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15 February 2016

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A look at the club's two college programmes, as seen in Saturday's programme...

In the youth section of Saturday's match day programme we took a look at how our two college programmes at Marriotts School in Stevenage and Cheshunt FC are progressing. Here is the article in full...

The Elite Development Programme and Elite College Programme are courses that allow youngsters to get to university whilst also gaining qualifications to work in the sports industry, including FA coaching badges. Participants train for up to eight hours a week with UEFA 'B' qualified Stevenage FC Academy coaches and represent the club in the various education-based leagues.

Youngsters on the Elite College Programme at Cheshunt FC

First up we talk to Adam Balletta, Head Coach of the Elite College Programme at Cheshunt FC. This is, of course, the first year of the Cheshunt programme and there are 17 players currently on it, all of whom are succeeding with their educational activities.

Adam tells us, “The biggest thing for these guys has been adapting to the expectations of a pro club, compared to the Sunday League teams they previously represented in Cheshunt, Harlow, Enfield and parts of London like Finsbury Park. Things like being on time, wearing the right kit, tucking shirts in – those little rules that mean little to some but to us are big values that we try to instill. They’re eight months into a two year programme and where they are at the moment is good.

“On the pitch they’ve bought into our philosophy, they enjoy playing the way we want to play and they do try and put it into practice. They’re all first years, so whenever they play in their league games they’re most of the time giving six to twelve months on most teams which at that age can be massive.

“We currently sit fifth in our National Scholarship Development League but there’s been progress with the boys elsewhere too. A couple have come down to train here at Shephalbury, enjoyed it and represented the Cheshunt scheme well. We’ve also got three playing in the Cheshunt Under-21 team on a regular basis. They get to play on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon and that’s their pathway into the first team at Cheshunt. That’s one of the goals for this programme – ideally to produce a player for Stevenage, but if not produce a player for Cheshunt. 

“Recruitment for our second intake in the summer is ongoing. We had a trial in December which attracted 34 kids. Of those we offered 17 interviews and 13 have committed to next year. We’ve got more trials in mid-February so we’re looking forward to more and hope to have enough to enable us to have a first and second team, much like the Elite Development Programme at Marriotts School.”

Youngsters on the Elite Development Programme at Marriotts School

Moving seamlessly onto the Elite Development Programme, we also caught up with its Head Coach Tom Hart to discuss recent achievements for his players, recruitment for next year and some of the exit pathways his second years are looking at.

Tom is also recruiting for the next intake and says the facilities at Marriotts School give them a huge advantage: “We get potential applicants in for a trial day where we’ll give them a presentation about the programme, a tour of the school and its amazing facilities and then we’ll take them onto the pitches and work with the Academy coaches, where we’ve got eyes everywhere.

“We’ve had an unbelievable response with 35 kids registered so far. We had a taster day for our Shadow Squad and Development Centre players and offered quite a few places. That’s the natural pathway we want these youngsters to take –we’ve probably taken half of our squad from within our existing Academy structure and then the rest will come from open trials. Some of the new lads have come from other academies, some have played for the county but they’re mostly all Hertfordshire boys. We’re trying to keep it as local as we can so that they can travel in.”

On the pitch the current first and second years continue to progress with the first team finely poised in fourth position in the Tactic Football League but with two games in hand on league leaders Hungerford Town Elite, who incidentally have lost just twice all season – both against Stevenage.

Meanwhile the second team are currently third in their National Scholarship Development League, although other teams around them have games in hand. Much of the reason for that has been the recent poor weather, although here is where another great advantage of Stevenage’s Elite Development Programme comes into play, as Tom explains:

“At the start of the season we were using the grass pitches at Marriotts but more recently we’ve used the 3G at The Valley School and made sure our boys have got games every week. I don’ t think other schemes have the luxury of using different sites as we do with Marriotts, Shephalbury, the Valley and Bragbury End. We’re very fortunate in that respect as other schemes have had games called off week in, week out but we’ve been able to play.”

Elsewhere on the pitch the EDP has also had a couple of individual success stories to report.  Tom explained, “Both Luis Mitchell and Sam Dowridge featured in Stevenage’s FA Youth Cup run. That was unbelievable for our programme, seeing them get a reward for their work on and off the pitch. We’ve also had Macsen Fraser been training day in, day out with the scholars and earlier this week enjoyed time training alongside the first team at Bragbury End.”

Graduates of the college programme have often gone on to achieve great careers as professional footballers, coaches, sports scientists, analysts and many more vocations in football and sport. For those therefore approaching the end of their second year there’s a variety of pathways open to them.

“Some of them want to go to uni, some are interested in American scholarship programmes and we’ve two boys already signed up,” said Tom. “We also have others out on loan experiencing men’s football. Sean Beesly is at Arlesey Town and Kane Campbell has been on loan at Cockfosters this year. So there’s a whole host of options open to them, both on and off the pitch.”

More information on the club’s Elite Development Programme at Marriotts School can be found by contacting Tom Hart ( Alternatively more details on the club’s Elite College Programme with Cheshunt Football Club can be found by emailing Adam Balletta ( Details on the latest trials for the two college programmes can be found here.

A reminder of the Academy structure at Stevenage FC

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