For this year’s EFL Week of Action, the Bradford City FC Community Foundation is taking the time to spotlight its success stories - or in this case, four success stories:
The Foundation’s Football and Education programme is a popular path for young people seeking to combine their studies with football. It provides school leavers with the opportunity to gain qualifications whilst training and playing football at a competitive level, following a regime that combines classroom and tutorial time with the standard footballing week of a professional player.
Many students go on to achieve scholarships, playing and coaching football abroad, pathways into higher education, or forge a career path whilst retaining their passion for the game. In some instances, however, our students make it all the way to the top of their field.
We sat down with four students from our F&E programme who are making their mark in the women’s game, and are combining their studies with footballing commitments in BCAFC Women’s U21, U23 and First Teams. Here is what Summer Paley (2nd Year, First Team), Ella Barnes (1st Year, U23s and First Team), Crystal Boyce (2nd Year, U21s) and Sophie Martin (1st Year, U23s) had to say about balancing football with their studies, the momentum which is reaching a fever-pitch in women’s football, and what their futures hold:
Crystal, let’s start with you - how are you enjoying the Football and Education programme?
Crystal: “I'm enjoying it quite a lot, especially the football. I play left-wing. I’m on a bit of a scoring run at the moment for both the scholarship and the U23s, so that’s been fun.”
Summer, the same question to you.
Summer: “The football side of things is great, not only for the training and the games - we get the chance to travel to different clubs all around the country, playing their teams and seeing where they’re based, how they play, what their facilities are like.”
You’ve been on the F&E course for two years, and will be graduating next summer - what are your plans for after graduation?
Summer: “I’m hoping to go to America and do a scholarship over there.”
Has that always been the dream?
Summer: “Yeah, it has. Their recruitment window opens soon so I’ll have to have a think about where I want to go and the type of work I’d like to do in the football and sporting industry.”
Are your F&E teachers and coaches supportive of your plans? Are they guiding you through the process?
Summer: “Yeah they are, all the staff in F&E and my First Team coaches have been super helpful.”
Great - and who’s your favourite staff member? That's a test, you don't need to answer that. Ella, what made you decide to go down the Football and Education route?
Ella: “Well, I was in college for the first year [Year 12] and I just didn't enjoy it because I like playing football too much and my studies took up all my time. I was actually already signed on to go to America and get a scholarship over there, so I thought this was a pathway where I can play more football and get better and develop more before going over.”
And how do you find the blend of playing football, training and studying in class?
Ella: “I just enjoy it more than, you know, just being sat in a classroom every day, like five days a week, that’s never really been for me.”
And you'll be going to America as well?
Ella: “Yeah. That's the end of this [academic] year.”
We spoke to Dave Stansfield, the Foundation’s Head of Education, about the importance of our F&E provision for women and girls in Bradford, and the opportunities it offers them:
“Women and girls’ football is perhaps the fastest growing sport in the world right now, and it is important that the Bradford City FC Community Foundation plays its part. The government, spearheaded by Karen Carney, conducted a review in 2022 around the development of the game and it was discussed how the opportunity at this present moment was huge to make a big difference for women and girls interested in football, capitalising on the success of the English Women's Football team and the WSL. This is something we take very seriously at Bradford City, and the environment we provide for everybody on our programme is designed to ensure all of our students have the best opportunity to succeed.
We have been shouting from the rooftops for world-leading standards for the women and girls of Bradford, and we are doing everything we can to provide a world-leading Football and Education programme, one that local women and girls can call their own. We have been fortunate to have had the pleasure of welcoming some fantastic people into our programme; Crystal, Ella, Sophie and Summer both typify and drive our standards. All four are fabulous role models for BCAFC, the city of Bradford, our programme and women's and girls’ football every day.”
Sophie, how did you find out about, and get onto, the F&E programme?
Sophie: “I found out through my old coach who coached me at U18s. He told me about it and then I came down to the induction day and just went on from there.”
And did you settle in quickly?
