Footballers are chasing their goals with new vigour thanks to a unique partnership between a college and the manager of a North-East club
Four students at Darlington College have enjoyed considerable success after teaming up with Darlington manager Martin Gray and his specialised football academy.
BTEC Sports with football students Matty Lovegreen, 17, of Shildon, Dave Mitchell, 18, of Middleton-in-Teesdale, Adam Cocks, 18, of Richmond, and Aiden O’Connor, 17, of Spennymoor, divide their time studying in the classroom, training and playing matches.
They have all made their debuts for Darlington and Adam and Dave have secured contracts to play and be coaches for the Martin Gray Football Academy.
As well as action on the pitch, they will help Martin and his team deliver the football programme to students at Darlington College and other young players around the region.
Martin said: “All four lads have shown commitment to their studies and dedication to the game as well as great potential on the pitch.”
For Dave it is a chance to follow in the footsteps of his brother Adam who played for Sunderland and now plays on the wing at Darlington.
The Sunderland fan is renowned for his work output and strength in midfield. He said: “For me it is about grafting and never giving up and I love tackling.”
Fellow midfielder Adam is pursuing a career in football he first dreamed about when he was just six-years-old. “My strength is keeping the ball and moving it around in a controlled way,” he said.
“I would love to secure a contract with a big club one day but am also considering studying and playing in America where football is really starting to take off. It is a tough sport to break into but you just have to stay motivated.”
Left-footer Aiden has already had a taste of the game at an international level as Bishop Auckland Juniors reached the final of the Barcelona Cup last year, losing out on penalties.
“We played sides from around the world, from Russian to Columbia,” he said. “Who knows we could have been playing the future Lionel Messis of the game and it was an amazing experience. Thankfully I scored my penalty.”
Centre half Matty was encouraged to get into the sport by his friend and has never looked back.
As part of the County Durham squad, his team has just won the league and reached the regional cup final.
“I made my debut for Darlington last week and felt I played quite well,” he said. “The way the Darlington College course is set up with MGFA and Darlington is very professional and gives you a real insight into the game.
“The tutors are great, the coaches excellent and it is really interesting studying the fitness and mental side of the sport, as well as been given the chance to coach.”