Shrewsbury Town Football Club stars of the future settle into life at Shrewsbury College.

Seven weeks ago, some of the country’s future football starts settled into life at Shrewsbury College on London Road as part of the Shrewsbury Town Football Club (STFC) Academy. While the College students are enjoying a break over the summer months, the nineteen 16-18-year-olds in the Academy, are training hard every day, ahead of their first professional match against Morecambe on Saturday, 8 August.

The work of the scholars is overseen by a committed team, whose jobs it is to develop the players to reach their potential within the game of football. Steve Reece, Academy Manager, looks after the entire academy programme with Ian Dawes and Matt Rains - the professional development coaches working with the scholars on a daily basis.

There are currently 10 first years, who have been in the academy less than two months, and nine second years, who have come to STFC from all over the UK including Northern Ireland. Some of the teenagers have come up through the STFC Academy, having been in it since they were eight-years-old, and some have come from other academies around the country, but they all have the same goal in common – they aspire to make a living within the professional game.

Currently, they have played in six pre-season games, most recently winning 3-1 against Chesterfield, which prepares their match fitness ahead of the Youth Alliance games programme which starts this Saturday (August 8) at Morecambe, where the team will be playing other under 18s in the same position.

Their pre-season starts at the end of June, the same as other professional players, and ends in early May with intense training all through the summer in preparation for the season.

Academy Manager, Steve Reece, said; “All of the scholars are working as a professional footballer would. They are getting in to work early and putting in the graft. We operate a friendly but disciplined environment and the same rules apply to the boys as any professional squad. This is a serious profession and if they want to make it onto the Shrewsbury Town first team, or be sold onto another professional club when their scholarship is over, they have to take their development seriously and endeavour to become the best of the best.

“Some of the boys are living in Shrewsbury miles from home with host families but they have settled into this and life at Shrewsbury College very well. We like the modern, up-to-date surroundings and the chance to mix with other students and the teaching and support staff have all been really welcoming and helpful, making the transition into training at this College smooth. I couldn’t have wished for it to go any better.”

The scholars arrive for work at Shrewsbury College at 9am and spend an hour in the gym following programmes generated by the Head of Sports Science for the Academy, Alistair Gibb. They work on their strength and conditioning and then go out onto the sports fields at London Road where Ian and Matt run coaching sessions which are focussed to the specific needs of the individual players. The day before a match, the boys will focus on tactical preparation for the game.

Then it’s time for lunch at The Hub, the new student zone at Shrewsbury College, which is shared by all students. It’s where they can hang out and chat and enjoy their food. But the scholars can’t just order whatever they like and even the catering staff know to refuse their request if it’s not something they have specially prepared – they follow a healthy diet from a menu prepared by the Academy.

The afternoon will see them discussing what they have learned all morning using examples of best practice and they use video analysis to highlight areas for development. During term-time, academic education will be all day Monday and Thursday afternoons when the scholars are taught the Level 3 Diploma in Sport and the Football Association Level 2 Coaching qualification, under the tutelage of Shrewsbury College Sports Lecturers. They also see presentations regarding drugs awareness, nutrition, basic life skills and the dangers of the media – all to prepare them for their futures as professional footballers.

First year, Chris Gallagher, 16, from Belfast, is living across the sea from his family, as he prepares for life as a professional footballer. He said: “The training is far better than I could get back home so I feel extremely lucky to be here. I want to play at the highest possible level. I play mid-field and can’t wait to play in the match as we’ve been preparing for it for weeks. We work hard, I train all day and then it’s back to my digs, but I know I have to put in the effort if I want to make it.”

Time will tell if Chris, his teammates, and the three ‘potential’ scholars who are attending over the summer to see what life is like in the Academy in the hope of reaching the standard needed to obtain a scholarship with the club. But with names like Premiere league stars, Joe Hart (Manchester City) and David Edwards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), as well as current STFC first team players, Ryan Woods and Connor Goldson, amongst others, all coming out of the Academy, it shows that they are in with a shot.

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