Based in Stretford – just a mile or so from Manchester United’s home, Old Trafford – Longford Park Juniors is a burgeoning club in a football mad region replete with kids’ teams. At a time when grassroots football is being neglected, LPJFC has blossomed in just six years with outstanding results and achievements both on and off the field, and were recently awarded FA Charter Standard Club status. We caught up with chairman Colin Lowe to find out about their approach.
KUDOS: How did you get involved with the club? Tell us about how the club got off the ground and its very earliest days…
Colin Lowe: I offered to run a Saturday morning multi-sports family session for the local school and community hosted at Longford Park School. The numbers ranged from just 5-8 each week and never really took off. I arranged a letter and posted it round the community and after the consultation it transpired the majority wanted junior football sessions. After a month the word spread and numbers immediately trebled. There was a buzz about the place every Saturday morning at the school, the head teacher at the time Mrs Owens was very supportive and after a few months I formed a committee and the club Longford Park JFC was founded.
Were you a qualified coach at this time or did this come later?
Yeah I was a qualified coach at the time – NVQ Level 3 in sports and recreation in allied occupations and a variety of FA qualifications.
So tell us about the club’s growth and how the numbers have increased. It must have grown beyond anything you could have imagined at the outset?
The club has continued to grow, albeit in a way that is just about manageable. I had a vision at the start that eventually we would fill every single age group with a team and we are well on way to achieving this. The numbers just keep growing, and I believe it’s all about word of mouth and how professional we are from the first second your child puts his or her foot in the door.
It is immediately apparent that the coaches at Longford are really excellent. What is the club’s approach to coaching?
I believe our network of fully qualified coaches are the best in the area. Our coaches all work in local primary schools and so have a healthy understanding of how to work with and coach young children. We often meet up to discuss different ways of freshening things up – and the key is to mix the coaches up with different teams. It’s great for the children and the coaches can familiarise themselves with a wider range children – and vice-versa – and see how they’re progressing with their football. To run a successful club you definitely need parental support as well, and as a club we encourage parents/carers to get involved and take the FA qualification if possible.
What are the priorities for the club? Do you have a club ethos?
Our ethos is that the children should have fun and enjoy football, regardless of their circumstances and regardless of their ability. If they’re not enjoying the game then the coaching really doesn’t matter. We try and do as much as possible to train as a club and integrate children of different age groups with each other so they can build friendships and learn from one another. Our motto is ‘Believe, Belong, Become’.
The club is based in a football mad area with lots of other junior clubs – was it ever a risk to form another club, and do you think there’s room for more?
There’s definitely room for more. If you look at the clubs around the area, they’re all oversubscribed and have several teams at each age group. Playing in matches shouldn’t be reserved only for the most skilled, children of all abilities should be able to compete and the more teams and clubs in the area, the more likely that this will happen.
You also have girls teams – it’s great to see so many girls involved in football compared to when we were kids. Have you noticed an increase in the number of young girls playing football?
It’s amazing how the girls’ section has taken off. Numbers have doubled in a year and we now have over 40 girls regularly attending every Sunday. More girls are now playing football and I believe it’s the fastest growing sport in Britain. Girls can now dream legitimately of a professional career which was unthinkable just a decade ago. It’s fantastic. You can see this growth elsewhere in the regular Wildcats sessions that bring different girls teams together to play, as well as with the number of girls playing in mixed teams. I can only see this continuing in the coming years.
The sessions we run by Head Coach Nathan Lowe are fun-orientated sessions in which girls will improve their skills and familiarity with the ball.
For years in England it’s felt like we’re miles behind other European nations in terms of how we develop kids footballers technically. Why do you think that is?
Developing children in England is a tricky task technically. Some stats were revealed recently about how much it cost for coaches across Europe to achieve a higher level badge – a UEFA A badge in Germany is €530, in Spain it’s €1200, whereas in England it can cost as much as £5820. It’s similar for the UEFA B licence. So it comes from the top all the way down to the grassroots.
Finally – it’s clear Longford Park JFC is doing something right. What is that you think makes the difference?
We’re an inclusive, community-focused club that has found a good balance between improving football skills and having a fun, safe environment for the children to thrive in.
Thanks so much to Colin for his time. We read a lot of gloomy stuff about grassroots / kids football in this country – a lack of funding, sub-standard pitches and facilities, kids dropping out, abusive or pushy parents, win-at-all-costs long ball football – so we thought it was time to shine a light on the good things that happen at this level. We’ve seen first-hand how Longford Park JFC operates and it’s heartening to see so many kids – and parents – positively engaged. Good luck to Colin and Longford Park JFC for the future.
KUDOS PASSIONATELY SUPPORTS GRASSROOTS FOOTBALL
KUDOS is delighted to support and encourage kids from all backgrounds and of all ages to take part in grassroots football.
KUDOS SPORTS – A LEADING SUPPLIER OF CUSTOM SPORTS KIT
KUDOS supplies custom teamwear to a range of sports clubs across the country. We supply custom kit that is built for performance and worn with pride.