YOUNG footballers from Hampshire and West Sussex have been experiencing life at a Premier League club after the Elite Training Centre were invited to take four players up to Stoke City.
ETC have established links with most professional clubs on the south coast, as reported in the Observer in January, as well as teams around London.
But now two more academies have shown interest in their fast-expanding centres – and ETC bosses leapt at the chance to take some youngsters up for some action at the academy run by the Britannia Stadium outfit.
The boost comes as ETC prepare to start new weekly Chichester-based sessions this weekend.
Players from ETC’s Southampton, Fareham, Chichester and Bournemouth centres travelled to Stoke’s newly-opened £7m Clayton Wood training ground to take part in games against Leicester City. Jamil Roberts and Sam Callaway from ETC’s under-14s and under-13 pair Drew Smith and Harry Chapman were treated like professionals – put up in a hotel for four nights with breakfast, dinner and accommodation paid for by Stoke.
They played for the academy against Leicester, with the under-14s winning 4-0 and under-13s losing 4-0.
ETC’s Dave Eldridge said: “All the boys played a large part in their games and easily adapted to the pace of academy football, putting in some excellent performances.
“The next day they trained at Clayton Wood and a day later all players were invited to train with the under-15/16 academy squad.
“The Stoke first team were training so the boys got to say hello to Jonathan Woodgate and Thomas Sorenson.
“The under-13s trained on Wednesday and the under-14s played against the England national independent schools team. The academy manager had excellent feedback from the coaches regarding the boys’ performance, and welcomed the idea of more boys from ETC visiting Stoke City in the future.”
Leicester have also invited the ETC representatives.
Andy Rowles, director of youth programmes for ETC, said: “We received a call from Dave Wright, the academy manager of Stoke, and they came down to have a look at our centres and were really impressed by the standard of the players we had.
“They picked out four boys they’d like to have a closer look at.”
ETC’s reputation for bridging the gap between grass-roots and professional football is growing because of its success with pro clubs like Chelsea, Southampton, Reading, Brighton, Pompey and Bournemouth. Players are maturing into scholars through club academies and centres of excellence and ETC have produced five boys who are now scholars with pro clubs in their four years of existence.
Scouts from Premier League and Championship clubs have visited ETC training sessions.
You can find ETC centres at Boundary Oak Prep School, Wickham Road, Fareham (Tuesdays, 5.30pm-7pm) and the University of Chichester’s Bishop Otter Campus, College Lane, (Thursdays, 5.30pm-7pm).
ETC are now starting at sixth centre – also at the Bishop Otter Campus – on Saturdays, 9am to 10.30, starting this weekend.
They are continually looking for talented and committed players and say these sessions do not interfere with players representing grass-roots clubs.
You can email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01329 285968 or visit www.elitetrainingcentre.co.uk