Sophie: “Yeah, I already knew some of the girls so they really helped me feel comfortable, and all the other girls were really nice and welcoming.”
How long have you been playing football?
Sophie: “I've been playing since I was about seven, and I’ve been playing in Bradford the last two seasons.”
What's your plan for the future? What do you want to do once you graduate?
Sophie: “I’d say I'm more educationally inclined actually, especially compared to these three [Sophie points around the room and is met with laughter]. I really want to go to university, get a degree, and use it to go and do something in the sports industry.”
Crystal, how did you get on to the F&E programme?
Crystal: “Should I call him Stephen or Larry?” [Crystal is referring to Stephen Rushforth, F&E Girls Football Coordinator - everyone in the programme, at the Foundation and probably nationwide calls him Larry. We’re not sure why.]
We know who he is. You can call him Stephen or Larry.
Crystal: “Larry was my coach from the U16s, and he works here for the Foundation on the programme - he's also the coach for the girls’ scholarship.”
So you started out on the scholarship playing football, and then you
got onto the F&E programme?
Crystal: “Yeah, I was in Larry’s U16s team and then he told us about it and I came to the induction day and I really enjoyed it, so I cracked on from there. I like the football because there's a lot of it. We play every Wednesday and alternate home and away. And I like football so, y’know, it suits me perfectly.”
Do you see a career in football ahead of you?
Crystal: “Yeah, a hundred percent. I want to be in the First Team. I don't want to be playing at any lower level than that.”
Have you laid out a progression path to achieve that goal? Do you know what you need to do to get into the First Team?
Crystal: “Yeah, the coaches and the teachers are always on-hand for advice. We have dedicated time for analysis and game reviews every week, and they break it all down for you. I know where I need to improve and how to get better - it’s just a matter of doing it.”
[To the group] You all will have worked with Qas [Qasim Akhtar, Chairman, BCAFC Women and Girls]. Qas was actually a student on the F&E programme, and has worked with the Foundation across business and coaching roles, and now is the Chairman for the Women and Girls. I've asked him for a quote about all of you, so it's only fair you get the chance to provide some quotes on him.
Summer: “I think Qas is a really good coach, even though he’s now the Chairman, his coaching mentality comes through in everything he does. I think he's done a really good job of stepping up when we've not got a coach, and I just think that he's done a really good job. Even when we lose, we've still got the motivation and mentality to go win the next game, mainly due to him just being really supportive and motivating.”
So he's held it all together through some difficult periods?
All: “Yeah, massively.”
We spoke to Qasim, and he had this to say about our interviewees:
On Summer Paley:
“Summer joined us at Bradford City AFC Women and Girls in 2020 as an U15 player. Since joining, Summer has gone from strength to strength with her personal development. In 2022, Summer moved up from our U16s to U21s. After a strong season in the 21s, Summer made the step up to our First Team at the start of the current season and has adapted to the level very well.”
On Crystal Boyce:
“Crystal has excelled well with us during her time at Bradford City AFC Women and Girls. Crystal has come through the pathway at Bradford City, and is now developing well in the U21s. Crystal is a quick and direct forward player, who ended the 2022/23 season as one of the league's top goalscorers.”
On Ella Barnes:
“Ella is another player who has been with us for a number of years now, joining from local club Bolton Woods. A hard working and aggressive midfielder, Ella displays our club values on and off the pitch, which has seen her feature for the First Team this season, whilst continuing her development in the U23s.”
On Sophie Martin:
“Sophie joined us as an U17 player in the 2022/2023 season, where she competed in the West Riding Girls League. Sophie has quickly transitioned into our U23 team, developing well and has featured in our First Team during pre-season.”
Summer, Ella, you’ve been in and around the First Team this season. Would you say Qas has mentored you through that step up? Has he offered not just footballing support, but pastoral support?
Summer: “Yeah, he's helped us both a lot because it's obviously a big change. I didn't really go from the U23s, I went straight from the U21s to the First Team and it was just a major
step, and I feel like he helped me get more into it and get to know everyone, which helped a lot.”
