Young North East footballers are being given a platform to secure professional contracts, thanks to Miller Homes North East.

A review of the football academy system by the Premier League last year found that 99% of boys in English football’s youth development system are released before even securing a scholarship, with many walking away from the game without a single work-related qualification.

The findings, included in Tracey Crouch MP’s fan-led review of football governance, led to calls for clubs to take more responsibility for the education and wellbeing of their youngsters, with many turning to an unheralded Northern Premier League side for inspiration.

The Post-16 Academy launched by Morpeth Town AFC in 2021 was a first of its kind for the sport, providing young people with somewhere they could achieve a first-class trade education while training and playing the game they love full-time.

Launched in partnership with TyneMet College and supported by national housebuilder Miller Homes, the first year of the project saw six young players study for professional qualifications in trades such as brickwork, plumbing, welding and electrical installation, as well as undertaking work experience with Miller Homes and its local subcontractors.

The brainchild of academy board members Ken Beattie and Dave Jenkinson, the partnership hopes to eventually provide up to 60 youngsters a year with the opportunity to spend time playing football while also learning a hands-on profession and the model is now being replicated throughout the football pyramid.

Nick Gray, Academy Director at Morpeth Town FC, the 2016 FA Vase winners, said: “When we launched the project, it was the only programme of its kind that helped young players become better footballers while studying a trade and securing valuable work experience.

“As a club, we know just how many teenagers love playing football and want to chase the dream of becoming a professional, but we also know the importance of them gaining skills in the right industry.

“While the course helps increase their playing skills – and may prove a launchpad for some to make it professionally – it also provides an important career back-up option for those who unfortunately will not make the grade.

“Since its launch, we’ve already had six lads study for qualifications while undertaking work placements and the feedback from them has been fantastic. They’ve really bought into it and seen value in the programme.

“We’ve also had approaches from clubs across the country wishing to replicate the model. It’s really blazing a trail in terms of providing alternative career opportunities for aspiring young footballers and we’re looking forward to welcoming our next cohort this summer.”

Mandy Morris, Principal of South Tyneside College and TyneMet, said: “The Post-16 Academy programme has really turned the academy model on its head.

“The vocational courses we deliver offer a fantastic opportunity for young footballers to continue playing the game they love while also learning a trade.

“The ambition of many teenagers means they want to be able to get better and better at football, but they also know gaining a professional qualification is every bit as important.

“Thanks to this programme, there’s no need for them to pick and choose one or the other or give up on their dream – they can do both at the same time. It’s a truly terrific initiative.”

National housebuilder Miller Homes was one of the first employers to throw its weight behind the programme, providing work placements through its roster of sub-contractors and its in-house teams.

Patrick Arkle, Regional Managing Director at Miller Homes North East, said: “We are proud to be one of the first employers to support the Post-16 Academy programme.

“Over recent years, much has been made of the failure of academies across the country to protect the wellbeing of young players, especially when it comes to helping those who don’t make the grade transition into everyday life, and this is a fantastic case study of how the process can be improved by bringing together forward-thinking organisations such as TyneMet College and Morpeth AFC to provide real life-changing opportunities for the game’s youngsters.

“We are also delighted to be supporting their campaign to fundraise the money required to purchase a new bus which will take players to college and back, having donated £5,000. It’s a partnership which is really bearing fruit and we’re delighted with how it is going so far.”

Henry Harvey, 17, from Walker, is enjoying the Post-16 programme as he studies electrical engineering.

While playing for Morpeth Town AFC Under 17’s, he spends one day per week studying at TyneMet College, and, along with three of his teammates, will be heading to one of Miller Homes’ developments in the coming weeks to gain vital work experience.

“I love playing football and in a perfect world that’s how I would earn a living, but all of the Academy players know and understand that it is only a tiny percentage of players who go on to make it as full-time footballer,” said Henry.

“The Post-16 programme is a fantastic way of learning employability skills that will help me secure a job in the future while playing the sport I love – it’s the best of both worlds.”