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The Journey to a Football Academy

Thursday, 29 June 2017

  • Football Contracts for Anna and Lizzy

Two Bolton School Girls’ Division pupils, Anna Phillips (Y9) and Lizzie Harkness (Y8), recently celebrated being given football contracts with Manchester City and Everton.  Here, the girls’ parents document the sporting journey that led to them being signed up by Premier League football team Tier 1 Regional Talent Clubs (RTCs). 

Duncan Harkness, father of Lizzie, said: “Lizzie first started to play football age 6 at Bolton Wanderers’ junior whites open training sessions. She quickly gravitated to playing for a local boys’ team and her primary school, until age 11 when she moved to girls’ football with Preston North End. She always loved football, although her earlier passion was tennis, with football playing second fiddle until leaving primary school. 

"Her primary school was very encouraging of girls playing football, having had girls attend who had gone on to play at Regional Talent Clubs. 

"Lizzie stayed at Preston North End until March of this year, when following a successful trial she was asked to join Everton ladies to play for their under 14s' squad, one of the 5 regional training clubs here in the North West. Both Lizzie and Anna moved to RTCs following on from representing Greater Manchester Schools under 14s this year, both girls being very much in the minority at that stage in being selected to represent the county whilst not attending an RTC. It's fair to say that without Head of Sport Mrs Heatherington's encouragement to Manchester schools to run the previously dormant girls’ under 14s’ squad, and offer the use of the Schools facilities for trials, in the knowledge that she had two students excelling at football, both girls would not have the opportunity to prove they could compete successfully against girls already signed to an RTC, and may not have taken the decision to move on to an RTC mid-season. 

"Following her short season with Everton under 14s, Lizzie was asked to sign for the forthcoming two seasons, which will see her progress through to Everton's under 16s’ squad in 12 months, following the forthcoming season with the under 14s. 

"The Regional Talent Centres bring together the most talented female players, and it is from the RTCs that the current England international squad (and junior international teams) and the players playing senior football within the Women's Super League are drawn. 

"The commitment for most girls attending an RTC entails attending training sessions on 3 or 4 occasions a week, with matches at the weekend. Teams are run at under 14 and under 16 level, with progression through to the youth/reserve team thereafter and first team for those with the necessary ability!”

Anna Phillips’ mother, Janet, relates her daughter’s story: “Anna’s Dad has always played football right into his forties, before his knees gave way, so Anna has always been around football. Also, having an older brother and cousin who both played football, Anna has always wanted to do what they did so just got stuck in, that goes for her cricket as well.

"At junior school a local all girls’ football club called Academy Juniors came into school and ran some courses which she loved. Afterwards they asked Anna to come down to the junior practices, which she did and so at the age of 6 she was training. Unfortunately, at that age she was too young to play but Anna was always pushing to be involved in the games and at age 10 a year below the rest of the girls she started playing matches. At age 11 a young coach called Emma Thompson came to the club and Anna flourished under her and she kept adding to her game.

"When Anna started at Bolton School the sports staff always encouraged Anna to do multi sports such as Netball and Lacrosse, helping with learning new techniques and games. Lacrosse in particular has been a real benefit to Anna due to the speed of the game, needing space and tactical awareness. The quality of the coaching and players also help and without knowing it Anna was improving her football whilst enjoying these other sports at Bolton School.

"Anna never went for trials as she was getting great coaching until the summer of 2016 when she was rejected by Blackburn Rovers, a Tier 1 Regional Training Centre, however this made Anna more determined to work harder. During the following season Anna broke into the county squad and looked comfortable. It was then Emma, her coach, arranged for Anna to trial at Manchester City where she was offered a contract until the end of the season. Over the past month Anna has trialled with three Tier 1 clubs and was offered a contract at two of them which was a real boost to her confidence, she chose Manchester City.

"Being at a Tier 1 Regional Training Centre such as Manchester City means she gets the best possible coaching in the best possible facilities and surroundings. In addition, training with and playing against some of the best players in the country keeps you on top of your game.

"Bolton School have always been really supportive in Anna’s journey with coaching, time off and encouragement and this is so important as Anna does not have to worry about anything and can concentrate on her football.”

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