Bristol Central

In The Spotlight - Bristol Central

In the latest of our popular series, we cast the Spotlight on an impressive Bristol Central Youth FC operation which just seems to keep growing...

Club: Bristol Central Youth FC
Ground: The Rose Green Centre, Gordon Road, Whitehall, Bristol, BS5 7DR (home fixtures); City Academy Bristol, Russell Town Avenue, BS5 9JH (Saturday training)
League status: Hanham Minor League; Avon Youth League
Chairman: Derek Scale
Vice-Chairman:  Liam Smith
Club secretary: Dee Kaur
Fixture secretary: Denis Allen
Treasurer: Jonathan Jackson
Welfare officer: Debbie Whitcliffe

Central Youth, Derek - tell us more . . .

You’re right to say the club doesn’t want to stop growing and a good reason for that is we don’t like turning anyone away! We run 13 teams aged from under-9 to under-16 and some of those age groups contain two teams because of the numbers. Next season we’ll be reintroducing an under-18s side after a year without one so yes, the growth isn’t about to stop anytime soon!

We have around 320 children coming through the door, not all of them signed on week in, week out, as some kids just want to participate in our Saturday training sessions at City Academy.

I don’t like waiting lists either but you’re always mindful that if you grow too much, you struggle to cope. It does get bigger each year and that’s largely due to awareness sparked by social media and word of mouth. Every week someone new comes along to see how they get on.

Our training facilities are at City Academy on Saturday mornings where we have use of a 3G pitch and sessions run between 9am and 2.30pm, so it’s brilliant, a real hive of activity. When you’re trying to attract sponsorship, it’s the perfect shop window because it’s that busy.

I work with Bristol Rovers Academy and we organise games against them, and futsal occasionally too.

Like every club you need volunteers and we have around 30 adults - coaches, committee members, parent co-ordinators – who make it happen, but we’re also trying to create an environment for older teenagers to do some qualified Level 1 coaching. Among them are Jake Thomas and Jacob Knapp, who were original players when Central started up about 14 years ago.

So it’s a big and happy camp and it must be as they keep coming back year after year!

All sounds great, but what are your specific catchment areas and how did it all start?

Given our Central name we naturally attract people from St Pauls, St Werburghs, Easton, Barton Hill, Fishponds, those types of places.

But it doesn’t stop there: we also have kids coming from Kingswood (Bristol), Staple Hill, Mangotsfield; and as I say we never turn people away who might be looking for something they feel happier with away from their present club.

Originally there were two junior teams in central Bristol - St Philip’s Marsh and Lebeq - and I came along and said, ‘instead of having two teams, why don’t we amalgamate’?

It was something that really interested me as when I was a kid, there was no grassroots football in central Bristol as it lacked parental support and we’d have to go to Filton, Bitton, Cadbury Heath etc for our fix.

Transport was an issue for many people too so I was very keen to get a viable club set up in my area. I’d run Broad Plain Boys Club FC when I was 18, largely with a view to getting kids off the streets, and I did a lot of youth work, using football as a tool to engage young people.

Nevertheless it was difficult for me and my project partner at the time, Patrick Williams, as financially it was hard going and again we didn’t have a lot of parental support among the 16 or so players. It was just the two of us looking after everything and we stopped after two years and besides, there were precious few under-18s teams in our vicinity that we could play against anyway.

What drives you on to keep pushing forward this amazing project, year on year?

I just love working with young people and seeing them develop, not just as footballers but as citizens of Bristol and the world.
On purely footballing terms my ambition is to see as many boys as possible come through the ranks at Bristol Central and go on to perform at semi-professional and professional levels.

A lad called Rolando Aarons was with me as an under-9 and went on to play with Bristol City and is now a winger with Newcastle United. Then there’s Lloyd Kelly, who is 18 now and a full-back with Bristol City, and another who was with me at Central when he was young.

Bobby Reid is also at Ashton Gate who initially set out with us before turning professional, and it’s humbling that successful guys like these come back and get involved in our presentations. Bobby and Rolando came to our last awards and they act as excellent role models, showing the kids what can be achieved through commitment and hard work.

I gather there’s a big move underway to try and entice more young females to the club

That is very true and we were fortunate to receive funding to the tune of £1,966 from the FA last year as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations of England’s 1966 World Cup success. We were privileged to become one of 66 grassroots projects across the country to be helped in this way.

So we’re working closely with the Gloucestershire FA to form some school links and get licensed coaches into primary schools to undertake a series of six weekly football sessions, all with a view to generating interest among girls who can then join us at Bristol Central for some free taster sessions.

We do have three girls at our club who perform alongside the boys at under-10, under-13 and under-14 levels but we do find many young females prefer to concentrate on other activities such as dance and gymnastics, although it’s true to say a lot of girls of year 7 school age so show an interest in competitive football outside the PE structure.

A lot of secondary schools unfortunately don’t provide girls football anymore, something I am aware of as part of my work mentoring young people at City Academy.

Still, eventually I’d like to see one or two Bristol Central girls’ teams performing in a friendly or competitive league.

It would seem there’s a lot more to what you do there at Central than providing football

Yes that’s true. We teach respect in various ways, such as getting a child to shake the hand of their coach and being courteous to team-mates and opponents. I’m a stickler for punctuality too; I’m not a fan of lateness so it’s these types of skills and values we try and instil in young minds to take into everyday life.

The great thing about our club is we have kids from everywhere! There are a couple from Spain and we have Somalians, Indians, Asians, Romanians and black British, so it’s a really good mix.

When I played football in the early 80s I’d be the only black player in my team in an age renowned for its racism. A lot of lads like me simply didn’t want to be the only non-white players in their line-ups.

Thankfully times have changed and it’s a much more diverse culture we live in now, although it remains a mystery to me why there aren’t more Asian footballers around. I’ve looked at starting up an Asian side but the numbers just weren’t there, although we do have around ten kids from Asian backgrounds at our club.

What of the future; are you happy with your lot or is there more hard graft ahead?

We’re almost there with everything but there are a few things I want to get in place.

We train at City Academy and have our home games at Rose Green Centre in Whitehall which are stone throws away from each other. But I’d really love to have a clubhouse of our own in the central area, somewhere where we could play all our games and bring everything under one umbrella.

We can provide pathways to men’s clubs given we’ll have that under-18s team back in business next season, which is great, but when it comes to running out own adult teams, that’s not something that enters my thinking. Who knows, maybe in the long term that can happen, but it’s not on the list right now.

It’s just nice that we’re being recognised for what is happening at our club, with the 1966 World Cup grant and the award we received in 2015 as Bristol Post Community Club of the Year which was a great honour and one of my proudest moments.

I also personally received a GFA Coach of the Year from a gentleman called Sir Geoff Hurst a decade or so ago and that wasn’t a bad moment either!

If you would like to receive a grant like Bristol Central, take a look and apply below

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