alfreton chairman Wayne Bradley said, “We are delighted to have formed this partnership with Rolls Royce Leisure and look forward to the development of the academy over the years to follow.”

There are still places available for this season’s course and the academy has already made plans to take on eligible youngsters next summer.

Anyone wishing to find out more information or details about trial days should e-mail jamie.brough@alfretontownfc.com or call him on 07912 862597.