The English Football Association’s Leadership Academy develops future leaders of the national game - and with Wembley Stadium in London hosting the UEFA EURO 2020 final stages, confidence is high that the tournament will inspire young people to play key roles in that future.
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Caps, gowns, sharp suits and best frocks on one of the hottest days of the year. July is graduation time in England – and at The Football Association’s Leadership Academy, it is no different.
Young people from around the country convened at St George’s Park, the home of the England teams, to celebrate their contributions to football as they work to become exceptional future leaders of the national game – in coaching, officiating and administration.
The FA Leadership Academy is an annual residential event, organised by The FA’s National Youth Council, bringing in attendees from all around England to take part in workshops and seminars, developing their leadership skills.
This year was particularly special, with a strong UEFA EURO 2020 flavour to proceedings – entirely appropriate, given that London will host the semi-finals and final at Wembley Stadium next year. The tournament’s official mascot Skillzy was in attendance, and the iconic Henri Delaunay Trophy was also on show.
The revered EURO silverware took pride of place at the front of the Sir Bobby Robson ballroom, as last year’s cohort of young leaders returned to share their experiences and achievements in their graduation ceremony, cheered on by the 2019 intake.
The FA’s young leaders were joined by counterparts from EURO 2020 host cities around Europe, sharing their experiences of working across all aspects of the world’s favourite game.
“What an opportunity to use that competition as a catalyst for engaging more young people!” Steve Day, The FA’s head of development, told the audience.
Heidi Truman, The FA’s EURO 2020 national promotion manager, also took to the podium to tell the young leaders about some of the plans in progress for EURO 2020. The FA needs 1,300 volunteers to help make the matches at Wembley special – and hopes that young people will fill plenty of those vacancies.
Truman emphasised the importance of young people in making the tournament a success, quoting part of the city’s bid document: “We will use UEFA EURO 2020 to recruit and engage a new generation of youth volunteers.”
Sarah Nickless, the outgoing chair of The FA’s National Youth Council, feels confident that the next generation of leaders and young volunteers will make the tournament really special.
“It’s hugely exciting, and I think it’s the reason we’re in the position we are,” she reflected. “The FA have supported youth leadership – it was at the forefront of our [EURO 2020] bid. Everything is about youth leadership, youth empowerment, youth engagement, meaningful impact. If we don’t look after young people now, we don’t have a game in ten years’ time.”
Nickless began her own career in football as a player, but after injury as a teenager, moved into refereeing and coaching – and jumped at the opportunity to become involved with the Leadership Academy.
“I saw young people leading young people – and I wanted to be a person who did that,” she says.
“It’s really important to put young people at the forefront – and give them the best opportunities.”
Nickless is sure that EURO 2020 will go a long way towards doing that. “Hopefully, through the power of the tournament, it’s going to widen the breadth and depth of our workforce,” she says, “but more importantly, it’s just going to enable young people to be the best they can beyond the tournament.”