Sports students from Wearside are a step closer to the top flight of football after jetting off to Croatia to train with a professional club.
Fourteen students from Sunderland College’s Football Development Centre (FDC) travelled to western Croatia to train and play at NK Novigrad’s stadium, Gradski Stadion.
They spent two days training at the club and then took on NK Novigrad’s professional under 18s youth team, narrowly losing 2-1 to the home team. Chris Bell, central midfield, scored Sunderland College’s goal and Jake Metcalf, left back, was declared man of the match in the hard fought game.
Jake, 17, said: “I really enjoyed the whole experience of being away with a great bunch of lads and the game was fantastic. I am looking forward to the chance to go again next year.”
The students, who all aspire to work in the sports industry, also met NK Novigrad’s first team players and watched them beat Dubrava Zagreb 3-0.
Head coach at the college David Rush said: “The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience of training in a professional ground and playing against talented club footballers.
“They played with confidence on the pitch and I am very proud of the dedication and enthusiasm they showed throughout their training.
“We are keen to work with NK Novigrad in the future and we have plans to invite other colleges and professional teams to launch an annual tournament there.”
The Croatian trip comes at the end of a successful season for the college’s FDC, which saw two of its teams win titles in the Association of Colleges Sport league, and a combined team reached the finals of the County Cup Final.
Two FDC players, Jack Devlin and Logan Powell, have also been offered a two-year contract with Queen of the South FC, which plays in the Scottish Championship, and they begin their pre-season training in two weeks.
And to top-off the triumphant year, AoC Sport has granted Sunderland College Category 1 status for next season, giving the players the chance to play against teams further afield and compete in the national play-offs.
Coached by three former professional football players, including ex-SAFC striker David Rush, Gateshead manager Anth Smith and ex-Hartlepool United player Gustavo Di Lella, the FDC trains both men and women to an elite level.