St Kevins Football Club – Interview with Alan Caffrey
I caught up with St. Kevins Boys Academy Coach Alan Caffrey recently and had the pleasure of taking a tour around their fantastic facilities.
While it is every young boys dream to become a professional footballer and it represents one of the most popular avenues of success in sport, unfortunately this venture is fraught with many difficulties and pitfalls and while many thousands of young boys choose to follow their dreams, very very few ultimately achieve their goal.
Most English & Scottish clubs have people employed in Ireland on a scouting system. These scouts observe players playing in their own leagues and at representative and international matches, a player is sometimes invited by these scouts to participate in tournaments for the scouts club.
A player showing promise is then invited by the scout to his Club for a trial or a series of trials. St Kevins Boys have operated an Academy structure since 1999/2000 in which their most promising players receive added coaching / training so as to help them in their quest for a career in football.
In 2003 they entered into an Academy partnership with West Bromwich Albion which is still in existence and gaining in strength. The most promising players are assessed regularly by WBA but that does not preclude them from attending trials at other clubs.I sat down with Alan and we discussed Irish Grassroots football inside out, here is everything we talked about.
Football as it should beWith all this long ball stuff played in youth football, how is he getting his coaches to play out from the back?
7-10s have to play from the back, regardless if they lose or not. All coaches are encouraged to get there teams to play from the back at all time, so that when teams move into the 11 aside game they are used to playing football the right way. Even if teams are losing games from mistakes by trying to play from the back, we still want are coaches to stick to the policy of total football.Are coaches encouraged to do their badges?
Absolutely all coaches are encouraged to go and do their FAI badges and we also encourage them to go to other course; recently we had over 12 coaches go to the FCBarcelona Clinic in Carton House. Most have gone to the Grassroots in Birmingham, coaches have also gone over to West Brom. There is no point in telling kids to play the Spanish or Barca way and then not go and see how the Spanish coaches are doing it.
We don’t just encourage our coaches to learn, we also want our players to learn and we make all the players shake the coaches hands before and after training and match day. Anytime a player passes a coach in the club or outside, we expect the same. If a visitor arrived like yourself, they would have to go and shake your hand.
We want out players making eye contact with the adults, we prepare them for England, so when they do go over on a trial, they are used to being around adults, they are confident and know how to introduce themselves etc. Confidence reflects a good attitude. We want all our players playing with a smile, enjoying football, we try to encourage a friendly and professional atmosphere at all time.You spend some time in the UK, can you tell me about that?
I was at West Brom for 4years in the role of Assistant Academy Director from 7s to 11s and looked after the 12s & 15s.How did you an Irish man end up at West Brom?
When I finished playing, I got into coaching at Kevins through Pat Cleary, who is now at Malahide as head coach and is probably one of the best coaches around today. At the time we had a link with Peterborough and through our various trips to Peterborough I met Aidy Boothroyd and we became good friends and when he was appointed as Academy Director at West Brom, he asked me to come and join his coaching staff.
“I learnt so much from the man both on and off the pitch”
Only after a month in the job he joined Leeds United. For me at the time it was a little unsettling as I had just left everything behind in Dublin and now I might be out of a job. Fortunately for me Dan Ashworth who is the Sporting and Technical Director of West Brom took over as Academy Director at the time and he took me under his wing and it was brilliant,’I learnt so much from the man both on and off the pitch’ He is an amazing man and he has taught me so much and I owe alot to him.
Discipline is so important for a footballer. St.Kevins have one of the best records for premier teams, we don’t get players sent off and last season we didn’t have single premier player dismissed. If a player is sent off they must come before the committee and explain themselves before they can play again. If they are punished by the league and we believe that they were in the wrong, we will give them extra games suspension.
“If you don’t have discipline, you can forget about it”, to often I see opposition players being sent off and being clapped as they walk off the pitch, I just don’t get that!
Coaches and the Game
The important thing for me is that the coaches are proper role models for the kids; to often we see coaches screaming and shouting at the ref, the players etc. If the kids see the coaches doing it then they are going to copy them.How do you feel about the competitive side of the game here, is it too competitive?
Take West Brom for instance, there young teams, have no league tables, results don’t count etc. Player development is the goal, however when the players get to 18s and then reserves the jump for a lot of players is to big and all of sudden you have gone from nice non competitive football to football that matters. Its a argument that has it pro’s definitely.
Personally I cant see it ever changing here, but what I would suggest is non competitive football from age 7 to age 11’s and start at 12s, so no leagues, no cups etc.
Then the 12 Premier is decided not on results but on an academy system like in England, where you are assessed on your facilities, coaching structure and how the club is run. Get an outside governing body to come and view your facilities, structure and then you are rewarded a certificate to play in the Premier.
That might mean that some of Dublin’s top clubs might not get in, but that will encourage them to get their act together to get to the proper standard. It must be about development. Small sided games should be organised but kids should be just playing football. But I can’t see that change for a long time as people are too set in there ways.
