The Northern Premier League Football Academy has been celebrating another milestone after three more students made their first team debuts.
Matlock Town’s Harry Wood, Warrington’s Euan Woods and Kidsgrove Athletic first year student Billy Silvester became the 19th, 20th and 21st NPLFA players respectively to turn out alongside their parent club’s seniors stars.
Gladiators midfielder Wood, 16, was the first of the trio to step up during the EVO-STIK NPL Premier Division club’s Integro League Cup clash with Basford United at the Autoworld Arena at the end of January, the former Chesterfield Academy student even converting a spot kick in the penalty shoot-out after the 2-2 draw.
Wood wasn’t the only NPLFA student from the Gladiators on show in the win on penalties for the visitors with Jordan Pierrepont and Jordan Lee starting again and top goalscorer Billy Whitehead making it to the bench as an unused substitute.
Warrington’s Woods made his debut in the Wire’s 2-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers in the Cheshire Senior Cup a few days later, pictured, the 18-year-old becoming the club’s first graduate when he came on as a 65th minute for experienced striker Ben Deegan as the NPLFA reached the magic 20 graduate mark.
Silvester became the last of the trio to make the grade on Saturday when he made his debut for Kidsgrove Athletic in their 2-0 loss at home to Carlton Town in EVO-STIK NPL First Division South, the former Port Vale academy player coming on as a 78th minute for Kyle Diskin to become the Staffordshire club’s first football graduate and the NPLFA’s 21st.
Wood and Woods were both delighted to make their debuts and were full of praise for the role of the NPLFA in their development as players.
Matlock’s Wood said: “It was a great experience and I loved every minute of it. I thought I played well and the managers thought the same which was nice and my aim now is to be involved in more games. Coming to the NPLFA at Matlock Town has made me a more mature and better player. I am now very confident and feel all aspects of my game have improved but I still have to keep improving.”
Warrington’s Woods said: “It felt great to finally make my debut. I have worked hard for a long time to achieve that. I thought i had a good game and created a few chances and my aims are to keep pushing for a first team place and score 20 goals this season. The NPLFA has definitely improved my ability both technically and physically and has taught me what to do in certain situations.”
An NPLFA spokesman said: “Well done to the last of the three Billy and also congratulations to academy manager Kyle Adams and first team manager Ryan Austin for their hard work in producing their first of what is hoped of many first team graduates.
“After Harry, Euan and now Billy, to hit twenty one football graduates in just two and a half years is very pleasing and just shows the quality of students that are coming on board now. We are getting enquiries from many youngsters who have been released from professional clubs and are seeing the programme as their next step, instead of disappearing into the footballing wilderness before they have even developed.
“What is equally if not more pleasing is the progress off the pitch and how the NPL, the programme and the clubs involved are giving these boys a fantastic education which has allowed many the opportunity to go to university in the UK and US or straight into employment or apprenticeships.”
Founded with the backing of the Football Association at five pilot clubs in September 2014 to provide career pathways into the football industry and still the only league wide academy in English football, the NPLFA is expanding to 13 clubs for the 2017-18 season in September.
Before expanding to 11 EVO-STIK NPL clubs this season, the NPLFA entered into a strategic partnership with Global Premier Soccer, the world’s leading provider of sports scholarships in the United States. A deal was also signed last summer to film every match students play in the NPL Youth League.
For the second year running, the best of the NPLFA’s students will also be honoured at the EVO-STIK Northern Premier League’s Player of the Year Awards in April when Welsh legend Dean Saunders will be handing out the accolades in front of more than 300 guests at the plush Brooklands Holiday Inn near Barnsley.
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