Track record was key to recruitment

By David Watters

A track record of success persuaded Stafford Rangers to become the Northern Premier League Football Academy’s fifteenth member club, along with the backing of manager Steve Burr following his return to the club where he kicked off his playing career.

Rangers had been considering a number of options to set up their own sporting and academic programme before choosing the EVO-STIK League’s ground-breaking NPLFA, still the first and only league-wide academy in English football combining sport with education since being founded at five pilot clubs in 2014.

More than 300 students at 13 clubs benefited from the NPLFA’s Football Association approved programme last season with the numbers set to rise again in September with the application of newly promoted North West Counties Football League runners-up Widnes currently being fast-tracked due to the high demand for places in the North West.

Stafford Rangers chairman John Bromley explained the Staffordshire club’s reasoning as he looked forward to recruitment starting in September for their first intake of students and the NPLFA’s fifth, for the 2019-20 academic year.

Stafford Rangers chairman John Bromley

Stafford Rangers chairman John Bromley

In a statement on the NPLFA website, Bromley said: “We were looking to join a football education programme and decided the NPLFA its structure and governance is the one we felt comfortable with. From a club’s point of view, it costs nothing both financially and in human resources to see if we can establish such a programme at our football club. If we can, the continued on-going management of the whole programme was also a deciding factor for us.

“It is also the league’s academy and we feel we are supporting their initiative and forward-thinking project. We have seen the NPLFA programme’s growth and learned a lot from their presentation to us and the commitment provided. Therefore, we are delighted to have been chosen as one of the new clubs for the 2019-20 season.”

The chairman added: “I would also like to echo the thoughts of a number of club officials in press releases. I would imagine most clubs at our level with the volunteers and finances we have would find it difficult to create such a programme, therefore to have the NPLFA oversee, monitor, manage and report to us is the best way forward.”

Former Chester City, Hucknall Town, Kidderminster, Northwich Victoria, Nuneaton Borough, Southport and Stalybridge boss Burr told fans when he returned to Marston Road in May as manager that he was looking to establish an academy set-up to build on the success of the club’s existing youth set-up and successful U18s who produced a number of first team graduates again last season including striker Lucas Burnett and keeper Riley Stephenson.

Confirming his early seal of approval, Burr said: “It is something I encouraged to be set up at the club as I have seen from a football aspect several players at other clubs develop and progress to the first team and I want those young lads in Stafford to know if they join the programme, develop over the two years and show the ability required, they will be given a chance at this football club.

“I know this programme provides young lads with an opportunity to gain educational qualifications, along with a well organised football programme and if it was available when I left school it would be the place I would have gone to.

“There are a few organisations delivering this type of programme, however when you look at the quality, the concept and the growth of the NPLFA in such a short space of time, it shows it is being developed correctly.”

An NPLFA spokesperson said: “We are thrilled Stafford Rangers have joined and we are close to completing our intake of clubs for the 2019-2020 season. I am sure many people are aware of the potential at Stafford as a football club and we feel with the size of the catchment area and reputation of the club we can provide and develop a successful programme.

“It always helps when the manager is also committed to seeing a programme develop and in Steve Burr they have a manager not afraid to develop youth which should encourage local youngsters to join the programme.”

The NPLFA was founded to provide career pathways into the football industry with students studying on two year BTEC courses. Since last season, students have been able to continue their education to degree level after the NPLFA teamed up with Loughborough College in the summer of 2017 to launch a new higher education partnership.

The NPLFA's coaches are looking to enlist their next generation of champions over the coming weeks as the senior season gets underway with summer trials well underway at all member clubs. Open to Year 11 and 12 students looking to continue their education in September, the trials are the fourth and final chance of 2018 for potential students to showcase their talents and earn a place at the NPLFA.

Apply now at nplfa.co.uk/register. To see the NPLFA's latest promotional videos and success stories, follow on Twitter at @NPLFA or visit: www.nplfa.co.uk.

Images courtesy of @NPLFA/Twitter

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