Two Darlington schools have joined forces to launch an exciting new football Academy for their pupils.
Former Quakers player and assistant manager Martin Gray is working with Longfield Academy of Sport and Darlington School of Maths and Science in the town to set up the new academy.
Similar to the USA-style Soccer scholarships, encompassing the National Curriculum, GCSE courses and sporting talent, the new project will develop the school’s elite young footballers while also inspiring their academic studies.
Around 50 boys and girls from the two schools will spend two hours each week with the Martin Gray Football Academy’s education team before spending another two hours with Gray and his coaching team, developing skills and techniques for the professional game.
The academic studies will be part of the normal curriculum, and the two schools are extremely excited about the new venture, which is already proving a huge success at Greenfield School in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
“It’s a fantastic development which we know will benefit all of the pupils involved,” said Longfield head teacher Susan Johnson.
“The primary aim is to encourage pupils from both schools to work together and support pupils in school who have ambitions of becoming a professional footballer. One day we hope some will realise their dreams.
“Of course, it’s important that normal academic studies aren’t affected, which is why the new Academy enhances the normal curriculum with an education enrichment programme, benefitting all pupils in the academy structure.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for the elite young footballers in Darlington and surrounding areas to benefit from professional football coaching which can only improve performance.”
DSMS head Calvin Kipling added: “You ask pupils what they want to do when they grow up and for many; it’s to be a footballer.
“Through this exciting initiative, our aim is to improve the standard of coaching at the schools and in-turn improve our players and teams while ensuring pupils continue to receive excellent academic education at the same time.
“We want to improve our pupils’ aspirations, both as individuals and the teams generally, and we’re looking forward to working closely with Martin.”
Gray, 40, began his career as a midfielder with Sunderland in 1990 and played 79 league and cup games for the Wearsiders before joining Oxford United for £100,000 in 1996. He went on to play for Darlington and later became assistant manager.
Longfield and DSMS shortlisted more than 100 boys and girls before whittling them down to around 50 Academy scholars.
The selected pupils, who will wear different MGFA-branded PE uniforms, will still train with their teams during the week.
Gray added: “Our vision is along the lines of the American Soccer Scholarships, when football is incorporated into full-time education.
“After successfully launching this model in other schools in the North-East, this is an exciting new project for us in Darlington and I really believe the schools will benefit hugely from it.”