Durham Women FC’s Girls’ Football Academy are toasting another success – having been named as National Football Youth League champions for the 2019/20 season.
With the campaign having been brought to a premature end, the Wildcats’ academy side – run in conjunction with Durham Sixth Form Centre – were named as Northern Premier Division champions.
It signals another season of progression for the academy programme, which sees students combine playing football against some of the best young players in the country with a top class education.
And a maiden league triumph pleased manager Gareth Smith – who had plenty of praise for his players.
“It was a good test for the girls this year,” he said.
“We only had one game left to play this season, which everyone was well up for, but we’re delighted to have won the league after some really good performances and the girls have been absolutely fantastic.
“They should be really proud of what they’ve achieved this season.”
It wasn’t just in the league where the Academy side excelled, with a fine cup run also providing some valuable experiences for the young squad.
Smith explained: “Just before the shutdown, we played Enfield in the National Cup semi-final and narrowly lost out to them.
“We were always in the game, and they had a full squad of players playing in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 of the women’s pyramid.
“The standard of player was phenomenal, and it’s a great experience for our players to be able to play against them and other quality players and teams like Manchester City”
Durham Women are one of a select few sides to field a team in the National Football Youth League – which pits our young players against some of the best in the country.For Smith, that’s an invaluable experience for any young player.
“Playing in the National Football Youth League is an unbelievable experience for the girls.
“We’ve played at St George’s Park for two years in a row and we’re involved in some great national cup competitions.”
Durham Women now have two academy sites running, with a centre at Bede Sixth Form also going from strength-to-strength on the field and were top of the North East Colleges League before the season was cut short.
Head coach Graeme Clark explained ” I have thoroughly enjoyed my first season with the girls academy with Durham, it’s a fantastic experience for young players coming into college football and making their first steps into senior football enhanced by a really warm and welcoming environment.”
Players from both sites have also been part of the clubs successful run in The Barclays FA Women’s Super League Academy Cup competition which saw them reach the semi-final after wins against Manchester Utd and Manchester City set up a knockout tie against Ipswich Town – with Chelsea waiting in the final at St.Georges Park before the current corona crisis saw the competition finished.
First team manager Lee Sanders commented: “The achievements of both sets of players on the further education pathways we have at the club has been really pleasing this season and coupled with our other younger players at the club saw us really make a huge step in being able to compete with the best young players in the country in the WSL Academy Cup games.
“The players are really well supported from every angle whether that be coaching, medically, performance or general well being.
“Gareth and Graeme have done a great job from the FE perspective and Dan (Jowett), John (Knighton) and Mark (Elliott) did tremendously well with the WSL Academy Cup side and who knows what the club can achieve at youth level moving forward but it’s extremely positive at the moment.”
Both academy programmes offer top class education – whether it be A-Levels, BTECs, Foundation Degrees or the all-new T-Level – and Smith believes this is vitally important.
“We’ve always wanted to offer the best education programme,” he added.
“Football is just a bonus – we do work really hard on the football side of it, but we want the players to get the best education, because that’s the most important part.
“We can definitely say that we do that.”
Do you want to follow in the footsteps of this season’s title winners, and combine your football with a top class education?
We’re still recruiting for the new academic year, with students able to apply to study at either Durham Sixth Form Centre or Bede Sixth Form.
For more information, see the graphic below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.