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Edusport Academy: Scotland’s European Football Embassy.

Online membership, French youngsters and educational programmes; what is the Edusport Academy and where are they going?

Mainstream media continue to discuss that developments for Scottish football will centre around learning from our European counterparts. However, we have been doing that in some places of Scotland since 2011.

Edusport Academy, was set up by former Motherwell youth player Chris Ewing, after finding inspiration from a spell in America with combining football and education. With Edusport Academy now competing in the Scottish Lowland League, the fifth tier of Scottish football, the club have taken an innovative step to offer online membership to the clubs board through ourfootballclub.com

Edusport, currently situated at Annan Athletic’s Galabank stadium in the Scottish Borders, are targeting a Scottish Premiership place by 2025, and want to recruit online members to help achieve this goal. Initially created as a football academy, the Edusport Academy became a bona fide football club in 2014 and are currently Scotland’s newest senior football club.

Ourfootballclub were involved in a similar project over a decade ago, as Ebbslfleet United managed to raise over £700,000 through their website, it had over 32,000 members at the height of its popularity. Now, Club Director Ewing hopes this radical new step with Edusport can teach Scottish football to be a little bit more imaginative.

Edusport Academy was set up to provide an opportunity for young French players to learn English whilst developing their football under coaching expertise. The programme is now looking to recruit and expand in to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as embark on their journey through the Scottish pyramid system.

“Whilst living in France it became apparent how big a factor learning English for many French people is. Every player has aspirations to become professional but they must understand the project in its entirety and that they can be educated using their passion of football as a vehicle. We are not going to sell them the dream of being a professional footballer as we want to guard against disappointment.”

Ewing feels his experiences abroad have helped him stay grounded when looking at football from a wider perspective and thinks we are slowly but surely heading in the right direction in Scotland.

Football is an evolving game. We now know that players will need more than just sheer talent to succeed. We have seen the Freddy Adu’s; the Adel Taraabt’s; and to an extent, even the Mario Balotelli’s of this world. We need educate our players to for them to be truly successful. Edusport’s fresh ideas may allow Scottish football to move away from the vacuum of its steep history.

“What I found is that the guy who applies themselves most in the classroom is the ones who progress on the park.” Says Ewing, “We, in Scotland, need to protect players for life after football. That could be at 18 or it could be at 35. We socially and morally have the responsibility to develop young people for the workforce, not just for our national team.”

Ewing states that the academy will exist in its current state despite their website offering the chance for online members to vote for a new club name, badge and the chance to choose the kit every year. The Edusport Academy and the football club will be separate entities as the project begins to evolve. Members of ourfootballclub will have no effect on the running of the academy, which continues to develop in a number of European locations.

"It is a viable project if we get enough people involved. This is an online project and you can touch the whole of the world. The dream I have is to have members from France, from Scotland, from England, from Finland, from Holland all pulling together.”

Ewing is adamant that the project is distinct, and that comparisons to Ebbsfleet’s story are unjustifiable.

"We have no history, we have no fan base and we have carte blanche to create a brand new football club that meets the needs of the supporters. Ebbsfleet had a fan base. We have no fans at this stage and we are looking to create a fan base through an online community. Their project was also often criticised for the choice to offer the opportunity for members to pick the team, but that is certainly something we will never do.

"Members can put together names of players who they can identify, a bit like Football Manager, but certainly it's not fantasy football."

Promotion to the Lowland League has clearly changed the dynamics for Edusport, as they bid to become a recognised football club in their own right. At the moment, they are the only ‘academy’ to compete within any of the football pyramids systems in the UK after promotion from the South of Scotland League in 2017.

The ambitious plan has potential, with online visibility and the powers of social media far more prominent than they were in 2007 with Ourfootballclub.com’s last venture. The feelings within the Scottish lower leagues however are that their strategies are becoming a bit disjointed. Can they still sustain the project whilst continue to integrate the foreign imports through the academy?

One Lowland League boss is concerned that the league’s integrity is in question with the club having the ability to change their existence if and when they please. “They started off as a base for French players; however I now struggle to see that core principle when we meet. I think they need to sort out stuff like their permanent location before offering the chance to re-structure the club online.”

Edusport are in the process of finding a central location closer to their training hubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where both foreign and native attendees are based.

Ewing currently controls the Edusport programme from Paris, and is excited by its overall growth – both for the club and the academy. Despite the risks involved in their innovative new plans, the club is still dedicated to ensure the welfare of all its players. He feels the academy programme has real value for everyone involved, regardless of where their football journey goes. The programme is progressive for every member, with educational partnerships becoming more prominent.

“The programme is a no brainer, for me. Almost all of the players will go back to France speaking better English, which will serve them later in life. If some of the guys have the aptitude to do a little bit more, then we have a partnership where they can study university courses online, similar to an Open University course.”

“There have been a few success stories, although that is not our main objective. Four of our boys have gained contracts at Annan Athletic and had the opportunity to play vs Rangers in the League Cup at the start of this season. They went from playing amateur level in France to playing in front of 35,000 at Ibrox, thanks to us.”

Ewing appreciates the pressures and drastic changes that fall burden on young players. Edusport have programmes in place to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for all involved, more so due to the fact that their players will be relocating to a new country. Despite the fact they are abandoning sole control over the football club, they deserve to be praised for their focus on youth development.

Edusport recognise that the project won’t be met with open arms by everybody, but it could be the shake that Scottish football needs to envisage new ideas.

Colin Cameron, former Scottish International, is the clubs assistant manager and embraces the potential change. “Clubs in the past relied on one person’s investment and they had the final say. With this idea it is not one person who has the final say, it will be a group of people."

“I believe in what Chris is doing. Successful individuals are one's who take risks and try to be different, that's what he's doing here. For the people who are buying into it they could be part of history.”

Edusport Academy covers a lot of interesting aspects in the rapidly evolving sports world. It creates stable links with educational institutions, partnerships with French Football Federations and councils, as well as motivating and inspiring the next generation of European footballers. However, there latest step is bound to be their biggest yet. Members can pay a £25 a month fee to become a ‘revolutionary’ and begin to have their say on the running of the football club.

Find out more about the project at ourfootballclub.com

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