Fife Elite Football Academy was rumoured to be coming to a close just 12 months ago – now, FEFA are “stronger than we ever have been” according to Operations Manager Bill Hendry.
Recently, FEFA organised an awards evening for their graduates so far.
“The Fife Football Performance Academy was set up in conjunction with Fife Council and the SFA, to try identify young talent in Fife. With the evolution of Fife Elite, this became an obvious place for young talent from this area to progress to. We were looking for a pathway to provide our professional clubs, and, our hope is that by the time they finish up at Under-17’s level, they will then be offered a contract. When players are identified by FFPA staff and invited to join us, these kids are encouraged not to go to other senior clubs for coaching. After 3 years of this, we have built up a number of players that have progressed from the FFPA and have signed for Fife Elite. These players were recognised with an awards ceremony recently which shows the massive strides we are making in this region.
Due to the age that we recruit at – Under-11’s and Under-12’s – [signing a professional contract] has came to fruition yet. It is likely another 12 months or so, where we hope the first set of players will leave the academy and get a senior contract. One of the things that makes this work is that the coaches we have within the academy, also work with the FFPA, so, there is a commonality; this makes it more joined up as it helps the players realise what it takes to become an elite athlete. When the kids move from the FFPA to FEFA, they hear the same voices, see the same faces and are told the same messages.”
Hendry admits the main attribute in which FEFA look for is technique.
“We have a great philosophy in which we don’t look for big, strong, players: it can take years to perfect technique, whereas, you can build an athlete in a much shorter period of time. We don’t worry too much about their physicality, our main focus is on improving their technical ability and skills. Our mantra is ‘practise, practise, practise’. The major hurdle for the academy was surviving the cull which came about because of Project Brave. Initially, it was mooted that there’d only be an ‘Elite Tier’ with the criteria of running an academy at top-tier level prohibitable outside the budget of the four professional clubs within Fife. Thankfully, the SFA have brought in a four-tier system which has allowed FEFA to participate in a program and we are quite confident that our existence will continue. As the years have progressed, we have seen an improvement in the players in which we are producing.
First and foremost, every kid is an individual – we try to treat players in that way, but, we have to offer the kids role models that they can inspire to and, to have players who have came through FEFA and have went on to sign professional deals and play internationally for their country, it is an ideal thing for us to have. A lot of kids, even from Fife, want to play at the highest level – they want to play for the two main Glasgow clubs or join a team in England and while we would be delighted if they managed to do that, we have given them an opportunity to sign professionally for one of four senior clubs in this area and tell them to try and establish themselves in that sides first-team squad to begin with.”
With Dunfermline bringing in 6 professionals from FEFA this summer, it shows the amount of quality being produced by Hendry and his staff.
“It is fair to say that if a club didn’t feel a player was of their desired standard then they wouldn’t offer them a contract, so, we have been delighted the progression made by these boys from the 2001 age bracket. As a consequence of having a number of players who have developed extremely well, that is why a high volume of players were offered a deal by Dunfermline. We would hope, looking in the year coming ahead, that there would be an equal number again at a minimum, that our four clubs would like to offer senior, professional, contracts to. Results at this stage in their development don’t do an awful lot, but, it does in a way show where you are: we had a number of victories against clubs who are looked upon as having strong youth development, so, that bodes well for the future, too.”
Despite the change in format from an Under-20’s division to a more traditional Reserve League, the coaching staff at FEFA will stick to the original plan when bringing these players on.
“The other innovation is the invention of an Under-18’s league. So, take for example the 6 boys who have been signed by Dunfermline; the hope and expectation is that they will play in the Reserve League this year, but, in addition to that, their bread and butter may be the Under-18’s league. The whole concept of that is that these matches will take place on a Friday evening and the whole point of it being played then is to allow these guys to also participate in the Reserve League which is scheduled to be played on a Monday or a Tuesday. If these guys aren’t seen at all on a Friday night, that’d be great for us as they have then established themselves enough in Reserve side at their own club. Whilst we can take a player to a certain level, the hope is that with full-time training and full-time coaching, their technical development, imagination and physicality, they can now kick on.”
A Performance School is still an idea being looked into by FEFA.
“The SFA acknowledged that a Performance School not being in Fife was an anomaly, given the population, however, there has been no movement on that. As an academy, we have had to try go forward ourselves by looking at other opportunities and we would expect after the summer break a day-release project which would be in conjunction with Fife College. This will bring together the coaching with education to bring along a players’ own personal development. There’s definitely been progression since FEFA was formed in 2014. There is still a long way to go. The potential is so exciting, in terms of where we can take the academy in Fife. Whilst I can’t say this will happen tomorrow, we want to start looking at provisions for girls football.
We are where we are; when we were trying to recruit last summer, people were telling us that FEFA was going to be finishing up – scouts from other clubs were trying to entice Fife boys to their side by saying there wasn’t going to be an academy in this region anymore…that was a year ago now and we are still here. We are stronger than we have ever been. Dunfermline have taken in a record number of players while Raith, East Fife and Cowdenbeath still have players involved within their squads too. It is business as usual.”