Goals on the pitch - and in class

COMBINING a passion for football with academic study is a way of keeping youngsters in education. Today JAMES MARSTON reports.

James Marston

COMBINING a passion for football with academic study is a way of keeping youngsters in education.

Today JAMES MARSTON reports.

LATE afternoon at a sports centre on the edge of Ipswich and it's time for football.

A group of young men are being put through their paces.

One-touch skills, passing skills, shooting skills and quick feet skills - coaches John Coupe and Lenny Pack are making sure the lads are at their best.

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The Suffolk New College Football Scheme has been providing sportsmen with the opportunity to develop their football skills and gain recognised academic qualifications since July 2000.

And to join the programme youngsters must be on a full-time Suffolk New College course, be aged between 16 and 19 and be physically able to train five days per week.

As the lads work up a sweat on the astro-grass pitch at Whitton Sports and Community Centre,

John said: “I've got a lot of time for these lads. They take a lot of responsibility for themselves. They are at college all day in the classroom and then they are expected to be here during the evening.

“We know their timetables and they have to be committed. They have to look after their own kit as well.

“They've got passion for football and it's driving them to get the academic qualifications they need. We give them the opportunity to improve themselves and become better footballers.”

The programme is designed to help students achieve their sporting employability within a footballing environment and to further their education through the diverse range of courses available at Suffolk New College.

Students will also have the opportunity to attain a football coaching qualification.

John added: “The scheme aims to provide all students with a minimum of 12 hours coaching/matches each week.” And many play a high standard in the Football Conference Youth League and also for the British Colleges Sports League.

John said: “The scheme has been going for about nine seasons. The idea at the beginning was to get those not academically minded to stay in education and keep them learning.

“In order to get in the team you have to be studying at Suffolk New College and from September this year the scheme has been open to girls.

“We've got about 28 lads and 16 girls involved.

“We practise every day and we have matches at weekends.”

Lenny said the lads have been working on team shape - where they should be on the pitch during the match.

He said: “The advantages are they gain a qualification and also a Football Association coaching qualification so it's not just coming here and playing football.

“We play local clubs and get invited along to their training sessions as well.”

The girls' team is also proving popular.

Many of the students are studying for a national diploma in sport.

John said: “About 80 per cent are studying sport but we've got bricklayers, business studies students, plumbers, and electricians in the team as well.”

- Is football your passion? Do you play for the team? What do you think of the scheme? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

PLAYER PROFILES:-

Casey Carter, 17, club captain

Casey is studying for a national diploma in sport.

He said: “This is my second year. It is a really good scheme and it has helped me improve my football. It's good fun. “We train four nights a week.”

Ollie Brown, 16

Ollie, a former pupil at Thurleston High School, is studying for a national diploma in sport.

He said: “I think it's a good team. It is really good fun. We get on with each other.

“There's lots of banter and loads of good players. This is my first season with the team.

“I like playing sport. If I don't make it as a footballer I'd like to be a coach instead.”

Colin Gedney, 19

Colin is studying for a national diploma in sport.

He said: “It's a great set of lads and they are full of potential for the future. I like to be in competition and we learn new things as well.

“We get set goals and challenges. At college we get given assignments that we can do after training so it is set around the football.”

Lewis David, 16

Lewis is studying for a national diploma in sport.

He said: “I was going to sixth form but I wanted to be able to do sport as well so this was the best choice for me. I love football, I can't explain it but when you're playing you are happy.

“I'd like to play professionally but if I don't I'll have a qualification to fall back on.”

Jack Wilkinson, 16

Jack is studying for a qualification in business studies.

The former Hadleigh High School pupil said: “I want to play football and it's my first priority. If I don't make it I will have another qualification to use.

“I like the intensity of the football and I enjoy the academic work at the college as well. It's academic and physical.

“I thought about going straight into work but I thought I'd rather get a qualification.”

Did you know?

NOW in its ninth season, the team is planning a reunion to celebrate.

John said 250 youngsters have been through the scheme.

If you were among them and you'd like to take part in the reunion please call John or Lenny on 01473 287282.