Do not expect to see similar success stories in England, despite a flurry of clubs, including Loughborough University and Team Northumbria, turning heads in their respective leagues. While the unis can see the benefit of joining the semi-pro ranks, they are faced with a glass ceiling.
In the wake of Team Bath reaching the Conference South in 2008, the FA placed a cap on all university teams to stop them progressing beyond the eighth tier due to their ownership structures – a draconian rule, given the questionable motives of owners at some of the Football League’s most famous clubs in recent years.
At Loughborough, for example, the club is the focal point of an almost full-time football programme that offers training facilities that trump those at most professional clubs. And with alumni such as ex-Charlton midfielder Bradley Pritchard showing what can be achieved, the potential of university clubs is there for all to see – both for talented academics and as a safety net for academy rejects released from pro clubs.
So while it might be a little far fetched to expect the likes of Harry Kane to join Watmore in a cap and gown, the face of grassroots football could be changing.
- Chris Evans is the author of Learning Curve: Life inside one of Britain’s most unusual football clubs, available to buy on Amazon.