FOOTBALL at Sunderland College is now in a league of its own.
The college is celebrating a milestone 12 months for its Elite Football Development Centre after netting former SAFC star and UEFA Pro Licence coach Martin Scott’s pioneering company Improtech Soccer.
Exactly a year since the college joined forces with Martin’s elite coaching business, the development centre is enjoying its elevated status as a first-class footballing hub.
Combining an elite soccer training programme with academic study, the centre has plenty to celebrate after being crowned cup winners in the 2016-17 season and seeing its teams establish themselves in the men’s ECFA cat 1 national league – the highest league possible for 16-19-year-olds – and the North East Colleges’ Women’s League.
It has seen some of its players gain international honours and compete in showcase games against professional Football League and Premiership opposition.
And the college has scored success off the pitch with the launch of its International Football Development Centre which has seen elite players travel thousands of miles to develop their soccer skills.
Earlier in the year, the college formed a long-term partnership with semi-professional South Shields FC which saw the successful launch of the South Shields FC 16-19 football academy at Mariners Park, with all academic provision delivered by Sunderland College.
John Rushworth, the college’s faculty director for sport, health and wellbeing, said: “The only word I can use to describe the last 12 months is monumental. It really has been a historic year for our Men and Women’s Elite Football Development Centre and the level of success we have had – both on and off the pitch – is incredible.
“Our partnership with Improtech Soccer has been a great fit for the development centre and has really propelled us to the next level in terms of coaching and playing opportunities for our students. We are able to offer a specialised programme of coaching and academic study that really puts the talents of each player at its centre – our approach is personalised and we don’t believe in the ‘one-size-fits-all’ mantra. It has been a pleasure to welcome so many talented young people to our development centre and to see their skills progress throughout their time with us.
“In addition to partnering with Improtech Soccer and South Shields FC, we have also joined-up with Martin Nugent Elite Performance so our players have access to the very best strength and conditioning support, and our students are trained by a UEFA Pro Licence coach. We offer an all-encompassing package of training, education and support, and this is a big contributor to the success we have enjoyed over the last 12 months.”
Martin Scott added: “We were incredibly excited to get the chance to work with Sunderland College a year ago because having already enjoyed so much success with players at a school level, we knew exactly what we could offer the 16-19-year-old age group.
“It has been a really demanding first year but it has been worth it and we are seeing the results of all that hard work from players on and off the pitch.
“We feel as though we are taking men and women’s football at the college to a higher level but this is only the start. We’re only a year in and an exciting time lies ahead for those talented male and female players who come to join us over the next few years.”
Improtech’s director of operations Simon Robson oversaw the launch of the new Academy at South Shields and its link up with Sunderland College, and has also been hands-on in the college’s international development, helping to attract overseas students to the centre.
He said: “You can’t just walk in and change things overnight but we couldn’t be happier with how it has gone in this first year and we’re starting to put in structures that will grow the college’s reputation and standing for years to come.
“I think we’re starting to put Sunderland College on the map in terms of football and educational development and what is exciting is the opportunities which now lie ahead – it has been a great start, but this is only the beginning.”
The Elite Football Development Centre, which supports more than 90 male and female players, is based at the college’s state-of-the-art Sports Academy at Bede Campus with industry-standard facilities including 3G pitches, a fitness suite, sports hall, physiology lab and a strength and conditioning studio.
It gives players entry into the highest local and national competitions, use of SAFC’s facilities and opportunities to develop their coaching and leadership skills, while allowing them to study a full-time academic programme of their choice.
The college is also working in partnership with Scholarship Connect to provide opportunities to American sports scholarships.