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The Roar



Australian football’s first free of charge international football academy is astonishing

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22nd March, 2021
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Parents and guardians pay far too much for their children to play football. That is simply a fact.

Costs have continued to rise in recent times, with no identifiable reason existing to suggest that the pattern will not continue permanently.

Such a situation potentially prevents kids from beginning their football journey or, perhaps even more alarmingly, halts their journeys after they have already begun.

For the average young footballer destined to play at local club level for the entirety of their career, the costs are at least manageable for most; comparative with high registration fees due in other sports, but at least manageable.

However, players demonstrating serious potential or those merely pushed a little harder by over-zealous parents will also have their ticket stamped to represent NPL clubs at a junior level, where expenditure rises well into the thousands.

Beyond that, the cream of the crop or the overly ambitious will venture into the murky, dangerous and ultra-expensive waters of the mysterious academy system.

There, parents can fork out anywhere between a couple of thousand dollars up to near $9,000, as one Australia-based international academy was charging in 2020. It is an unregulated system and one prone to sheer profiteering.

There are hundreds of highly qualified and great football people working in the academy sphere, yet also many whose business acumen and the actual resulting football benefit to the players attending are highly questionable.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the current structure is the seemingly copycat nature of the sector, with a host of academies competing for the fees of honestly intended parents and anecdotally, players receiving similarly unsatisfying experiences.


Well things may be about the change.

Fleetwood Town FC is an emerging English club. Promoted six times in ten years from well down in the lower leagues, 2011/12 saw their debut in League Two before a win at Wembley in May of 2014 graduated them to League One for the following season.

Much of the success has come off the back of the significant financial investment of Chairman Andy Pilley and after a sixth place finish in 2019/20, the Championship is no doubt well and truly on his mind.

In 2019, the club broke the mould of academy structures in the UK, with the establishment of the Fleetwood Town International Football Academy (FTIFA).

What defined it, was an intent to locate hidden talent around the globe, bring it to Lancashire and nurture it under the EFL’s development guidelines.


Players commit to either four, 12 or 24-week residential courses and receive UEFA-qualified coaching; all under the curious eye of scouts representing clubs in the UK.

The first intake of players hailed from as far afield as the USA, Bermuda, Canada and Iceland and five young Australians are now full-time residents and following their football dreams.

The @ftifauk Pro Experience is an elite player development programme based at @ftfc's training complex, @PoolfootFarm…

Posted by Fleetwood Town International Football Academy on Tuesday, September 8, 2020

An example of the Fleetwood Town International Football Academy (FTIFA) callout on Facebook.

Australia has rather fortunately become a potential beneficiary of the new endeavour. James Boyle is a UEFA, Football Australia, FNSW and NPL coach and officially recognised by the English FA as a Talent Identification Scout.

His son ventured to Fleetwood Town FC in 2019 to follow a dream that Australian coaches had always suggested was nothing more than that, based on his lack of height.

Pilley and Boyle struck up a business relationship, through conduit and Academy Director James Ward and the Australian hub of FTIFA was born, with one unique difference.

Massimo Luongo celebrates scoring for the Socceroos

Massimo Luongo of Australia (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)


The Sydney-based hub hosts identification camps and offers places to successful candidates in either its Development, Gold or Elite programs.

Once selected, the ongoing charge to parents and guardians is zero, with Fleetwood FC and Boyle holding the altruistic view that identified talent should not be charged; a stark variation from the current domestic situation where parents are effectively paying for their children’s right to compete at a higher level when their talent may actually demand it.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the first camp in Sydney’s north west and the talent on show was astonishing.

Over 50 players from right across the Sydney basin and as far north as Newcastle came to show their wares, with an all-girls camp set out tentatively for June destined to determine the second intake of players.

Boyle is an impressive individual. Successful in the business world and after watching his own sons work through the frustrations of Australian junior development structures, he formed a view that the fundamental flaws in the system required a shake-up and addressing.

Offering free UEFA standard football tuition has and will not make him many friends in the Academy sector, with some having already expressed frustration and anger about Fleetwood’s Australian hub.

Yet Boyle told me that he will continue his FTIFA work most mornings and afternoons, determined to improve Australian talent and set them up for a professional life in football more thoroughly than they have ever been before.

People often talk about career pathways and the lack of them in Australian football has been clear in recent times.


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In the not too distant future, three young Australian boys will graduate from FTIFA into the lower English leagues and over the course of the next five to ten years, further players of both genders will probably do the same.

It is what so many have craved in Australia; a definitive destination for talent needing top level play in order to reach its potential. That can only be a refreshing positive and a potential model for other international clubs to embrace in Australia.

The fact that it is being done free of charge is the most refreshing thing of all.