The Teenagers Football League of Russia (TFL) is an organisation which has grown so impressively since its creation in 1993 that it now acts as a springboard for many of the country's professional players.
Conceived two years after the Russian Federation's foundation and designed to promote and develop youth sport, the TFL organises over 20 football tournaments each year for players aged between eight and 15. Its sphere of operations stretches far beyond Russia to countries such as Serbia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Within 12 months of its formation, the TFL had become an associate member of the Russian Football Union (RFS) and had run its first league championship, attracting 46 teams of youngsters – a number which had risen to 94 by the second edition. Then, in 1995, it launched the TFL magazine, Football is Cool, and a television programme of the same name.
"The main aims of the TFL were to build a system of youth tournaments, to link the interests of different regions, and to restore the popularity of football among children," TFL president Victor Gorlov told UEFA.com. "The main objectives are developing and popularising youth football, selecting the most talented young footballers in Russia, and generating media interest in youth football.
"One of our biggest successes was the crop born in 1982 and 1983, including Denis Kolodin, Roman Adamov and Yuri Zhirkov, who became professionals and came third at UEFA EURO 2008. Over 200 young players who took part in the tournament now play as professionals. It is hard to find a team in Russia without a player who has come through the TFL."
The largest youth football body in Russia, the TFL has the help of more than 500 assistants nationwide. It also counts on sponsors, with, for example, the Russian Railways (RGD) and FC Lokomotiv Moskva funding the LOKOBALL-RGD football festival – which Victor Gorlov describes as "the greatest social project in Russia related to youth football".
The LOKOBALL-RGD tournament's qualifying round comprises regional tournaments in 120 towns and cities, from Kaliningrad in the west to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the east. By 2010 it featured more than 45,000 players from Russia and beyond, including the the CIS countries and the Baltic states.
Meanwhile, another annual tournament, the Children's Champions League, has attracted teams from 13 countries since its inception in 2002.
With a wide-ranging programme, the TFL will look to keep expanding its activities. "The main aim is to grow and develop in the future," added Gorlov. "We hope to find more sponsors to get new opportunities. We also hope to cooperate with international football organisations to make our tournaments more widespread and better known. We will do our best to get more young people involved in football through our tournaments."
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