Pro FC, the scouting initiative devised by former Brentford manager Martin Allen and current Premier League striker DJ Campbell, has been running its first camp for aspiring professional footballers this week. The programme aims to unearth a rough diamond in non-league football, much like Campbell, now of Blackpool, but signed by Allen for the Bees from Isthmian League Division One North outfit Yeading in 2005 at the age of 24.
The training sessions end on Friday and finish with a series of matches between the hopefuls, watched by Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, and the two successful trialists will have the chance to train with the Champions League side and possibly earn a contract at White Hart Lane.
Josh Briant, 18, is one of the 90 applicants out to impress Redknapp, Campbell and Allen. “I
As well as ex-West Ham midfielder Allen, this week’s Pro FC camp features coaching from a number of experienced players and managers. Former Manchester United striker Andy Ritchie, Ian McParland – who, as caretaker manager of Ipswich Town, guided the Tractor Boys to a 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first-leg victory over Arsenal, and Kevin Blackwell – who managed Leeds United in the Premier League, are amongst the Coaches offering advice. They are joined by Phil Parkinson, formerly of Charlton Athletic and Reading, Simon Davey and Steve Staunton, who won over 100 caps for the Republic of Ireland and played for Aston Villa and Liverpool.
“Training so far has been really good and the coaching from my manager Andy Ritchie has been class. As a right-back I’ve asked the gaff for things I struggle on with my personal game and he has given me his very helpful opinion,” Josh revealed. He continued: “All the managers spend a lot of their spare time chatting to the players and getting to know them. They don’t have to stay around chatting but they do.
“I had a chat with Phil Parkinson and it was amazing that he made the effort to make conversation, asking me about my training and my playing position. The coaching at Pro FC has been top class, a lot better than my coaching previously, and is something I’ll never forget.”
Having played for Beaconsfield Sycob in the Southern Football League Division One Central, the eighth level of the English football pyramid, the professional coaching Josh has experienced since Monday has been a revelation, and he is grateful for the opportunity to learn and be noticed. “We are playing as pro footballers and I’ve only previously had semi-pro football coaching experience and there are different patterns of play in both types of the game. In non-league football managers have players that they will take to their new clubs with them. As an 18-year-old, very inexperienced player, managers tend not to take a chance on players like myself.”
When launching Pro FC, Allen noted his belief that there is a wealth of undiscovered talent in the lower reaches of the pyramid. He said: “There are a lot of highly skilled young players out there that just don’t get the opportunity to show off their talent in the right environment. Pro FC is about giving players with a passion for football the chance to trial and train at pro clubs,” something with which Josh largely agrees. He said: “The standard of the camp has been good overall. There have been some players that I’m surprised are here as their technical ability hasn’t been great. I suppose that’s better for me as I stand out but playing with better players will bring out the best in me. There have been a few players that stand out – nothing major so far – but I haven’t seen them all play. The age and experience of the players really does vary. We have a 32-year-old goalkeeper to a 15-year-old player.”
The highlight of the week will come tomorrow, when Redknapp will be joined by the Sky Sports News cameras in casting an eye over the players as they play against each other to impress the watching experts, a potentially difficult situation as the teammates are competing against each other. Josh admits to his excitement and the challenges the format of the week presents: “I’m really looking forward to Friday’s games as that is when we have the cameras on us to analyse our performance and when scouts will hopefully be watching. It’s hard to balance the competing with teammates part of it as on the Friday you want to look good for yourself, but personally I want to win so working as a unit is vitally important.”
With only two of the 90 participants being awarded a trial at Spurs on Friday, the odds are against progress for Josh. But that has not stopped him dreaming about training alongside some of Tottenham’s big names. “If I were to win Pro FC and have a two day trial with Spurs it would mean the absolute world to me. As a football fan its every boy’s dream to become a professional footballer and being so close is just amazing. Playing with players like Ledley King would be amazing for my career as I will learn so much, a dream come true,” Josh confirms, but stresses he will not give up the chase if he is not successful this week: “If I don’t win Pro FC then I will keep my dream alive, striving for success at non-league level and hopefully moving up the leagues.
“I have a self-belief that I’m good enough to make it but as I’ve also learnt this week, not many players do. I have to be realistic and keep my options open. But saying that, I’ll never give up on my dream.”