An initative designed to help young footballers climb the ladder to stardom is taking off in a big way.
The Elite Training Centre aims to fill a gap between professional clubs’ academies and development centres and grass-roots football.
The ETC offers players the opportunity to continue their football development through professional coaching – specifically talented and committed players who want to make the step up.
The ETC was founded in 2008 by Andy Rowles, Darren Waterman and Dave Eldridge, who, having spent years working at grass-roots and professional level, recognised the need to help talented players progress above and beyond grass-roots level.
They have established centres at the University of Chichester and Southampton and have also set up in Fareham and Bournemouth. With a new centre to be launched soon, the ETC caters for 200-plus talented players weekly.
Since 2008, 38 boys have signed contracts with pro clubs including Chelsea, Pompey, Southampton, AFC Bournemouth and Brighton.
Within the past year five boys from the Chichester centre have made the next step up in their footballing careers – Tommy Block (Brighton), Lewis Humphries, Will Broom, Fred Read (Pompey) and Kyle Clinton (Southampton).
ETC also supported Chichester High School for Boys pupil Harry Isted, who is playing for the Southampton academy under-16s with Clinton. Isted and Clinton train with Southampton three times a week.
But the centre’s biggest success story of 2011 is that of former player John Swift (pictured above), now an England under-17 international as well as a Chelsea scholar with a three-year professional contract in the piepline.
The Gosport teenager played for the Pompey Aacademy at under-11 before being released.
A year later he was picked up by Chelsea but was let go after six months.
Then he started at the new ETC in Southampton, where coaches identified the weaknesses in his game and planned a programme to enable him to move back into the professional set-up.
Within a year he was targeted by Pompey, Southampton and Chelsea.
Having played for Chelsea for a few years, he was selected last year for England’s under-16 Victory Shield squad. This year he signed a one-year scholarship agreement with a three-year professional contract already in place on his 17th birthday.
He has been selected for the England under-17 European Championship squad for qualifying in Bosnia, which England came through.
He now hopes to be involved in the championships this year. Speaking about his time at the ETC, Swift said: “Having been released by two professional clubs I thought my chance had gone.
“Darren, Dave and Andy worked really hard with me on my technical skills as well as giving me a better understanding of my positional play which academies expect.
“They also helped me with my confidence which had been severely knocked and when I was approached by professional clubs a year later I was more than ready to go back in. They were instrumental in the important part of my final development to prepare me for the professional game and I will be ever grateful to the lads for their invaluable help. I’d recommend any young player, who like me, has a dream to play professional football, to go to their centres and develop their skills to a very high level.”
The ETC coaches are continually looking for talented and committed players.
They offer training sessions during the week that do not interfere with players representing their grass-roots club.
If you are interested in attending sessions, email firstname.lastname@example.org or for further information go to www.elitetrainingcentre.co.uk