Students play key role in pre-season

By David Watters

The Northern Premier League Football Academy's coaches were proudly watching the EVO-STIK League’s 2018-19 season kick off on Saturday after many of their students played vital roles in helping their parent clubs get ready for the big kick-off.

A tough pre-season saw NPLFA students, past, current and new, feature for a host of EVO-STIK clubs in all three divisions as the ground-breaking academy prepared to welcome its fifth intake of talented teenagers in September.

Mickleover Sports were the stand-out NPLFA club, with no fewer than 12 students participating in training and games. Former students Lewis Belgrave, Finn Davies, Jake Smith, Tyreece Robinson and Jack Walsh all continued their development with the Derbyshire club by playing in a number of friendlies against English Football League and local Non-League teams.

Second year students Harley Kozluk and Keldon Gordon were given their first taste of senior action at Station Road, along with new first year student Finn Parkin who played in a number of games at just 16 years of age. Former students from the 2016 alumni - Kieran Cronin, Tyron Buxton and Jordan Gilhooly - also continued their involvement this summer, training with the first time and appearing for the reserves along with 2018 graduate Harry Stevens.

Across Derbyshire, second year Belper Town students Lee Carter and Josh Gregory gained experience training with the first team while five junior Gladiators were involved throughout July and August at Matlock Town. Former students from the class of 2018 - Harry Wood, Jordan Pierrepont and Billy Whitehead - have all signed first team forms and appeared in a number of matches against EFL clubs, along with second year student Ashton Hall. NPLFA student Ethan Knowles also signed first team forms for the 2018-19 campaign over the summer.

Four second year students who made their debuts last season for Carlton Town – Tom Hutchinson, Josh Harris, Joe Sheekey and Tom Spice – have been heavily involved in the EVO-STIK League East club’s warm-up programme. Along with goalkeeper James Hobson, all five will be looking to push on after a successful first year at the Millers.

Jessy Bavanganga became the 32nd NPLFA student to graduate back in April for EVO-STIK League West Leek Town and he's been involved throughout summer, along with second year students Jack Hurd, Liam Robinson and James Reid who've all enjoyed their first taste of senior involvement with the Blues.

Former student Jorge Blemings and second year student Josh Morris made history last year for Sutton Coldfield Town after making their senior debuts. The now Southern League club’s NPLFA duo were involved in training throughout summer, along with second year Royals student, Josias Kindala.

At Mossley, pre-season has seen the academy and first team forge even closer links with former students Callum Barrow and Keenan Ali attending first team training along with second year student Jake Dunford. Unfortunately for Ali, he suffered an injury that will keep him out for a few months and was wished a speedy recovery by his NPLFA coaches and tutors this week.

The same links to the seniors grew at Witton Albion too with second year students Stan Tatters and Ollie Griffths, along former student Owen Wynne, all regularly involved with the first team in training as well as games against Southport and Vauxhall Motors.

NPLFA star Ben Harley led by example again at Ossett United, signing first team forms and being heavily involved in the pre-season schedule of the newly formed club, founded this summer following the merger of Ossett Albion and Ossett Town.

The NPLFA congratulated their students on the contribution they’d made before the 2018-19 season had even got underway on Saturday in the run-up to the big kick-off. “As the new season begins, there is a lot of optimism at the NPL Football Academy that there will be more first team debutants to add to the thirty-six that have appeared since September 2014,” said a spokesman.

“A total of 38 students past, current and future have all been involved with their respective first teams this pre-season which is a fantastic achievement for students, coaches and clubs alike and the target of fifty debutants looks to be in sight for this season. On behalf of everyone at the NPL Football Academy we would like to wish all 62 Evo-Stik NPL clubs the very best of luck for the forthcoming eight months.”

More than 300 students at 13 clubs benefited from the NPLFA’s Football Association approved programme last season with the numbers set to rise again in September with the application of newly promoted North West Counties Football League runners-up Widnes currently being fast-tracked due to the high demand for places in the North West and Stafford Rangers joining the academy in 2019.

The NPLFA was founded in 2014 to provide career pathways into the football industry with students studying on two year BTEC courses. Since last season, students have been able to continue their education to degree level after the NPLFA teamed up with Loughborough College in the summer of 2017 to launch a new higher education partnership.

The NPLFA's coaches are looking to enlist their next generation of champions over the coming weeks as the senior season gets fully underway with trials still taking place at all clubs. Open to Year 11 and 12 students looking to continue their education in September 2018 and 2019, the trials are the fourth and final chance this year for potential students to showcase their talents and earn a place at the NPLFA.

For more information on the limited places still available and to apply visit:
To see the NPLFA's latest promotional videos and success stories, follow on Twitter at @NPLFA or visit:

Images courtesy of @NPLFA/Twitter

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Where next?

Saturday's East Division action It was a good opening day in EVO-STIK League East for a number of the newly-promoted sides, writes Steve Whitney at Non-League Today.
Saturday's Premier Division action! The opening day of the new EVO-STIK Northern Premier League Premier Division season saw wins for newly-promoted South Shields and Scarborough Athletic, writes Steve Whitney at Non League Today.

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