There are lots of things we can change, for instance having parent and coaches on opposites sides, like a scene from Braveheart, roaring and shouting at each another. All coaches should be on the same side and parents in an area on the other side. We have dugouts on one side of the pitch here and teams still come here and insist on standing at the far side of the pitch, running up and down the line, screaming and shouting at the players, they would rather to that then sit down and watch the game for the benches. For as long as there are no rules in place about parent and coach conduct on the line, this will continue to happen and we just have to live with it.
“You can watch our 11s and then go watch our 16s and the play the exact same way. Any player who moves up to an older age team can fit into the same system”.
Is key, to often coaches blame the players for defeats. When some coaches win the coach is great but when the team loses the players are crap. If a coach is screaming and shouting on the line then he is clearly not done is work on the training ground. Great coaches, can just sit back and watch and give minimal instruction on match day.
We have a technical programme here and the coaches are all responsible for putting it into place and each age group has expectations and goals from passing to dribbling etc. Every coach will be assessed at the end of the season and we go through each age technical programme and make sure that every player has completed everything that is in the programme. Each coach takes accountability for his own teams programe and must make sure every single player has completed their tasks. We all sing from the same hymn sheet – You can watch our 11s and then go watch our 16s and the play the exact same way. Any player who moves up to an older age team can fit into the same system.
I think it depends how you measure success, is it to win leagues and cups; I measure success by
- Are we producing players for England.
- Are producing good decent people, are they doing well in School.
If kids are suspended from School then they don’t play, if they don’t do their school work then don’t come here. That’s how we judge it, people will probably say we are successful in the leagues, the cups and they travel all over Europe for tournaments, but we are player censored here; everything is about the player, what we can do for the player, physically, mentally etc.
I think that’s the bases of a successful club and a lot of hard work is gone into this club being a success from our Managers, Players, Staff at the Club also our board of director and the fund raisers.
Club has the Power
There is no player power or parent power here, no parent is managing a son’s teams. We are yet to lose a great player to bad attitude or discipline. But the premier league is a wash with scandal and bad attitude, pick up any paper on a Sunday and read premiership players in more scandal and they get away with it. The young players today are so influenced by these stars and so much so that most will copy alot of what they do. For me discipline is number one here and in life in general.
Is all the ambition for players to go to England, why don’t we see more players going to Europe?
“All these scarfs around their necks, white socks over the clubs socks; my attitude to all this is when somebody pays you to wear that, then you can wear it. If you have sponsorship then so be it, but until that day, you don’t wear any of that here”
I think language barrier might be a factor, the Premiership is what they see every week. We have a young lad here Jack Byrne and for me he is so fitted to the Barcelona style of play. That’s why we play teams from all over Europe, are premier teams will never go into tournaments that they can walk away with.
Last year our 10’s played Bayern Munich and drew 1-1, we lost to St.Pauli and Bayern Leverkusen beat us. We want that, the players can see that their is a different standard, its not just about being the best in Ireland we want to be able to compete in football terms with teams in Europe. Last year we held a tournament here with our current u13s (See below for Easter tournament details), who are a smashing team and we didn’t win a game. I have people say to me, why don’t you get teams that you can beat? for me its not about that, you gotta show our players their is a different level of football out there, outside of Ireland. England is one level and Europe has many different levels. I want our teams to be getting results against the best of teams in Europe to show that we are doing something right and if we don’t then we know what we have to stride too!
What age to you recommend kids to go abroad?
“Control what you can control, within your club”
Some say 16s, some say 21s. I believe they should get to where the facilities and coaching is better and the earlier the better as they will develop better. I don’t see why kids should stay here and try play leagues of Ireland, the league is dead, no financial backing, clubs are in debt, the facilities are shocking, clubs don’t even have their own training facilities. I recommend they get their junior cert and if they are talented enough they should go. Junior cert to 18s is a good age if they’re good enough. Clubs Educate kids now, so its different and better for the player.
Arsenal have just signed a lad from here and then they go and sign a player from Barca, so they need to go over as quickly as possible to have a chance. Its not easy for 15 year old to go over to England, they see brand new stadia and lovely facilities on Sky Sports but then they get over there and they’re dragged out of bed early, its dull and wet and they are doing all sorts of jobs. However, if they can get through all of that and they are talented enough, then I don’t see why they can’t make it to the top.
Ireland’s in Decline
But thats not to say that we aren’t in decline, I firmly believe that by 2015 we will not have an international squad being picked from Premier league players, its getting less and less. There is not much coming through and the top teams are going global to get players.
Last year with had 2 players on contracts, this year we have had 15 players go on trails from different age groups; come here on a Saturday and it’s ‘scout city’, we need to make sure it doesn’t go to players heads and parents don’t get caught up in it.Spain, Portugal, Brazil, all have a style, they are all on a journey to their destination which is how the national team plays, in Ireland we have a journey but no destination, we have no style, why?
