Ex-Premier League coach Paul Jenkins discusses the recent success at the Kepier School Football Academy

In a 23-year coaching career, spanning from academy football to the Premier League, Paul Jenkins has worked with some of the best.

Friday, 2nd August 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Friday, 2nd August 2019, 12:45 pm
Kepier School, Houghton le Spring
Kepier School, Houghton le Spring

The 44-year-old spent over two decades at Middlesbrough and coached in England’s top-flight at the end of the 2016/17 season, when he worked with the likes of Spanish internationals Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes at the Riverside.

Jenkins’ new challenge is a different proposition, though, after taking up a position as lead coach at the recently-restructured Kepier School Football Academy in Houghton-le-Spring.

The academy, which opened in 2012, gives promising young footballers aged 11-16 the chance to receive specialised coaching as part of a structured academic timetable.

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In their time at Kepier, students study for at least eight GCSEs, while work on the football pitch has also led to recent success and international youth call-ups.

“In year 11 who have just left we’ve had three players get scholarships,” says Jenkins, who joined the academy in November 2018. “They are Lucas Reed at Middlesbrough, Isaac Robinson has signed for Carlisle and Tommy Nesbitt has signed for Hartlepool. Lucas Reed was called up by Scotland and represented Scotland this year.

“We’ve got in year 10 Logan Pye, who is at Sunderland academy who’s pretty well respected and pretty highly regarded in the football world at the moment and he plays for England.

“We’ve had Ellis Stanton and Ben Parkinson in our year nines who have been called up for an England training camp for under-15s.

“And I’m delighted that Grace Ede, our only girl in our football academy, in year eight has last week just been away on an England training camp, training with girls two years older than herself.

“There are a lot of positive things going on in the football academy and it’s been proven so far that if the players are prepared to come in and buy into the programme and what we’re doing here they will get rewarded.”

But, as Jenkins points out, it’s important not to sell players, and their parents, a false dream.

Not everyone can become a professional footballer and it’s important that young children are equipped with the necessary life skills to pursue other career paths.

“As part of the recruitment process it’s not just about them coming into school and having seven or eight coaching sessions extra a week with ourselves,” says Jenkins, who is assisted at Keiper by ex-Sunderland academy player Anthony Callaghan.

“It’s also about making sure they get a good education and making sure the education side and the football side marry together and there is no corners cut in the football academy.

“They don’t get any false advice, I don’t come here and tell them they’re going to be a professional footballer, we don’t sell it like that.

“The true facts are that 0.5 per cent are actually going to make it so when they walk through the door, like they did in my time at Middlesbrough, they are all notified that it is going to be a very, very difficult challenge for them to come out in year 11 with a scholarship at a football club.

“What they will do is have a good football education and they will have developed as young footballers and also more importantly for myself, they will have developed social skills and life skills that they can take out of the academy and go into the big wide world.”

Jenkins also has plenty of contacts in the professional game, which he can call upon to act as role models and inspire the students at Kepier.

“Throughout the programme it’s not just about me and my assistant delivering coaching sessions everyday,” adds Jenkins. “We invite guest people in to speak to them about what it means and what it takes.

“Last season Jonathan Woodgate came in and spoke to the players about the elite environment, what it takes to become a top player.

“We also had Phillip Hudson who was head of performance analysis at Middlesbrough which was really interesting because it gave the lads something to aspire to if they weren’t connected to clubs at that time.

“He spoke about his role and the opportunities you can get at universities through performance analysis, and it’s about giving all the players a holistic approach to football if they don’t make it in that environment.”

Recruitment trails for Kepier’s 2020 intake will start in October this year, with more details available on the academy’s website.

And, as Jenkins points out, it’s not just a male only academy.

“If there are girls out there who are interested and they are good enough to come in and perform at this level, then absolutely we’re more than willing to look at them and recruit as well,” he says.

So how does Jenkins’ new role compare to his time in professional football?

“In some respects it’s massively different but in other respects it’s very similar,” he says. “All the lads in the academy have one aim and that’s to be a professional footballer.”

Even so, in a competitive industry which can often be unforgiving at the top level, it’s important to provide other options for the game’s young prospects.