Southern League Football Academy set to nearly double after successful inaugural season
The SLFA kicked off in September 2019 with seven teams competing in the inaugural season. A further six teams have signed up to the programme for September 2020, taking the number of clubs up to 12* in total for the forthcoming 2020/21 season.
*Sutton Coldfield Town will be moving back to the NPLFA for the 2020/21 season.
Chesham United, Frome Town, Kidlington, Rushall Olympic, Sutton Coldfield Town, Swindon Supermarine and Yate Town all joined with the SLFA prior to September 2019 to form a partnership to deliver a full-time education and football programme to students aged 16-18. The programme is an alternative to sixth form or college and will allow students to study a BTEC Level 3 whilst training for their academy and competing in the SLFA’s FA sanctioned league.
On September 25th the season commenced with three games in Swindon, Sutton Coldfield and Yate. The first match day was a huge success. Chesham United visited Yate Town to produce what is still probably the game of the season so far, battling it out to a 4-4 draw. Meanwhile, Swindon Supermarine hosted Frome Town in a fiercely competitive game that saw both sides settle for a point after a 1-1 draw. In the only victory of the day, Sutton Coldfield Town hosted fellow West Midlands side Rushall Olympic and ran riot in their first game in the SLFA after moving down from the NPLFA. The home side climbed to a 5-0 victory and sent out a statement of intent to the rest of the league.
Since then, the ESPFA have been working tirelessly to try and expand the Southern League Football Academy and continue to grow as an organisation. In doing so, six new teams have joined since then, taking the number of clubs in the SLFA to 12.
An SLFA spokesperson said: "We are delighted with the growth at the Southern League Football Academy and to increase the membership to 12 clubs in just two years is very exciting and satisfying. As with any initial launch of a new league, other league clubs will be viewing the product and progress of those clubs who first joined and we are delighted to have recently received more applications than the six clubs we look to work with per year.”
He went on to say: "The Southern League is part of the National Programme (The Isthmian League is to be launched September 2021) and with its sister league, the Northern Premier League, we will look to establish 16 clubs in each league across the country. The governance involved in the leagues and being sanctioned FA leagues ensures the programme provides the required quality, management and experience for the students. We have been delighted with how the clubs have bought into such a programme and helping youngsters in their community getting an opportunity to develop and move onto further education.”
First to commit to the 2020/21 season of the SLFA was Bromsgrove Sporting. After being formed in 2009 and enjoying back to back promotions in 16/17 and 17/18, Bromsgrove currently play in the Southern Football League Premier Central. Bromsgrove Sporting Chairman Mike Burke, said: “Following on from our promotions to a level more fitting for our club and with the successful partnership with the Colts, Bromsgrove Sporting FC have felt for some time that the next step in our progression was to have an academy."
Next to jump on board was Evesham United, who signed up to the SLFA in November. The Robins play in the Southern League South Division and wanted to join the programme to try and offer a structured education program to lads in the local community. Evesham United Chairman Jim Cockerton, said: “What the SLFA offer strikes a perfect balance, allowing us to work together to develop local, home-grown talent with some hopefully graduating into the first team whilst giving them a well-structured education for their future. Everyone at Evesham United is very excited to work with the SLFA.”
Later on in December, the head office received an early Christmas present after hearing the news that Melksham Town and Peterborough Sports would be joining the SLFA. Melksham Town, in Wiltshire boast some amazing facilities after moving into a new £7.3million ground in 2017. Peterborough Sports currently compete in the Southern League Premier Division Central after being crowned champions of the Southern League Division One Central in the 2018/19 season. Peterborough Sports Chairman Grant Biddle said: "When I researched it (The SLFA) and saw how it had operated and grown over the last few years within the NPL - and was now being replicated with the backing of the Southern League - I was keen to find out more. Having met the team behind both operations I am convinced that this is the best available solution for Peterborough Sports. It has a great reputation for academic standards alongside the opportunity to play against academy sides at step three and four clubs on first team pitches”.
Sitting pretty on 11 clubs, the growth and development didn’t stop there. The new year saw the SLFA bring in two new clubs taking the number of clubs in the Southern League up to 13. Berkhamsted were the first to join in early January and they are a club that’s steeped in history after recently celebrating their 100-year anniversary. Berkhamsted FC Chairman said: “The whole club is delighted to be joining the Southern League Football Academy. We are excited to get involved with such a professional organisation that has enjoyed five years’ experience of running the Northern Premier League Football Academy and set the bench mark for football and education programmes.”
Kempston Rovers also partnered up with the SLFA in January and are another club with a rich past, with evidence of the club dating back to 1887. The Walnut Boys play in the Southern League Central Division along with fellow SLFA clubs Kidlington and Berkhamsted. Kempston Rovers Vice Chairman, Andy Kirby commented: “Collectively here at Kempston Rovers we couldn’t be happier with our decision to persue an academy with the help of the SLFA. As one of the most historic clubs in North Bedfordshire, we feel that joining the SLFA is a brilliant way to take the club into the future; providing a top quality education as well as a footballing platform for the community we take such pride in.”
The SLFA’s second season will begin in September 2020. After starting the programme with just seven teams, the total number of clubs competing in the SLFA for the 2020/21 season has almost doubled to 13, providing more opportunities for young students wanting to progress through the football academy structure in hope to play for a semi-professional club whilst expanding their knowledge and obtaining a BTEC in Sport Level 3 qualification through the education courses.