Any footballer would tell you that nothing beats walking out onto the pitch on a Saturday afternoon, scoring a late winner in front of your own fans or, better still, lifting a trophy in front of a sold-out crowd.
For some youngsters, that is just a dream, but thanks to the introduction of the Community and Education Football Alliance League, or CEFA as it’s more commonly known, these dreams are becoming a reality for a number of young footballers across the country.
Introduced in 2018, the CEFA League is a football competition run for Club Community Organisations and is eligible to both young men and women
who are enrolled on a post-16 education course with their Club Community Organisation, offering students competitive playing opportunities in a league that is professionally governed by the EFL.
Through the competition, students are able to achieve their education goals, whilst playing competitive football for their local club.
One club that shone both on the pitch and in the classroom throughout the 2018/19 season is Doncaster Rovers, who were crowned champions of their division in May 2019.
Through Club Doncaster Sports College, students are not only being given the chance to gain qualifications, but when enrolled on an education programme also have a unique opportunity to represent Doncaster Rovers on the pitch in the CEFA League, of which the club has three teams participating.
Club Doncaster College Principal, Adi Turnpenny, is hugely supportive of the competition and believes it is an excellent way to encourage young people into education.
“The CEFA competition supports the great initiatives that the Clubs run, in our case here at Doncaster it’s an education programme and further education courses for 16 to 18-year-olds,” Turnpenny said.
“It’s been excellent in supporting the educational courses we run, in offering students unique opportunities to experience alongside their studies. Obviously qualifications are the most important part of the education courses, but there’s nothing wrong with applying what you learn in the classroom out in a practical environment on a football pitch.”
And the proof is in the pudding as, whilst education comes first, the number of students enrolled at Club Doncaster Sports College has risen since being able to advertise its participation in CEFA.
“Our numbers in female students have certainly risen,” he continued. “To have a girls team playing in this prestigious league really helps in terms of engaging more females on our courses. More generally it helps engage students in education – there’s nothing wrong with working hard and playing hard. For the guys to being doing a BTEC Level Three in sport, work hard in class and then enjoy a game on a Wednesday afternoon, it’s a great balance.
“That’s where it helps the recruitment. It’s really attractive to be able to say ‘we play in an EFL league against teams like Leeds United’. Of course the education comes first, it’s important we get the results in the classroom but to also play in this league is the icing on the cake.”
One individual who has seen the benefits of the competition both on the pitch and in the classroom is Wade Robson, a student that was introduced to the Community and Education Football Alliance through his education programme at Club Doncaster.
“Studying at Club Doncaster means having an opportunity to play football. It’s a bit of a reward system; if you do well in the classroom, you get a chance to play in this league and represent Doncaster Rovers,” he said.
Of course, being professionally governed by the EFL has its benefits. Teams travel to play fixtures at professional stadiums, receive a trophy at the end of the season and get a glimpse of how the professionals live, all whilst receiving an education.
As well as the above, one of CEFA’s unique selling points is being able to wear the club badge.
“My view is that it’s a real privilege,” Robson continued. “In the CEFA league we get to play on the best pitches, wear the club badge, it gives you a bit more experience and shows you what it’s like to be a professional. You know you’ve got to be on top form every time you walk out onto the pitch because you’re representing the club.
"It’s also real motivation in the classroom, because you know that if you let the college tutors down it will get back to your coach and you’ll be taken off the team – not because you’re not good enough, but because to play you’ve got to be performing well in the classroom.”
Wade was part of the Doncaster side that were crowned league champions in May 2019, and his success didn’t stop there. His performances and leadership on the pitch combined with hard work in the classroom has earned him an apprenticeship in the club’s community team this year.
“During our time at college, we’ve all spoken about what we wanted to do when we move on. Luckily a couple of places came up on the apprenticeship course within the community team to become a sports coach. I’ve been given six months of work experience in schools to give me an understanding of working life.
“I’m coming up to my seventh week and really settling in well. We have an understanding of how the club works and I’ve enjoyed going from a classroom environment to a working environment.”
Principal Adi Turnpenny concluded by saying: “It’s fabulous. When I was at school I’d love to have taken part in something like this. It’s brilliant that it compliments our further education programmes and in terms of facilities, it’s a real step up on most opportunities that young people would expect at that level.
“We’re really lucky here at Club Doncaster to have such brilliant facilities and essentially rub shoulders with how professional Clubs do it. The EFL is a recognised brand and gives national recognition to the achievements of those playing in the league and winning it too.”
Competition success has seen an increase in teams registered for the 2019/20 season, with almost 100 teams now competing across 12 different divisions. Opportunities are endless for a vast amount of youngsters who are being given a platform to perform both in the classroom and on the pitch.
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