We go to Ireland games now and the style is what it is but if I had 10 free tickets for any Ireland game I wouldn’t send my players, because there not gonna learn anything. Spain have a belief how football should be played, from young to old and they stick to it.
If you look at England they have this academy system and they want to play like Spain, so they get foreign managers to try and achieve that; but really the only way this can be achieved is to get an English manager and play the English way from young to old and why do England fall short every time is because they try and switch up how the play every couple of years. They think they play dream football, EPL is not an art its a hussle and bussle and when its slowed done to Barca pace, they struggle to adapt.
Dan Ashworth and Aidy Boothroyd always said to me, ‘Control what you can control, within your club’ don’t worry what goes on in Leagues, The FA’s etc.
Too often rules are forced on clubs and we don’t consult the people at the top. Take the age change rule which is coming in this year, why weren’t the top people from around the country that are involved with clubs not consulted, the likes of Pat Cleary, Noel White, Jimmy Jackson, these people have been in the game for such a long time, these are the people we need to be talking too.
This is the problem in Ireland, if your not connected to the big leagues like the DDSL etc then you have no say. These people will speak out and say whats wrong with it. These men should be involved with the FAI, with our international teams and no disrespect to the current coaches but these men should be consulted, they are at it a long time and down at grassroots level.
The rule for 99% of people who play the game week and week out, this rule had no affect; so for the lads that play international football who have around 5 games a year this rule was brought in for them. We will just get on with it but other clubs, smaller clubs will struggle with this rule; trying to adapt from 7v7s to 9v9s into 11v11s etc.
Also bringing the All Ireland cup to the new age of 11s, which really its u10s and having teams play 9v9s in the league and 11v11s in the cup is madness and I can’t believe someone hasn’t stopped this. On the flip side I don’t envy their job and until younger people are prepared to step in and change that mentality, then the link between the boards and the young kids will always be far removed. The FAI need to do more for with the leagues, get more involved.
GrassrootsWhat changes would you like to see?
Recently Sky did a programe report on grassroots in the UK and how it needs drastic change, but if the same report was done here in Ireland it would be frightening what they would dig up. That’s why you cant get caught up with it; we just make sure that when the boys come to St Kevin’s FC the coaching is a good standard, the football is a great standard and they have the best facilities to train and prepare.
Another thing I would like to see is that clubs be allowed sign players for 2 years; 10-12s, 12-14s and have transfer window that they can leave and if they do want to leave then their is a fee of €50 or €100 and that money goes back into football.
2 years signings would definitely stop players being poached. But, if players want to leave, they will leave; trying to keep players to stay is also wrong. We need better structure in place all the way through. I hear of clubs losing players to GAA, because they have better facilities and structures in place.
How do you keep the big English clubs from taking your players without compensating the Kevins?
“It’s all about development of players and how you do it, If you don’t have a structure and your not in it for the right reasons, then it will all fall down, its all built on quicksand”, “I tell my players to be the best players for their teams and be the best in the leagues and thats all you can do”.
The big clubs can’t come here and bully us, we stand up to that; you do hear of these clubs coming over and ripping Irish clubs off, but we wouldn’t accept that here. My view is if they came in for one of our players and tried to rip us off, then they wouldn’t get another one after that. You need to stand up to them, we work hard in developing are players.
The investment we put in from, training facilities, pitches, fitness testing 3 times per week, our gym etc. Are players are balanced, these are not ragball rovers players. Mentally, physically these are some of the best players in the country.Would you have better structures here compared to some pro cubs in England?
We model ourselves on an Academy in England the only difference is we don’t have a 2 million budget per year, and our coaches are all volunteers and work very hard to be successful. We invest time and money into our players to get the right results. We still don’t get the same compensation that clubs in England get, we get a fraction of what they get; but until changes are made for the better of Irish Clubs, players that will always be the way.
At St. Kevin’s we are producing players despite the current structures in place, now imagine if we had good proper systems in place across Ireland, imagine how good we could be.
Easter International Tournament
This Easter weekend (April 22nd-24th) the presence of Irish football legends Liam Brady and Niall Quinn at St Kevins Boys Club 3rd International Invitational Tournament will no doubt attract even larger numbers than before to Shanowen Road over the three days.
The other teams taking part this year are Brondby IF (Denmark), F C St Pauli (Germany), West Bromwich Albion (U K) and current DDSL Premier League table toppers St Kevins Boys Under 12 Premier team.
The six teams are divided into two groups – Group A ; St Kevins Boys Club, Sunderland AFC, & Brondby IF. Group B ; Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion, & FC St Pauli.
Proceedings kick-off on Good Friday April 22nd at 11am when the host club play Brondby IF. For more information go to the St.Kevins Boys FC website http://www.skbfc.com/skb-international-tournament-easter-2010/
The Coach Diary wishes to thank Alan Caffrey and St.Kevins FC.
April 18th, 2011