The Evo-Stik Northern Premier League’s ground breaking league-wide academy is celebrating another first after NPLFA student Lewis Belgrave skippered Mickleover Sports to victory in the FA Trophy.
The 17-year-old made history on Saturday when he led the EVO-STIK NPL Premier Division club to a 1-0 win at Leamington in the first qualifying round of the Buildbase FA Trophy.
Already the skipper of the Derbyshire club’s NPLFA champions and in his final year studying for a BTEC Level 3 in Sport after earning a place at the academy in September 2015, Belgrave is the 24th student to have been involved in first team squads at EVO-STIK NPL clubs since the NPL Football Academy was established in 2014 with the backing of the Football Association.
Mickleover Sports manager John McGrath had no doubts Belgrave was ready and on Tuesday backed him to enjoy a bright future in the game after his performance at the weekend and from what he has seen of the midfielder so far.
McGrath said: “Lewis is one of our up and coming stars from our academy and has shown maturity beyond his years and this role as captain is reward for his great dedication and excellent performances this season in academy, reserves and first team games.
“I believe in the future it will be a natural progression for him and one that I believe he will fulfill for many years. He has great role models in club captain Tom Burgin and club vice-captain Jack Broadhead as his mentors and Jack and Tom, along with everyone else at the club, will guide Lewis as best as possible. He is an exciting talent who as his manager I can only see bright things in his footballing career.”
The NPLFA’s tutors and coaches are convinced Belgrave will continue to impress in the NPLFA, the EVO-STIK NPL’s full-time education and football programme.
An NPLFA spokesman said: “To be involved in the match day squad for a first team playing in the Northern Premier League at 17 years of age is an achievement in itself. But Lewis has not only gone one step further in playing from the start, he has been given the captain’s armband as well, which for a player of his age in a squad of experienced Non-League and ex-Football League players is unheard of.
“Lewis has progressed under the guidance of first team and academy manager John Mcgrath since he made his debut against Darlington last October under the management duo of current Matlock Town joint managers Craig Hopkins and Glenn Kirkwood.
“This year he has not only been playing for the academy on Wednesday afternoons but has been a permanent fixture in the first team and we are now starting to see him play week in week out which is an incredible achievement. Both John and fellow academy coach Andy Dales are doing a magnificent job and Lewis is not the only student there who is showing promise.”
The NPLFA also paid tribute to the progress that is being made at Sports, one of the NPLFA’s founder members and most successful set-ups so far.
“Mickleover have had a fantastic two years so far in the NPL Football Academy,” said the spokesman. “Starting off with one cohort of 18 students, due to the success they have now doubled in size and now have 40 plus students as well as being the current NPLFA champions after winning back to back titles in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
“In the summer they integrated the senior and youth set up by appointing academy coach John Mcgrath as first team manager who, along with fellow first team player Andy Dales, now work with the students every day.
“They have also entered a reserve side in the Central Midlands Reserve League where they are currently fourth with the majority of the team made up of former academy students allowing them to keep the players they have developed together and to form a genuine pathway into the first team.”
He added: “They now have the perfect structure in place to produce more players like Lewis on a regular basis.”