Albion Soccer Camps
West Bromwich Albion Soccer Camps
(Atlanta – GA / By Glenn Boylan)
English Premier League club West Bromwich Albion is hosting soccer camps in four American cities this summer. Albion’s expert staff will pass on their knowledge to players and coaches in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Georgia between July 7 and August 1 through a partnership with American-based company U.S. Soccer Resume.
The camp in the Atlanta area will be at the Kennesaw State University Sports & Recreation Park in Kennesaw, GA, from July 28 to August 1.
PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY OF U.S SOCCER
The camps will focus on player development – but West Brom are also looking for talented young American players who might be able to play professionally for the club by coming up through their developmental program in England.
I had a chance to speak with Steve Hopcroft, Head of Academy Recruitment for West Brom, about the upcoming camps. Steve told me that one of West Brom’s major supporters has a son who plays in the States, and was impressed with the facilities, organization, and support that he saw from his son’s teams.
Another factor in the decision was a problem that faces many U.S. sports teams; budget. The club is based in in Birmingham, England, the second-largest city in the country, with a population of about 2 million.
Steve explained the soccer situation in Birmingham. “West Bromwich Albion are probably the third-biggest team in this city. We have Aston Villa, who, by everyone’s account, are the biggest club, with the biggest stadium, and the biggest fan base. And then it’s probably Birmingham City, who carry the name of the city. And then it’s West Brom. We’re not a global brand. We punch well above our weight, but what we tend to do is work very hard in the areas where we live. So, in and around this area of Birmingham and the Midlands, we’re very good. But we lose a lot of our players to the big boys over the years.”
When you have to compete with a smaller budget, you have to be creative, and that’s what West Brom are trying to do with the camps. “We compete among some of the richest clubs in the world in the Premier League,” Hopcroft explained. “We can’t try and do the same things that they do, because we don’t have the financing to do it. So we have to look to do something different to try and find players.”
Steve also explained how participants will benefit from the two pronged approach they’re taking at the camps. On one hand, West Brom is hoping to find players that may be good enough to come to England, and in addition, the camps are also going to be scouting opportunities for local U.S. colleges to look for scholarship players.
The similar cultures between the U.S. and England are one reason West Brom is excited about the camps. Players that might go from the States to England won’t have trouble with the language or food; it makes for a better fit. Hopcroft said that for players from France or Holland, just a few hundred miles away, coming to England can be like coming to the other side of the world.
But another reason is the quality of play England and Europe are seeing on this side of the pond. “If you’ve seen in the World Cup, [the U.S.] have that great mix of very skillful, technical players,” Steve said. “They have some fantastic athletes. They also have the players who are technically astute, have played at this level, and have a real interest in the Premier League.”
And it’s not just the U.S. Men’s National Team that has attracted West Brom’s interest. The U.S. Under-18 teams have caught Hopcroft’s eye at recent Milk Cup tournaments in Northern Ireland. “I watched a lot of the U.S. youth teams play the Milk Cup,” Steve said. “And they’re always an outstanding side. They’ve always got great tactical understanding of what’s required individually and as a unit. I’ve always been surprised that that never, up until now, transferred and carried on from Under 18s into the full national side. I’ve been saying for a number of years now, once America gets it right, then we could all be in trouble.”
If one of the camp attendees has the opportunity to work in the West Brom development program, they’ll find themselves in one of the top programs in the world. Steve told me that West Brom’s is a Category One academy. In England, there are 92 professional football clubs, and there are less than 25 that have Category One status for their youth programs.
Steve explained the benefits of being a Category One academy. “We’re allowed to run teams from Under-9 all the way through until they leave school. And then we run an Under-18 team, then an Under-21 team. We’re looking for boys that can come in at 15 or 16 and be full-time players and play in our Under-18 team and then progress through to playing the 21s and, hopefully, playing for the first team. So, in America, if we found a player, he would have to be 15 going towards 16, 17, or 18. We’re looking for players who might need three or four years of development and that have potential to play in our first team.”
Players in the West Brom academy learn what Hopcroft calls the WBA DNA. “We’ve got a DNA, which runs through the club. And the DNA is that our players can manage the ball in tight areas, and we play through the thirds of the pitch. We play an open, expansive, attractive game of football when we have the ball; and we’re technically solid and sound when we don’t have the ball.”
The WBA DNA is working pretty well at the youth levels. Their youth teams have regularly been semifinalist in national competitions from 12 to 16. The other semifinalists have been teams like Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham, some of the biggest and richest clubs in the world.
West Brom’s U.S. camps will include some classroom-based work, technical work, and lots of coaching to help the participants become better players. But first and foremost, the main goal is that the boys all enjoy the experience.
U.S. Soccer Resume has a special offer right now, making the camps available for $189 for 5 days and $39 for one day.