AFC Sudbury academy is bearing fruit, both on and off the pitch

AFC Sudbury youngsters in the USA playing against American football teams and experiencing a different culture.

AFC Sudbury youngsters in the USA playing against American football teams and experiencing a different culture.

Archant

Non-league football academies are on the increase – in September 2015 AFC Sudbury made the decision to set up their own.

AFC Sudbury first-team boss Mark Morsley, chats to some of the U16s at a training session. AFC Sudbury first-team boss Mark Morsley, chats to some of the U16s at a training session.

Following the development of the site in Brundon Lane and then the installation of a state-of-the-art 3G pitch it was perhaps an inevitable move.

The academy has developed at a very fast rate.

Indeed, 30 months later, it is proving an excellent place for young footballers to develop, as well as to gain educational qualifications.

At the AFC Sudbury Academy both football and education results are impressive.

As Head of Education and Compliance, Dave Cannon said: “For some clubs it might be tempting just to take in all those who apply.

“We believe that limiting the intake to 20 scholars allows us to maintain our outstanding achievements and continue to achieve. We do not view our project as a ‘cash cow’.”

Probably the most eye-catching part of the Academy is that first year scholars are given the opportunity to travel to the USA on tour.

The academy works closely with a company called US Soccer Scholarships where footballers who achieve a high standard can go to the States to play college soccer and study for their degree.

Ben Hunter, centre, a Sudbury academy player, who has played in the first team this season. Ben Hunter, centre, a Sudbury academy player, who has played in the first team this season.

All a great experience.

The annual trip gives 16/17-year-old players a flavour of this exciting opportunity.

Academy Director Danny Laws said: “Taking the first year boys on tour to the USA has multiple benefits including experiencing first-hand the opportunities open to them to continue to study and play football (soccer) full-time in an exciting and inspiring environment.”

The Academy has also set up a direct link with Ipswich Town where some players who do not make their Academy at the end of Year 11 can come to Sudbury to continue their football and educational careers.

This tie also exists with younger players.

Two years ago, the 18 players at U13 level who did not make the first cut at Portman Road became the AFC Sudbury Eastern Junior Alliance (EJA) U13 team.

The first of this intake are now midway through their U14 season and both clubs and, more importantly, the players are bearing fruit of this partnership.

This structured joined-up thinking between AFC Sudbury and Ipswich Town is beginning to show real potential under the coaching from manager Chris Smith.

AFC Academy director Danny Laws. AFC Academy director Danny Laws.

There is also another route that AFC scholars can aspire to as they improve as footballers and that is to strive to play for the AFC first team in Bostik North.

Experienced non-league manager Mark Morsley was appointed on a long-term contract to the Suffolk club hot seat in October 2017 with the brief to rebuild the 1st XI and a part of this is to work closely with and further develop Academy scholars.

“The opportunity to work on this project was just too good to turn down,” he said.

“Having players, many of which have spent years at a professional club, that are coached by Danny and his team means they have a great grounding and the job for me and my staff is to take them to the next step.”

Since its inception there have been 23 academy scholars make their debuts with a large percentage of these since Morsley’s arrival.

“If you are good enough you are old enough and I believe if I marry these youngsters with experienced players who have the right attitude, ability and belief in our project then I believe our future will be exciting,” Morsley added.

Football is in an era when professional clubs do not always have the foresight or bravery to give their own youth a chance.

That’s understandable in many ways, in a results-driven business.

Chris Smith, the AFC Sudbury EJA U16 manager. Chris Smith, the AFC Sudbury EJA U16 manager.

But academies, like AFC Sudbury, are giving young players that chance, not just to develop their football, but also - and most importantly - to continue to study to a good standard.

More power to Sudbury - and to the many non-league academies who are working hard to do similar.

TELL me about your club’s academy should it have one? How successful has it been. Drop me a line, drop me some pictures... mike.bacon@archant.co.uk

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