SCL & FC United of Manchester
developing a talent pool


Please enter your search term below

We speak to Jonathan Ford; FE Sports Lecturer at SCL, and Tom Conroy; 1st Team Coach & Sports Development Manager at FC United of Manchester, to learn more about how SCL and FC United of Manchester create opportunities for young people.

What type of backgrounds do these young learners have coming onto the programme?

Jonathan: These are local lads, mainly based in Manchester but we do have people who travel from further afield. Many of them have just finished their GCSEs and are looking for full time employment in the football sector or have ambitions to go on and be professional footballers.

What is the learning experience like?

Tom: We treat this like a professional academy, and with that, discipline and respect for the coaches play a big part of what we do. They are starting their journey here and need to do things to show us respect – we’re not asking them to clean boots etc., but they are expected to look after the facilities that they use.

Within the education element, they need to do voluntary hours to complete some of the modules, so we have them in and around the club helping out during the day, or they’re invited down on a match day to integrate and communicate with the supporters. We have a lot of grassroots clubs using the facilities so the boys get the opportunity to gain coaching hours and we integrate them with those clubs which can help identify other career options.

So the programme is a real mix of football, education and life skills?

Jonathan: Yes, we focus on football skills in the morning with the coaches, and in the afternoon, it’s a sports course in which we teach them everything to do with sports, but we also include subjects like maths and English and that helps those that may not have done so well in their GCSEs.

Do you think sport is a great motivator for learning?

Jonathan: Yes, we find that a lot of the lads leave with core skills that can help them in other jobs and the ability to problem solve, work in teams, etc. It’s quite a close team environment that we have here; they’re basically training as full-time professional athletes. If the football doesn’t necessarily go their way, they have these life skills to find employment in the future.

Tom: For the young players they get to carry on playing football. We’re giving them the opportunity to train in a professional environment at a football club and be treated like a footballer on a daily basis whilst also getting an education. The education that SCL provides is not just about football but sport as a whole so it gives these boys the opportunity to follow a different career pathway such as psychology in sport or coaching in sport – all these different things that they can look at as a side career should they not make it as a footballer.

Does it give you a sense of achievement and pride when you see these boys progressing?

Jonathan: Often boys come here and they’re not confident and it’s nice to see their progression. This programme is not about being stuck in the classroom, it’s also what they do within the sports teams that adds value – so if it’s that little bit of competition on the field that motivates them, we try to promote a positive environment for them to develop.

How do you think the programme is perceived by the local community?

Tom: For the community they are getting to see these boys progress and hopefully we can get some of them progressing on the pitch. The fans here love seeing the youth coming through the ranks and they’ll love it more if it’s one of the local boys that have come through the programme from the streets.

How vital is the SCL programme to the boys development?

Tom: We’ve been running the academy now for over five years now and we’ve had partnerships with local colleges, but the boys were having to travel to the colleges for the education elements and then travel back to us for the training and it just didn’t work. Some of these boys can’t afford to be jumping on and off buses, and having to travel immediately after training is just not practical. Since we’ve linked with SCL, the tutors are with us here, so we’re able to host everything onsite which is a massive benefit for the boys.

Is there room for further growth?

Tom: It’s becoming more and more popular and our numbers are growing every year to the point now that we’re looking at our numbers for next year and having to think about where we’re going to put them. We have the FC United Academy and Community cabin and in there are two classrooms but  we’re outgrowing that so now we’re having to go to the board of the club and asking to bring them inside the ground. We’ve just had a facility built where there’s conference rooms and such, so we’re looking to move some of the classes into that because of the numbers coming in.

How do you see the programme developing in the future?

Tom: We’ve already started talking to SCL about our growth and offering other courses such as gym instructing or foundation degree courses. At the moment these boys leave us after two years but we’re still seeing some of them popping up after this time. We want to offer some of the boys that are not ready academically to make the big leap to university education the chance, through SCL, to study a foundation degree. So that’s another stepping stone for them. It then means we get to watch and analyse them from a football performance side whilst they are still developing academic skills.

The partnership works really well. SCL have our best interests at heart and the tutors here are superb. In football, things change on a daily basis, especially with learners of this age, but SCL are always flexible in how they work and are accommodating of our needs.