Academy College Partnership coach reflects on first season for Brentford Youth Alliance sidesBrentford FC Youth Alliance head coach Dan Wright is refusing to rest on his laurels after a fine first season for his two teams.
The Youth Alliance teams were formed through a partnership between Brentford’s Category Two Academy and West Thames College offering youngsters the chance to study and train with the hope of getting back into football.
Around 80 boys have been part of the programme this season which has seen the boys train three times a week around studying for a BTEC with West Thames College and playing in the Football Conference Youth Alliance.
In their first season the Griffins picked up the London/South East league title after winning their last 11 matches while The Bees finished in ninth in the Home Counties/South West division.
Speaking to Bees Player after The Griffins picked up their league title Dan said that all in all on the field and in the classroom it had been a good first year for the programme.
“We are really happy with where we have finished in terms of the football,” said Dan.
“The education side of things has been quite stressful but the end product has been good.
“We do have to tell the boys that it is an education course with football rather than the other way round.
“We have a responsibility to push those guys through their education.
“We have realised that they don’t always want to be there and they don’t always want to be in the class for as long as we would like them to be but we are going to get 95 per cent of those guys through their education in the first-year, which is above the college’s average.
“On the pitch the season was two halves.
“We have played 20 games and in the first ten we only won four but since then we have won every game.
“In 2015 the boys are undefeated and, including friendlies, they have won 13 games in a row.
“They have matured and it has clicked.
“They have gone from a group of good individuals to a really good team.
“They have understood what we have asked them to do in terms of the Brentford way.
“It has all come together and we are winning football matches.
“That has turned into a habit and we are going from week to week.
“Although it was tight today we managed to push it over the line.”
Despite winning the league and the academic success that the partnership has enjoyed Dan said they still fell short of their main aim of getting boys into Brentford’s Youth Team and back into football.
Many of this year’s intake of 80 boys had previously been on trial or with Academies and Dan said that the real measure of success for the college programme would be to get them back into football.
“It is really nice to win the league but the objective of this college programme is to get the boys through their education and to make them better footballers,” said Dan.
“The ultimate aim of making them better footballers is that we can hopefully get them into the Academy.
“We came close this year as we had a couple of boys come in for six week trials and others came in for two weeks.
“The only cherry missing from this season is that we haven’t produced an Academy footballer yet.
“We have most of these guys for next year and although we have won the league the ultimate aim is that we want to get someone in the Academy full-time.
“We want to produce a scholar and hopefully a professional footballer.
“A lot of the learning we have put in place this year can be built upon for next year.
“These boys didn’t meet each other until August and, where we talked about the first-half of this season being ok, next season we can almost start from where we are now.
“We will go into the leagues expecting to be competitive and finish in the top three.”
On the footballing side of the programme the two sides come under the umbrella of Brentford’s Category Two Academy.
For Dan the backing from the Academy for the project this season has been brilliant and sets Brentford apart from other similar schemes.
“The backing from the Academy for this project has been superb,” said Dan.
“Today we played at Jersey Road and Ose Aibangee came into the dressing room and congratulated the boys.
“The difference with our college programme is that they feel part of the club.
“They are always going to be on the outside because they are not training here every day but they do get a connection in terms of the kit, the coaching philosophy and the support structure.
“The fact that they have that makes us unique and they feel part of Brentford rather than just a college programme.”
Plans are well underway to double the size of the programme for next year and run four sides with 80 boys training, playing and studying.
Dan, who had previous experience of running a similar scheme while at Eastleigh, is hopeful that more teams will bring more success as Brentford’s Youth Alliance teams learn from their first season.
“It has been a really good year and I have learned a lot,” said Dan.
“I am lucky that I have done a programme like this before so I knew some of the teething problems that we might have.
“Educationally the boys have done ok, we want to do a little bit better there, and we want to be a bit smarter with what we do training wise.
“We are reviewing the schedule and we are going to get the sports science boys a bit more involved to make sure that the boys are training harder on the days where they can.
“Hopefully rather than having one team winning the league we can have three or four.
“We all get greedy and that is what we want to do.
“The target is go get 80 boys in next year and we have already held three sets of trials where we have seen more than 350 kids.
“There are a few more trials coming up and that is something we use to keep the boys grounded that although they have won the league nobody is an Academy football yet and there are new boys coming in.
“That is the nature of sport that there is always someone after your shirt, the boys get that and it helps to keep them focussed.”
Dan remains realistic that not every boy in the Youth Alliance programme will make it back into football and that is one of the reasons why he is keen to also instill life skills on the boys that will make them more employable in the future.
The programme attracted boys from all over London and from all backgrounds and Dan feels that even if the boys don’t become better footballers but rather become better members of society that will still be a positive result for the programme.
“Some boys came in and they had spent a lot of time playing in the streets and playing in the cages so things like turning up in a tracksuit, turning up on time, saying please and thank you all had to put into them,” said Dan.
“Those are priceless because we might be looking to create a footballer but all these boys are going into society and into jobs and we have a responsibility to help prepare them for that.
“The Academy are really hot on the respect and the manners of the boys all the way from pre-Academy up.
“The boys know what is expected of them and there are times where we have had to leave boys out of starting XIs and squads because they haven’t behaved.
“That isn’t a nice thing to say but that is how we are going to develop and we have had to be ruthless with that.
“The lad who scored the title winning goal today couldn’t get in the team at the start of the season because he couldn’t turn up on time and he couldn’t wear his tracksuit.
“He felt that system wasn’t for him but now there has been a bit of conformity and now his talent is obvious for everyone to see.”
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