At Orange Soccer, investment in youth is far from being a simple ideology. It defines who we are and what we do, shaping our strategy and how we do business.
Growing up in Bury St Edmunds, opportunities for young people was something I had never considered an issue. I had part time jobs from a young age, at Interlink Express, coaching for Ipswich Town and at Sainsbury's, while my friends had paper rounds or worked cleaning at our school (King Edward VI Upper). For anyone who wanted to work there was an opportunity. As my under 18 team Sicklesmere Panthers finished our final season (winning the league, Suffolk County and Colchester Cup), we all went our separate ways with 75% plus heading to university and the rest into job roles with a potential career. Quite naively I considered this to be the norm.
Fast forward 10 years. My current U18 grassroots team (Lytham Town - pushing for a league and cup double) are considering their options and i can name only a hand-full of a squad of 20 players that know what they are doing in the summer, let alone a job, career, apprenticeship or further education.
The realisation of the severity of the situation was brought to life a few years back as my U16 team (Kirkham Juniors) aged out of junior football and I had to witness the majority of players go on to college/ stay in sixth form taking subjects they had no passion for, with no end goal in place. These are bright boys with massive potential, with a range of skills that would take them far in the right industry & environment. But they have been brought up with very little in terms of aspiration to maximise their potential and build an exciting, fulfilling career. I was lucky to have parents, coaches and teachers that inspired me want the world and i am truly thankful to them. These boys have so much to offer, but the society they have been brought up in has left them fearing the future, rather than preparing them to embrace it!
When planning the Orange Soccer strategy I knew investment in youth would be at the heart of what we do from day one. If we want to inspire football players, clubs, coaches and parents in what we do, we need to live that dream on a day to day basis. With our digital first approach to business and focus on junior football, who is better placed than the youth of today to take the business forward?
Our first year #InvestmentInYouth policy by numbers:
2 - Apprenticeships in progress (social media & digital marketing and business administration)
4 - Young Coaches at the Orange Soccer Academy either leading sessions or assisting experienced coaches on our Orange Future Coaches Academy programme
2 - GCSE students completing 2 week work experience placements
1 - 16 year old that works with us 2 days a week to build his CV as he repeats his GCSE Maths and English
1 - University student completing a 3 week sports marketing work experience placement
100+ Players at our academies who we aim to inspire on a weekly basis
I truly believe that if you create the environment for innovation and success, the youth of today will take this opportunity and thrive. Nine months ago Sabir Musa was offered an apprenticeship with Orange Soccer. He came to us with no experience in website design, photography or managing social media content. But, what he did have was a passion for football, a great attitude to learning and building himself a career. At the age of 22 to take the pay cut he did to join us shows the drive we look for. In 3 months Sabs will complete his apprenticeship and stay on with Orange Soccer in a full time role. He has taken his opportunity and is now responsible for our website and social media and relishes the chances to come to the academy or engage with clubs to talk about kits. Check out the Club Partners pack he put together in Jan this year http://www.orangesoccer.co.uk/clubpartners/.
This week we are proud to announce we will be offering 3 new apprenticeships in the summer (finance & accounting, graphic design and leisure management). We will take the time to nurture the talent that is out there, provide them the support and learning they need to help them build their careers. The operational and non exec leadership team at Orange Soccer have the experience and know how to invest in youth. We want to build a culture and inspire our community to expect and demand opportunities in life, whether that’s in football or other industries.
I have been fortunate in my career, whether that’s been in coaching or finance (the Finance Leadership Development Programme at BAE Systems is an exceptional opportunity for graduates) to be given the opportunity to fulfil my potential. As Orange Soccer moves forward we continually look for new ways to invest in youth, whether that’s doing interview practise for sixth form students or one to one mentoring sessions for our U18s as they make decisions about their futures.
My message here is two-fold.
1. Youth - Demand opportunities and if you are fortunate enough to get one, take it with both hands. Work is hard, but with the right attitude you can build a great future.
2. Employers - Don’t underestimate the potential of youth or pre-judge them because of what you may read in the media. Provide the opportunities, time and environment for success. You will not regret it.
At Orange Soccer we see innovation and success from young people on a daily basis. We are building a thriving business and brand that touches all aspects of the football industry and investment in youth is at the heart of it. If you want to join us on our journey and support the development of youth, we are currently 7 days into a crowdfunding campaign to raise finance to drive the business forward further. Please take a look www.crowdcube.com/orangesoccer.
I welcome any thoughts and discussion on this topic.
Yours in football
Orrin Benford - MD Orange Soccer LTD.