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In November 2021 we saw the ESPFA Cup competition get underway which provides a minimum of five additional fixtures for the academy teams and a shot at national glory. 2021 was also an incredible year for first team debuts, with 13 current or former ESPFA students making a competitive debut for one of our partner clubs.

This season, the ESPFA Cup format is made up of two regional divisions comprising of eight teams in the North and six teams in the South. Teams will play each other just once, alternating between home and away games. The top four teams in each division will progress to the quarter finals with the draw regionalised until the final. This cup competition provides an opportunity for more competitive fixtures for the students and a chance for coaches to try out new tactics or implement new systems. Ross Langworthy, the recruitment manager for the south said: “The ESPFA Cup Competition is another great opportunity for the students to test themselves and compete against each other, taking their work on the training pitch into a competitive environment. It also offers an opportunity for players to get more game-time and for coaches to set new challenges. Being made up of both group stages and knockout matches, there are many different tactical scenarios that the students could face, which is important in their development as players.”

On top of a new league and cup format, this season has also been an exciting time for our first team debutants. So far in the 2021/22 season, we saw 13 students that have come through the ESPFA recruitment process make an appearance in a competitive game for one of our partner clubs. Mark Baker, the Head of Programme for the ESPFA is delighted with the number of students that are making the step from the academy to the first team. He said: “It is fantastic news for the programme that more players continue to make the progression to the first teams at their respective clubs. It is massively important within all the academies that there is a clear pathway to advance, providing the learners ability and application dictates they are deserving to do so. I believe the link between the club and academy must be one of regular communication to identify and promote the top talent we have throughout our regions.” The chance to represent one of our partner clubs at first team level is a huge incentive to the students to work hard in both the classroom and the training pitch and Baker. He said: “The opportunity for students to know the possibility of first team football is achievable is a massive pull for the programme and this acts as a huge driving force in many learners' motivation and commitment levels. If an individual is then given that opportunity early on, it can only serve to make them want further experiences. Fellow learners who witness the progression of their teammate, can then be driven to match the feat.”

From a student’s perspective, having the link to the first team shows the direct pathways the ESPFA can provide into the semi-professional game which is a necessity for those talented student’s that want to make a career in football. #ESPFABuckinghamshire student and Chesham United goalkeeper Dan Hosier has thoroughly impressed since he joined the ESPFA in September 2020. He was included in the South Division #TeamOfTheSeason during the 2020/21 campaign and was one of the 13 students to make their debut this year. Dan has relished the opportunity to be involved in with the first team and is hoping to have more chances to progress his career. He said: “I really enjoyed it, it’s something I’ve been working towards and to have made my debut is a step in the right direction for me moving forward to hopefully more appearances. The ESPFA setup allows me to be in the “shop window” for the first team as some of those involved in the club watch the games and pass on their thoughts to the managers and coaching staff giving me exposure. Over the rest of this season, I’m looking to feature more regularly in the first team however I’m still gaining experience on loan at step four. My long-term aim is to play at the highest level I can possibly can and playing for Chesham first team is a step in that direction.”

To all students and staff, well done on a brilliant start to the year and we look forward to seeing you back in the classroom and on the football pitch over the next few weeks.

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