With the first half-term of the education year complete, let’s take a look back on the football side of the programme and how students and coaches have coped with the challenging times we have encountered.
With the Covid-19 pandemic putting a stop to football in the Spring, it will be of no surprise that when the league structure and fixtures were announced in September, there was a lot of excitement around the start of the 2020/21 season. Ross Langworthy, the Regional Manager for the South thinks the students are delighted to be returning to football. He said: ‘It's been great to see just how excited the students are to get stuck in with their fixtures. I know all students and coaches have been buzzing to get back into competitive action and already we've seen some very close games and a really high standard of football’. Like the students and coaches, we too are so excited to have the football back up and running and are eager to see how the divisions develop and who comes out on top at the end of the season.
Although the football aspect of the ESPFA has been a success so far this season, it hasn’t been without its challenges. To reduce the spread of Covid-19 and to adhere to government guidelines, many precautions have been installed, including social distancing when students aren’t participating in live drills, bigger coaches have been booked for matchday travel to allow the players to spread out and the formal pre-game handshake between teams is no more. Also, to ensure the safety of everyone involved with the ESPFA, precautions have been put in place regarding isolation periods if a student or anyone else has come in contact with someone with the virus. Stefanos Naos, academy coach at Yate Town has seen these effects first-hand. He said: “Due to the pandemic, everyone is trying to be more careful and not get in contact with others when possible. Some players had to self-isolate due to having been in contact with other people with Covid-19. Some of the students were disappointed to miss training and games, of course, because they really want to be part of the team. However, they totally understood that these are the current circumstances and that’s what we all have to do for now to protect ourselves and the people around us”. We want our students to be involved as much as possible when it comes to taking part in the football and studying for their education, but ultimately, safety has to come first which is why these precautions, and many others have had to be overseen.
This year, the ESPFA has seen some restructuring with the previously known Southern League Football Academy and the Northern Premier League Football Academy combining to create the Education and Semi Professional Football Academy (ESPFA). This saw new regional divisions put in place, with all clubs in the ESPFA competing in either the Northern, Midlands or Southern divisions. The new regional divisions have reduced the travel time for a lot of clubs with more localised games and there is also an entirely new cup concept being implemented this year in the ESPFA National Cup. This will see the top three teams from the Northern and Midlands division and the top two teams from the Southern Division progress to the knockout stages . This has been very well received from students and coaches as it adds another level of competition to the program. Jarnell Japi, a Yate Town academy student echoed this when he said: “I’m very excited to be part of the ESPFA national cup and can’t wait to get that under way and I know the team are buzzing as well to able to play in the cup. The boys and me are up for the competition in the League and cup this year.”
With changes being made to league structure, there have also been alterations made to the training programme for the students. As the team’s train three times a week with a UEFA B (at minimum) qualified coach, the substance of these training sessions is very important. Ross Langworthy, the Regional Manager for the South divulged what the new training programme is made up of. He said: “This year, we have developed a coaching syllabus, as part of our commitment to ensuring that our learners are getting a well-rounded football education. This term, in at least one of the three training sessions per week, coaches have been working on defending as a team unit, which has included things like high pressing, setting traps and defending around the penalty area. Next term, the focus topic will be around creating attacking overloads, which will be taught in at least one session per week, ensuring all students get to receive ongoing coaching with high levels of detail”. The students have been performing well in training which has carried over into the match days, as we have seen some top-quality matches, all of which can be seen on our weekly highlights show.
To all the students and coaches involved with the programme, well done on a brilliant start to the year and we can’t wait to see you all back in action after the half-term.