August 14, 2003
Combining soccer with education – people are already thinking about it

Of all the education news stories of the last day or two, this one struck me as the most interesting:

It is a shadow that hangs over the thousands of young men who aspire to earning a living from their favourite pursuit, playing football: What if they fail to make the grade?

As the multi-millionaire players of the country's best teams prepare to kick off another lucrative season, the pain of coming to terms with the dashing of dreams can be especially hard for those forced to give up the game through injury or because they have been released by their clubs.

Today, instead of finalising their pre-season training, up to 80 would-be players will be visiting a jobs fair at Keele University, the first of its kind organised by the FA Premier League to prove that there is life after football.

The more I ruminate upon it, the more I believe the growth areas in education to be everywhere except in "schools". The way to sort out a lot of the problems in education is to denationalise, and to allow individual pupil choice. But how do you do that? It has to be done gradually, and it has to be sneaked past the special interests, and if they do see it coming, it has to be too popular and to make too much sense to be opposable. In general, the way that education is going to develop in the future is for adult institutions to diversify down the age range.

In particular, I believe that the big sports clubs are going, logically, to be drawn towards teaching more and more indoor stuff as well. If the big soccer clubs of Britain were to open up schools, not just for the boys they considered possible future stars, but for boys who were merely keen to learn about life with a soccer slant to it, starting with boys of, say, twelve, no one would stop them, provided they did it half reasonably. Their big problem would, on the contrary, be the government being so keen to help.

The basic problem for most teenagers is that they aren't going to be able to do what they would most like to do, and this applies with special ferocity to aspiring soccer stars. Most of them really aren't going to make it. They are liable to be very disappointed.

This story is only about the soccer people taking some of the bump out of the otherwise very hard landing that soccer boys get now if the soccer clubs decide they've no more use for them, which is what it decides for most of them, of course. And what I think it shows is that thought is going into the education of the "others", the ones who don't make it, the ones who if only they can be offered the right alternatives, could do fine, or not, depending.

In short, the world of soccer is thinking hard about education.

Four out of five players who signed on with Premier League clubs in their teens would be released by the time they reached 21, he added. Some of those eligible to attend today's fair will have been with their clubs since the age of eight.

Did I say twelve?

To help them, the league has assembled an all-star line-up of university admissions staff and employers to try to help them develop a new career.

Kate Coleman, education and child-protection manager at the FA Premier League, said: "The league takes the education of young people very seriously and we have worked very hard in conjunction with our academies [established at individual clubs] to encourage scholars to realise the importance of gaining academic qualifications. Unfortunately, not every player who joins a Premier League Academy will sign a professional contract with their club and get a career out of the game. The event at Keele will be a useful opportunity for those players who have been released by clubs to assess what options they have for the future."

Universities including Loughborough – famous for its sports science degree – Cardiff and Leeds Metropolitan will be attending the event. A wide range of employers at the fair will include the armed services, the fire brigade and the John Lewis Partnership.

I guess all I'm really saying is: interesting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:10 PM
Category: Boys will be boysFree market reforms