Representative sides from the eight FA Regional CP Centres of Excellence met for a day of competitive matches on the Umbro, Michael Owen and Alan Shearer pitches.
The event, organised by The FA’s James Watkins, Disability Club & Coach Project Officer and Jeff Davis, National Disability Development Manager, involved two tournaments – one senior competition and one for Under 16s.
Watkins said: “These eight Regional Centres of Excellence identify and work with players deemed to posses higher levels of ability nationally and deliver a dedicated technical coaching programme on weekly basis.
“They all then come together to play in fixture programmes, such as the one here at St. George’s Park today.
“We thought that kicking off the first one at St. George’s Park would be the obvious thing to do.
“That way we could raise the profile of the programme and make sure we get players, parents and other people interested in what we are doing.”
The teams on show included some of the best senior and U16s CP players from each region, with national scouts also in attendance to identify potential new and emerging talent for the England development and senior squads.
Watkins added: “Ultimately the purpose of the Centre of Excellence programme is to identify players to move into England development squad and hopefully the England senior squad.
“The fixture programmes allow the national staff such as Jeff, and the regional scouts to come in and look at players in a competitive environment and to see them in full game-based activity.
“There were two or three players here today that maybe hadn’t been previously highlighted, and now we need to get them on board with the forthcoming Emerging Talent Camp, so it has been a really useful exercise.”
Davis – who oversees the unearthing of new players for the national CP squads – was equally delighted with how the day went.
And he believes the national football centre provided a perfect platform for players to show the scouts what they were capable of.
He said: “Firstly, St. George’s Park is a great environment. But what was really useful about having the fixture programme there was being able to look at the players in the environment that we would normally play in and be able to see them tested against, what I consider to be the best players with CP in the country.
“It really gave us an opportunity to begin the talent selection process…so it was really, really useful for us.”
The players identified from the fixture programme have since been invited to an Emerging Talent camp, which will also be hosted at St. George’s Park.
This new initiative has been established to add a further tier to the English CP football pathway, something which Watkins believes is a much needed addition to help to nurture new players.
He said: “We have just introduced the next, interim stage between the Centre of Excellence programme and the England development squad, which is the Emerging Talent camp.
“These will give us an opportunity for us to confirm talent in young players and enable us to work with them further.”
News of the camps has been positively welcomed by those involved within English CP football, with players now being provided with a clear, “impairment specific pathway.”
Watkins added: “There has been a real willingness and support for us to develop the CP programme.
“Now parents and players know that there is a recognised pathway in place to develop young players in an impairment specific, adapted version of the game.
“People are on side and on board with what we are doing, so it has been really welcomed.”
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