As we move into unprecedented times, and what looks like a lengthy lay off from the game, I felt this to be a good time to celebrate the achievements of our Bishop Laney Football and Education Scheme over the current season. September saw the start of our 5th season as a programme, many students have now come through our doors and we are very proud of what has been achieved over the years. The 2019/20 season has been no different as we continue to develop both on and off the pitch.
This season has seen our first team continue in the highly regarded National Under 19 Alliance division, whilst our Development squad continue in the English Colleges Division. Both sides currently sit comfortably in mid-table positions in their respective leagues and both have a top 3 finish in their hands.
First Team – The season has had some memorable moments with us facing a number of National League Clubs academies over the course of the year, as is the nature of this competition there are no easy games with victories having to be earned and mistakes ruthlessly punished. The boys started the season on fire and a memorable performance at home to National League promotion candidates Bromley saw us top the table moving into December, following an emphatic 4-1 victory. Ultimately we have been unable to sustain this form and a few disappointing results followed, but the boys still sit on more points, with more wins then we have ever produced at this level. Should the season continue we have 6 fixtures remaining and will be hoping to secure a top 3 finish, something which the boys are more than capable of achieving.
Development Team – It has somewhat been roles reversed for our Development squad, who, after an initial struggle in the English Colleges League, are currently in the middle of a 7 game unbeaten run and now have the league title in their hands, a real sign of just how hard the group have worked. This was summed up by our recent performance against our Norwich City counterparts from East Norfolk Sixth Form College in early March, where the boys produced a sparkling performance in difficult conditions to claim a comprehensive 5-1 victory. We should also note the number of Development squad players who have stepped into the first team this year and have done particularly well. Harvey Mosedale, JJ Morris and Ben Newton have all experienced regular first team football and will be all the better for it moving into the 2020/21 season.
As I have always said with this programme, the success of the scheme rests with our individuals and this season to date has been no different. On the pitch at their respective clubs skipper Ben Harnwell has become a regular starter at step 5 club Ely City, at the same club William Fox has also experienced first team action. Forward Kaine Manels is an important player at Mildenhall Town FC and 1st team top scorer JJ Tinde has experienced life at step 6 side Wisbech St Mary. A number of other player have gone onto make appearances at step 7 in the Cambs Kershaw Premier Division gaining valuable men’s game experience.
Off the pitch our relationship with education provider Bishop Laney Sixth Form College remains as strong as ever and with over 40 applicants for the 2020/21 season, the scheme continues to push forwards to benefit our players both on and off the pitch. July 2019 saw the college gain a ‘good’ Ofsted rating with ‘outstanding’ elements, something which we are very proud to be associated with. The students who left us in 2019 achieved some outstanding education results, with NCFC students obtaining a 100% pass rate and each student who applied gaining access to their first choice university. I very much see our players as student athletes with the priority always being the ‘student’ part. As the programme has developed we have gone from offering one education route, in the form of a Level 3 in Sport, while today I am very proud that we are able to offer our students a wide variety of education routes. With students now studying A Levels and a wide variety of Level 3 options such as: Criminology, Higher Maths, Business Studies, Accounting and of course the Level 3 in Sport remains a popular choice amongst our players.
Away from the classroom a number of our players are now moving into coaching within the Norwich City RDP. Tom Upshaw, Warren How, Jake Garner and Adam Everett are now working regularly as casual coaches for the RDP. Former player Toby Peters is now on an apprenticeship in coaching, with us learning every day as he works towards a career in the football industry. Something which I take immense pride in is the RDP’s latest additions to the full time staff. Former skipper Phil Turner is now head of Female Development and Owen Buxton, former first team goalkeeper is our Media Coordinator taking care of our promotional work whilst remaining a very popular coach within our community programmes. Both of these boys were part of our first ever in-take and 5 years later are still going strong, making a career for themselves within the Norwich City RDP.
Finally something I am very excited about is the launch of our female Football and Education scheme to run alongside our male programmes starting in September 2020. We have had a really positive response to the scheme, and with the current rise in the female game we felt it essential that we provide the exact same opportunities as our male players receive. We are working with the Cambs FA to develop this side of our course and cannot wait to see it all come into place on the pitch come September 2021.
To sum up, this scheme has now been running for 5 years, today we sit in the strongest position we have ever been with an excellent education programme supporting what we do on and around the pitch. I firmly believe that the success of the programme has been very much a team effort; I offer great thanks to my staff who work tirelessly every day to make the scheme the success it is today. Clive Taylor, our head coach, has been with us for 3 seasons now. I have never worked with a coach who takes so much pride in what he does as Clive and the sessions he puts on for our players would not be out of place in the pro-game. Dominic Ankers, our Development Squad coach, should take a huge amount of credit. Dom has coached the boys to play some excellent football and created a fantastic bond amongst the squad. We are also privileged to have Andy King our head of goalkeeping at the RDP and Ben Tunard his young disciple come in and provide some outstanding specialist work for our 4 goalkeepers on the course. It’s great to see the bond they have and Andy’s knowledge and support is a real asset to what we do. As I said at the top, with these uncertain times we do not know when we will be back playing but rest assured we will be providing our players with tasks to keep their fitness levels high and mind sharpe for when we do return!