The NPLFA is reaching its sixth completed season in operation, and after starting out with just five clubs in September 2014, the programme has enjoyed some superb growth and now boasts 16 clubs committed to the 2020/21 season. Let’s take a look back at the NPLFA story so far…
As mentioned, the NPLFA started its education and football programme in September 2014 with just five clubs and 75 students. It didn’t take long for one of our students to settle in to his club and make a good impression on their first team manager, as Romulus student Yohan Rutty-Smith was called up to the first team in November. He became the first ever graduate from an NPLFA academy to the first team and paved the way for 58 other graduates. Rutty-Smith didn’t settle for a first team place at Romulus though, he continued to impress in the NPLFA and secured a move to League One (at the time) side Notts County.
The inaugural season of the NPLFA was a huge success and laid the foundations for what is now a 380 student strong organisation. Mickleover Sports were the champions of the first NPLFA season and their striker Craig Bagshaw winning the first ever golden boot.
In August 2015 the NPLFA took steps towards developing the education side of the programme and PM Training joined as BTEC educational providers. We are still currently working alongside PM training and are coming up to our sixth year in partnership with them. Things started to progress on the media side of the program as well when ‘Team of the Week!’ was introduced at the start of the 2015/16 season.
In October, the NPLFA received some shocking news after hearing that Leek Town student, Jordan Burndred died suddenly while on a family holiday. This sad news rocked everyone at the NPLFA to their core and as an organisation, the least we could do to commemorate the memory of a bright student, brilliant player and most importantly a great guy was to dedicate the league trophy to him and rename it the Jordan Burndred league cup.
At the end of the season, Mickleover Sports got their hands on some silverware once again and were victorious in the league for the second year in a row. The silverware didn’t stop with just the Jordan Burndred league cup though, as the first ever NPLFA Player of the Year award was handed out at the Northern Premier League awards show. Belper Town student Sam Weston was the first recipient of the award.
The programme continued to develop on the football pitch as well, with the 10th NPLFA first team graduate being named in April, when Kieran Cronin of Mickleover Sports was called up. The NPLFA also put on two ‘inter-league’ games where a coaches select side was put together to play two professional academy sides. In the first game, the NPLFA side faced Oldham Athletic academy and won 2-0, while the second game against Accrington Stanley academy ended in a 0-4 defeat.
Later on in July, we saw Warrington Town academy coach Nick Chadwick move to a full-time coaching position at pro-club Wigan Athletic and also the second professional graduate with Matlock Town student, Max Hunt moving to League Two side Mansfield Town.
The second season of operation came to an end and with it we saw some amazing progression stories from our second year students who had finished their time with us. After completing his BTEC in Sport Level 3 Diploma, Leek Town student Kieran Machin secured a coaching apprenticeship with Premier League club (at the time) Stoke City and his fellow Leek Town team mate, Aaron Hall was given a place at York St John University to study Sports Science and Injury Rehabilitation. Belper Town student Josh Craddock was awarded a four-year scholarship to BYU Hawaii in Honolulu where he went to study Sports Science and play college football for the ‘Seasiders’.
The 2016/17 season saw some amazing growth throughout the programme as the number of teams involved rose to 14, with 11 different clubs and three of those operating a double cohort of students. Having 14 teams on board allowed us to split the league into two divisions allowing for more competitive and balanced structure to the programme. With this expansion we felt the content produced on the programme needed to follow suit, so we entered a partnership with FilmMyMatch. This meant every single game that was played in the NPLFA was filmed by trained camera operators and all match footage was available. The filming of all games took the programme to a new level, as it allowed us to launch a weekly highlights show to showcase all the games played in the NPLFA that week and added a professional and contemporary aspect to the media department. The 2016/17 season also saw a cup competition introduced where all teams would be randomly drawn against one another in a knock-out style tournament.
The NPLFA students continued to impress in 2016 and in October, Mickleover Sports student and academy team captain Lewis Belgrave made history when he captained the first team in an FA trophy game. The 17-year-old is to this day, the only NPLFA student to captain the first team while also playing for the academy side. Lewis went on to win the NPLFA Player of the Year after performing brilliantly for Mickleover Sports throughout the season.
On the 15th November 2016, the NPLFA enjoyed one of its most successful days to date and ‘Terrific Tuesday’ as it is known by will continue to go down in NPLFA history. Firstly, the news was announced on the Tuesday morning that Nottinghamshire based club, Carlton Town would be joining the programme in September 2017. Then, that following evening Lewis Belgrave built on his previous success when he started for Mickleover against Derbyshire rivals Belper Town and scored his first goal for Mickelover Sports first team. This was the first time an NPLFA graduate scored for their respective first team. In that same game, Lewis got to play with his academy coaches, John McGrath and Andy Dales who also started the game and academy team mate Jake Dickinson made his first team debut after being brought on as a substitute. Just 10 miles north, Matlock also saw multiple academy players make their debut and getting to play with their coach in the first team. Matlock Town academy coach Jamie Yates started the game and scored while NPLFA academy goalkeeper Jordan Pierrepont and team mate Jordan Lee also started the game, making their first team debuts. This was hugely proud moment for us here at the NPLFA, seeing our students progress into the first team and having Lewis Belgrave score the first ever goal by an NPLFA student was fantastic.
As the season went on and the new year rolled around, the NPLFA students hard work continued to pay off as the number of graduates into the first team climbed to 20 after Ewan Woods was called up by Warrington Town. He later went on to win the NPLFA golden boot for the second season in a row.
In May 2017, the NPLFA announced that it would be further developing the education side of the programme by offering a degree course pathway to its second year students. The degree course allows NPLFA students to study a Blended Learning Degree Programme, where they can study towards a BSC in Sports Coaching or BA in Sports Management with Loughborough College as well as being eligible to take part in the NPL Football Academy League.
