FORMER Black Cat Martin Gray is helping to unearth the club’s stars of the future.
His football academy has teamed up with Southmoor School in a bid to boost pupils’ football and learning skills.
The school, in Grangetown, is the first in the city to link up with the Martin Gray Football Academy (MGFA), the coaches of which will work with pupils in the classroom and on the pitch.
Brian Atkinson, who played 169 games for Sunderland between 1989 and 1996, will also be among the coaches helping to develop skills and techniques for the professional game.
Martin, 40, who began his career as a midfielder with Sunderland in 1990, said: “The dream is to get a player into the league where we have been, but it’s also about reaching out to them in the classroom, like an enrichment programme.
“I really struggled at school, but if I’d had something like this behind me, I’m sure I wouldn’t have left with no qualifications.
“What’s really satisfying about this academy is the feedback we get, such as hearing about pupils who have never missed school since starting with us. It’s good to know we can make a difference in the class and on the pitch.”
He added: “We chose to work with Southmoor because it’s just become an academy and is working in the right direction. The head is doing an excellent job.”
Similar to US-style soccer scholarships – encompassing the national curriculum, qualifications and sporting talent – the new project will develop the school’s elite young footballers while inspiring their academic studies.
About 50 boys and girls will spend two hours each week with the MGFA’s education team.
Martin still works with SAFC at its development centre at the Academy of Light and will be tipping off the scouts about any young players he thinks have potential.
Former players Paul Bracewell and Tony Norman were also on hand to launch the project which will include boys and girls from Southmoor’s feeder schools, Hill View Infants, Hill View Juniors, Valley Road Primary School and Grangetown Primary School.
Dr Phil Ingram, headteacher at Southmoor, said: “Martin has set up academies in other places, but strangely didn’t have one in Sunderland, which is the obvious choice of where it should be.
“Obviously this is a great opportunity for someone with potential to be seen, but what’s really important is getting on the same wavelength as the pupils and using it as motivation to get results.”