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The response from football people to the Guardian’s report about the industrialised disappointment delivered to young people by the game’s “academy” system has been dispiriting and alarming. Both the Premier League and Football League, whose clubs have 12,000 boys in intensive training from the age of eight, many more in “development centres” from – preposterously – the age of five, pride themselves on providing a “holistic” experience for the children. Undoubtedly the “elite player performance plan” (EPPP) does incorporate child protection procedures, welfare provision and sophisticated coaching policies, and there are many dedicated staff who care and do their best.
But here are some experiences told to us by parents and young people, who are seldom heard, and do not have the professional clubs’ corporate and lobbying power, or the favourable ear of the government.
“Some academies do not care about the welfare of the boys,” said one mother, whose son was recruited by a Premier League club at the age of six and released at 13. “They just throw them on the scrapheap, ruin their confidence then turn to the next kid showing a bit of promise.”
One young man who suffered serial sudden releases by clubs said he nevertheless looks back gratefully for the quality coaching and competition. Authentic Anton Stralman Womens Jersey He was saved when his dreams were “shattered” at 18 by his schoolteacher mother insisting he continue with his education and using her contacts to enrol him in a college. He recalls that the academy coaches at his local club “broke my heart with as much care and class as a slaughterer in an abattoir”.
Repeatedly, people have told us that, contrary to stated EPPP practice, boys were released without warning, constructive explanation or support. One father said that for his son, being released was “like being pushed off a cliff”. The mother of a boy who had been at a Premier League club from eight years old said the upset of being released was compounded by the humiliatingly public way it was done. “It was a disgrace the way it was handled,” she said. Asked about help for her son afterwards, which the leagues say clubs do provide for released 18-year-old “scholars”, she said: “No support from the club. [It was] like you didn’t exist.” It appears that never hearing from a club again is common.
A retired school head of year said these blows are delivered to teenagers at the worst time – 15- and 16-year-olds spend Year 11 worrying about their football, missing “vital teaching and learning”. They are dealt news of their release in April – just weeks before they sit their GCSEs.
“The student then had to return and face his peers with the humiliation of being let go and the whole experience overwhelms them. GCSEs are of no interest to them at this stage and they find the rejection extremely hard to cope with.” It was also common to hear this, that boys’ education had been impaired.
Of life at academies, many said they appreciated the superb facilities and coaching – which contrast starkly with grassroots squalor, again suffering a Conservative government’s nonsense insistence that our country cannot afford to maintain park pitches or decent changing rooms. Authentic Bennie Fowler Youth Jersey But one mother of a boy recruited at five by a major Premier League club described the academy culture as “really cold and ruthless”. Her son was training three or four times a week, getting home at 9pm, and became “a shadow of his former self”. They decided to pull him out of the academy and now refuse persistent requests from clubs, insisting that he plays with his friends, for his local grassroots club.
Several people working in football have told us that clubs scout most aggressively the five- and six-year-olds – perhaps on the basis that once they are in, they will stay with that club until the club releases them. The EPPP prescribes set fees to be paid to a club if a boy does want to leave for another, which means in practice that many are tied to their first club, even if they are unhappy.
The Premier League and Football League clubs wrested control of so many young boys’ sporting childhoods from schools and grassroots clubs with Howard Wilkinson’s Football Association “Charter for Quality” 20 years ago this month. Now Premier League clubs are globally focused, aggressively commercial corporations mostly owned by absentee overseas investors, Wilkinson says they are failing in a “moral responsibility” to give their academy players opportunities, and has called for a review.


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