With the inception of a two division league structure, the season concluded with the first ever Grand Final, which pipped Chryso Division winners Mickleover Sports and Joma Division winners Matlock Town against each other. Mickleover continued their run of silverware in the NPLFA and beat Matlock 1-0. After the first ever NPLFA Cup campaign, Matlock Town and Warrington Town made it the final that was hosted at Stoke City’s ground. Warrington ran out the eventual 1-0 winners in a close contest, which saw the North-West side lift the first ever NPLFA Cup.
The third season of the NPLFA was in the books and with it came more student progression stories from our second year students. Firstly, Belper Town student Jack Repton became the first student to graduate from the NPLFA’s BTEC Level 3 course to the NPLFA Undergraduate Sports Degree course. Also, Colby Mcquillan of Warrington Town completed his education with the NPLFA and went on to study a degree in Business Sports at Salford University while Mickleover Sports student, Cameron Higgins progressed through the programme and went on to study Community Coaching and Development at the University of South Wales.
To kick off the 2017/18 season the NPLFA launched its brand new logo. With the programme starting its fourth year of operation and experiencing tremendous growth throughout those starting years, the NPLFA felt it was a perfect time to rebrand with a more modern and recognisable logo.
Throughout the season we saw some of our current and former students and coaches move up the football pyramid. Former Matlock student Max Hunt secured a move to Derby County after previously being at Mansfield Town. Similarly, Warrington Town academy coach Keith Southern received an offer to coach at Premier League club Everton while Mickleover Sports coach Andy Dales swapped coaching for playing when he moved to Scunthorpe United. Also, In March 2018 the NPLFA reached 30 first team graduates after Jack Walsh made his first team debut.
The NPLFA also expanded its advertising and marketing in the 2017/18 season, while working with the clubs involved in the programme and securing shirt sponsorship deal with Carlton Town, Sutton Coldfield Town and Mickleover Sports in February and Widnes sealing the deal later on in August.
Warrington Town and Matlock Town faced off in the Grand Final hosted at Leek Town. Warrington took home the trophy after winning 3-2 on the day, and also had their third goal go viral on social media! In the NPLFA Cup final that was hosted at Stoke City’s ground for the second year in a row, Matlock Town faced Mickleover Sports and pipped the Derbyshire side to a 1-0 win.
At the end of the season we also received the brilliant news that Mickleover Sports student Morgan Williams would be joining League Two side Coventry City and became the third professional graduate from the programme.
We saw another batch of finishing students progressing on to some brilliant opportunities in higher education. Matlock Town student Keifer Macdonald was accepted to the UCFB Etihad Campus to study Football Business and Media while Stephon Mellor of Leek Town was offered a two-year scholarship at Cowley Community College in Kansas studying Health and Physical Education.
The 2018/19 season started with some tragic news at the NPLFA, after learning that degree student Nathan Preston sadly passed away from cancer. The Sutton Coldfield Town student joined the programme in September 2017 and became one of our first degree students and excelled both on and off the pitch. The whole of the NPLFA paid tribute to him with a minute’s silence at all games during MatchweekTwo of the season.
In October, the NPLFA announced that it would be launching a football and education program in the south. Partnering with Eliteform who are the organisation behind the NPLFA - the first of its kind in the UK when created in 2014– they brought their expertise and experience down south to create a sister programme for the Southern Football League. The SLFA was scheduled to start in September 2019 and with Frome Town, Kidlington, Chesham United, Sutton Coldfield Town, Rushall Olympic, Swindon Supermarine and Yate Town all commiting to the programme.
Also in October, the NPLFA recorded its 40th first team debut when Jake Smith of Mickleover Sports was called up to the first team. It was also a year of firsts in the NPLFA, as Aaron McGrath became the first degree student to be on trial at a football league club after being invited to train with Blackpool. We also had the first ever NPLFA student make their professional debut when Morgan Williams made his debut appearance for Coventry City against Fleetwood town. On top of that we had the first ever NPLFA students to play in a cup final for their first team when Jack Thatcher and Marcus Calderone made their first team debuts in the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final for Mickleover Sports.
The Grand Final was hosted at Wigan Athletics’ ground where Matlock Town (Blue) faced off against Matlock (White). It was Matlock (Blue) who came out on top and held their nerve to win on penalties. The NPLFA Cup final was like Groundhog Day, as Matlock Town (Blue) beat Matlock (White) on penalties to lift the trophy.
After the fourth season of the NPLFA was wrapped up, we saw Matlock Town student Ashton Hall became the fourth professional graduate on the NPLFA when we moved to the recently promoted Premier League side, Sheffield United. We also saw some great progression stories from some more students who had finished their time on our programme. Belper Town student Daniel Daley was accepted to study a Sports Coaching degree at Sheffield Hallam University and we also saw eight different students gain a scholarship to study and play football at a whole host of American colleges.
The start of the 2019/20 season marked the landmark fifth birthday of the NPLFA and the campaign has not disappointed yet. The NPLFA achieved its 50th first team debut on 5th November after 17-year old Rhys Moseley made his debut for Radcliffe. We also saw Widnes academy coach Craig Davies also take on the first team job and Mickleover Student Josh Satchwell go on trial at Coventry city.
Now the NPLFA is a 16-club-strong organisation with nearly 380 students on our books. The programme continues to develop, with two new clubs (Atherton Collieries and Peterborough Sports) committing to the 2020/21 season.
The NPLFA is tremendously proud of all the brilliant students we have had and their terrific enthusiasm and brilliant attitude towards the programme. Without them and the wonderful coaches and tutors, the NPLFA wouldn’t be able to operate and for that we are very grateful. Here’s to another five years…