Parading on the pitch at half-time on Sunday night were a number of the successful Stevenage Elite Development Programme squad, who were celebrating their recent British Colleges League success.
The boys, who are aged 16-19 and study at Marriotts School in Stevenage, compete in the British Colleges League and the first XI won their division by six points this season, playing against local colleges. In total the youngsters recorded 12 wins, 1 draw and just 1 defeat from their 14 games, scoring an impressive 50 goals and conceding just 13 goals. They also reached the semi-final of the league cup and the second XI secured second place in their respective division too.
Reflecting on a successful season on and off the pitch, Head Coach Tom Hart told us, “We got the boys in early this season so they had a real pre-season in July and August. They were in three days a week doing technical and tactical work but also plenty of physical work too. We managed to use the fitness facilities and classes at Marriots to help the boys gain and build on their fitness and it gave them a really good head start.
“They played a lot of good pre-season friendlies against senior sides. They played Welwyn Garden City, Letchworth and it put them in good stead when we started the college league against under-18s and 19s as they’d already have that physical challenge of playing against men.
“They started academically in September and we set the tone from the start. If the boys aren’t achieving what they should be then they’re kept in the classroom and the parents are really on-board with that. They’re pushed in the classroom and then they’re pushed on the pitch. We’re getting the rewards now as the boys are achieving the grades they should be.
“One of the biggest successes has been Tyler Smith who has now made a handful of appearances in the Youth Alliance League for the club’s under-18s. Tyler joined us from Welwyn Pegasus, a good grassroots club and recently played twice against the first team in training matches. His attitude has been bang on, he’s worked his socks off, his attitude has been top drawer on the pitch and he’s getting his rewards now. It’s proof that boys can come in from grassroots level, join us full time and there are opportunities if they work hard enough.”
Of those second years finishing the scheme Tom said, “We’ll continue to work with them to help find senior clubs and work. One lad is currently in talk with an American scholarship programme, some of the boys are looking to go into coaching and others are looking at various other options. If we can provide opportunities to coach with the shadow squads, Academy or Foundation then we’ll look to provide them. Stevenage are great at giving opportunities as I’ve said before. Similarly if we can help them all find senior clubs in the local area then we will do so.”
The Elite Development Programme at Stevenage FC is a two year scholarship for boys aged 16-19 years old, during which they study for BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport, the equivalent of 3 A-Levels. This will allow youngsters to get to university whilst also gaining qualifications to work in the sports industry, including FA coaching badges. They will also train for up to eight hours a week with UEFA 'B' qualified Stevenage FC Academy coaches and represent the club in the British Colleges League.
There are a number of similar college schemes out there but what sets the Stevenage EDP apart from the rest is this direct access to elite Academy coaches and facilities. Not only can we provide a first class education at the £43m state-of-the-art Marriotts School in Stevenage but the training facilities both at Marriotts and at the Stevenage FC Academy are exceptional. Participants also have the chance to be selected for our elite club under-18 squad.
Apart from the cost of training kit, there is no fee to this programme. Transport is provided to game via club minibus and players also have free medical access to Stevenage FC Academy physios for any injuries.