South Shields FC are capping a treble-winning season with the launch of a new Academy for 16-19-year-olds from next season which will see managers Lee Picton and Graham Fenton become full-time employees at the club.
The ambitious move, with up to 40 players starting from August, was hailed by owner Geoff Thompson as a ‘landmark step’ in the development of the Mariners.
And Thompson hopes the creation of a potentially rich source of first-team players, coupled with Picton and Fenton being able to devote all their energies to the club, will boost the club’s bid to eventually make it into the National League and the Football League.
Thompson said: “This has been the most amazing season for South Shields Football Club and we still have Wembley to come but the announcement today is also a major achievement for us.
“Our ultimate goal is to become a Football League side and being able to have Lee and Graham working with us full-time is only going to help us.
“They will be working within the Academy to help develop and bring talent through and while we’re very much aware that these things don’t happen overnight, the idea that we can build and improve local young talent, who would have a route through to our first team, is very exciting for the long-term development of the club.”
The move will see Lee and Graham leaving their day jobs at Monkseaton High School Sixth Form, where they work as coaches running the school’s football academy – Lee for the past 11 years, Graham for the last seven.
Lee said: “It’s a big wrench to leave the school after working so long and so hard with all the staff and students over a number of years, but we have no doubts that this is the right thing to help both us and the club move forwards.
“We’ve really enjoyed the success we’ve had at South Shields FC this season, and hope that this move will help to facilitate further success down the line.
“The perfect way to do that is to bring youth development to the club while being able to focus on the managerial side of things too.”
Graham said: “We are very proud of our record at Monkseaton, having achieved national level success for the school over a number of years.
“We’d like to really thank all the staff and students that we have worked with during our time at the school, but are now looking forward to taking our experience to help push the football club forwards.”
The Academy intake will be capped at 40 over the Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 range, to preserve its elite nature.
Academy coaching will be carried out by Lee and Graham in conjunction with the Improtech Soccer Elite coaching company run by former Sunderland AFC star Martin Scott, while the education element for A Level, Btec and HND courses will be provided by Sunderland College.
Geoff Thompson said: “We couldn’t hope for better partners in the Academy and between Graham, Lee, Improtech and Sunderland College, we will provide Premier League quality tuition in both football and education.”
Martin Scott, who is also assistant manager of the Mariners, says he is excited about the different challenge for Improtech Soccer Elite coaching.
He said: “Previously we have worked on going into education establishments and introducing an elite football coaching element to courses so that really promising young players, with the potential of becoming professional footballers, can get both a good education while still pursuing their football dreams.
“The academy at South Shields will be slightly different, in that being largely based at Mariners Park, the ethos is probably going to feel like football with an educational element, rather than education with a football element!
“That’s because the players will be training at the ground where one day they could be playing first team football and carrying out much of their studies inside a football ground.”
John Rushworth, faculty director for sport, health and well-being at Sunderland College, says the Academy programme will replicate that experienced by scholars at professional football clubs.
He said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with South Shields Football Club and Improtech on the new Academy.
“It is something different for sport in the College – working with a third party and delivering education at multiple sites.
“But we think it is something which will be good for everyone involved and the most important thing is that young footballers in the area of real promise now have another option to consider without compromising their education.”