Tottenham Hotspur’s next home match was not for another fortnight, but its White Hart Lane stadium was anything but deserted.
Of the dozens of people heading towards the 36,000-seater ground on a grey Friday morning, many were students enrolled on the club’s foundation degree programmes.
Run by the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, the club’s community outreach arm, the two-year courses in football coaching and performance, and in applied sport and community development, are taught mainly in Spurs’ Learning Zone, equipped with 32 computers.
Group work takes place in corporate boxes overlooking the immaculately kept pitch. Lectures are also held in the room where first-team manager Mauricio Pochettino holds his match-day press conferences, and some classes take place at Spurs’ training centre in Enfield, North London.
The unusual setting for the degree programmes, which are validated by Middlesex University, has helped the foundation to increase its intake from 18 in 2010-11 to just over 100 this year, making it one of the many private providers to have significantly expanded their higher education offerings.
Many of those signing up are youngsters from Tottenham’s multi-ethnic population who might not have considered further study unless their local football team were involved, observes Grant Cornwell, chief executive officer of the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.
“We have a great relationship with young people, so we are better placed to work with these students than a conventional university,” Cornwell says.
But students, who are charged £6,000 a year – the maximum allowable for private providers if students are using state loans to cover tuition – are quickly disabused of any notion that there will be kickabouts with their Premier League heroes, says Cornwell.
“These courses aren’t about becoming a professional player, but focusing on a career within sport and coaching,” he says, pointing to the numerous youth coaching, community outreach and business posts that are available within the football industry.
Over their two years of studies, students undertake 180 hours of unpaid football-related work, such as volunteering in local schemes, youth clubs or disability groups linked to Spurs.
“Most people don’t know what happens at a football club throughout the week; they only see what happens for 90 minutes on the pitch,” says Cornwell. “We give them the chance to sample what the football business is really like and all the different elements within it.”
Second-year student William Stowe, 24, from Hackney, believes that his experience running sports classes for about 100 children will help him to realise his ambition to become a full-time youth worker.
“Employers are looking for experience these days, so it’s good to get these opportunities,” he says.
Samuel Addae, 22, from Neasden, says that having helped organise a charity football match involving Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie and Peterborough United’s Gabriel Zakuani will boost his chances of finding a role in the business side of sport.
The foundation says it is proud of its graduate employment record. According to its own survey, about 35 per cent are in work six months after leaving the course, sometimes taking roles at Tottenham itself.
A further 55 per cent top up their foundation course with a third year of study at Middlesex or another university in sports science, sports nutrition, teaching or coaching to achieve a full bachelor’s degree.
Tottenham is the only Premier League club to run such a scheme, in addition to supporting several primary schools, five secondary schools and seven further education colleges across four London boroughs, says Cornwell, adding that it should serve as an example to others.
“It would be great if we could engage with a child aged five, then at secondary school and eventually see them graduate with us with a good job,” he says.
“We’re proud to be the first to do this and remain leaders in this field. Football has to be seen to be making a difference,” he adds.
180 hours of unpaid football-related work carried out by foundation degree students over two years
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University of Manchester
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University of Oxford
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Institute of Education, University of London
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University of Edinburgh
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University of East Anglia
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Royal Holloway, University of London
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