Ella, you recently debuted for the First Team. How was that?
Ella: “Yeah, just last week, and I was on the bench this Sunday just gone. It was good, it was different but good. They’re a really welcoming team, and there are players there that
have been playing for a long time, that have played internationally, so it can be daunting, but in an exciting way.”
Sophie! How are you finding your football?
Sophie: “Yeah, I'm really enjoying it with the U23s at the moment. I particularly like how on Tuesdays we get to see the First Team training as well, because it really inspires us to want to push on to that level. I enjoy being with the squad and they make you feel very welcome. As one of the younger ones that have come up from the U16s, it's really nice to see that they're including everyone.”
Crystal - how’s football treating you?
Crystal: “Yeah, good. As I said I’ve been smashing ‘em in this season.”
How many goals have you scored this year?
Crystal: “I think I'm on eight goals from three appearances, and that's just for scholarship, so I've actually got more when you add in the U21 games.”
You’re prolific! How do you find stepping up from the scholarship into the U21s?
Crystal: “It's not really that much of a change - I actually think the scholarship’s harder than the U21s. Because there’s more people my age, and when I'm in the U21s, it's women and yeah, they’re much bigger people than me, but the younger, faster people, full of running on the scholarship, it’s difficult.”
Do you find the scholarship very competitive?
Crystal: “Yeah, it's much more competitive than the U21s because a lot of people don’t make the cut, there’s only limited spaces and everyone’s trying their best and pushing every week. Plus there's a lot more participants.”
This is to all of you - women and girls’ football participation is skyrocketing after not only the recent World Cup run, but also decades of dedication from people trying to grow the women’s game. How have you seen participation in Bradford change through your footballing careers?
Sophie: “I think it’s gaining more and more traction. At your [Summer and Ella’s First Team] game on Sunday, it had a lot more spectators than normal, and it's great to see games not only well attended, but to be part of a good atmosphere for the girls as well. I think the vocal support from the fans who go and watch the women’s team push them on and actually help them to victory.”
Summer: “Yeah, I think when we were all younger we didn't really have that backing. I was in a boys team, we didn't really have that opportunity that girls do now, and I feel like it's got a lot bigger and more popular due to the World Cup and every club, even with City’s men’s team in League Two, fronting up and providing pathways for women in football.”
This is another question to all of you - do you see yourselves as having the potential to inspire the next generation of girls playing football? Whatever you end up doing in your careers, if it's a scholarship, if you’re in America, if you become First Team players, internationals, or even if you coach or just stay in the game in some other way, do you see yourselves carrying on that momentum?
All: [Emphatically] “Yes.”
And is that something you take pride in?
All: [Even more emphatically] “Yes.”
Have you got any siblings or friends who have thought about getting involved, and have looked to you all as examples?
Crystal: “I've got a little brother. I feel like he's like my cheerleader. He loves coming to my matches and watching me and stuff. He also seems to think that he's better than me.”
How old is he?
Crystal: “He's eight. Good luck.”
Let’s finish off by talking about the Foundation. We mentioned how Qasim used to be part of the F&E programme and then worked for the Foundation, and BCAFC’s Media Manager, Lewis Redmond, followed a similar path via the F&E programme and now runs his own team at Valley Parade.
The Foundation does a lot of work, from social action campaigns, targeting things like knife crime, meeting with MPs, and so on. Have you seen any overlap from the Foundation’s F&E provision into your studies?
Sophie: “Yeah, all the time. In lessons we have a lot of presentations on social issues. We’ve had people come in and give talks on things like issues around gangs in Bradford, knife crime, Black Lives Matter. The one on Black Lives Matter in particular really raised awareness of different cultures and backgrounds. We understand that Bradford is very multicultural, and it was enlightening to learn about what the people across the city have achieved whilst coming from lots of different backgrounds. So yeah, we’re always getting more aware of social issues and the community work the Foundation does.”
Excellent. Summer, Ella, Sophie, Crystal, thank you all very much.