28 October 2019

A promising young footballer at Mansfield Town FC has highlighted the importance of academic and vocational education, saying: “Football is never a guarantee – you always need a back-up plan.”

Reserve team centre-back Noah Stokes is studying a higher education qualification at West Nottinghamshire College as part of a link-up between the two organisations.

The Stags and the college recently announced the launch of the Mansfield Town Performance Academy, which will see its under-21 and under-18 footballers access a wide range of high-quality courses at both further and higher education level.

From the start of the 2020-21 season, Stags’ scholars aged 16 to 18, and the club’s under-21 players, will be coached at the RH Academy – its state-of-the-art training facility in Pleasley, Mansfield – alongside studying a FE or HE programme at the college’s Derby Road campus.

The programme will also enable talented students, both male and female, on full-time courses at the college to access professional football coaching through MTFC, who will also support them to play in local and national competitive college leagues.

Young people will study on a two-year FE course and then move on to three years at HE level while benefitting from weekly coaching by former Stags players Liam Hearn – the academy’s head of performance – Jamie McGuire and Jack Thomas.

Noah and first-team defender James Clarke, both 19, are studying towards foundation degrees in sport and exercise science at the college’s university centre.

Earlier this month (Saturday 12 October), Noah represented the club at an open day at the college, attending with MTFC’s academy head of education Chris Ball, to promote the new educational pathway to young people in the area.

Speaking at the event, Noah, who is currently recovering from a dislocated knee, said: “Football is never a guarantee. You might make it at the highest level but there’s no guarantee you’re going to stay in the industry forever, so you need to give yourself the best back-up plan. For me, education is the best way of doing that.

“Although my mind currently isn’t set on what I want to do after football, the education I’m getting is going to give me options, rather than a focus on one specific area. You always need to support yourself and there is life outside of football.

“Clubs should always encourage players to look and see past their immediate career.”

Mr Ball said: “I’m very excited about this new scheme, which will give local people the opportunity to continue with their football development while also gaining valuable national qualifications through the college.

“People in the football world have told me that what we offer is quite unique. Not many football clubs provide this rounded opportunity.”

Mr Ball said the Performance Academy would give young Stags players and aspiring footballers across the area a “range of tools” to prepare them for their future careers.

He continued: “It’s not easy to have an established career in professional football, and if people don’t make it, very often they’ve got nothing to fall back on. We are insistent that everybody tries their hardest, both with their academic and vocational studies as well as their football development.

“Students have left our academy with a whole range of qualifications and gone on to all sorts of different jobs, while some have progressed to further study in the USA, and long may it continue.”

Meanwhile, defender James, who joined Mansfield Town from Premier League outfit Burnley earlier this year, said: “It’s great to have a qualification as well as your career, as it’s always worth having something to fall back on. If you end up with a life-changing injury, for example, your sporting career can move in another direction.”

Dr Nathan Cobb, lecturer in sport at the college, is helping develop the education programme in partnership with the Stags.

He said: “The club philosophy expects high standards and a positive attitude towards education, and I’m convinced that the college as a whole will benefit from their presence on our campus.

“There’s a real buzz among teaching staff at the prospect of being able to work with aspiring footballers on a day-to-day basis, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge and vocational skills to succeed both on and off the football pitch.”