This afternoon signals the culmination of our support for Anti-Bullying Week. We welcome the staff and pupils of over 20 primary schools as our guests, with CUFC having visited them all in the last seven days to lend our weight to this campaign and spread the message to thousands of local youngsters.
We are proud that every one of our first team players has attended a school, spoken in their assembly, visited classrooms, answered questions, interacted with the children and handed out literature. We supported this initiative because we want to make a real difference within our local community and recognise the positive influence that professional footballers can have on children. That is the ethos of our Youth & Community Trust. Our aim is to positively affect the lives of thousands of children each year, not only with an excellence pathway for the most gifted & talented, but also by helping the 99.9% of youngsters who will not become professional footballers and making a contribution to the whole cross section of our community.
A lot of this work often goes unseen but we are now making a conscious effort to publicise what we are doing, the values that underpin our club and trust, how we are interacting with other clubs, companies and local authorities, opportunities we are providing local youngsters in all sports and our vision for the future. It is not because we want credit for what we are doing. It is because we need to raise our profile so that we can access more financial resources, attract more partners within the local business community and work with Grosvenor to convince the relevant authorities about the need for enhanced facilities at a potential Sporting Village. That will allow us to significantly extend the outreach of our programmes and increase participation numbers still further.
The position of responsibility and influence we hold as the major professional sporting organisation with the city was demonstrated to me when Michael Spillane and I visited Comberton Village College on Tuesday to speak to some of their year 8 & 9 students. We gave a simple message – hard work, discipline and aiming to be the best you can be cannot be reserved simply to sport or football but life in general. That also means school work, even in subjects that are least enjoyable. Those qualities have put our first team where they are at the moment – top of the league table and top of the disciplinary table. There may be equally if not more talented individuals and teams in this league. But our philosophy goes beyond talent and remains simple – in order to overachieve as a club, every single individual within the organisation, on and off the pitch, must aspire to overachieve in their job by working hard, being disciplined in their approach and showing a humility and respect for others. We try to practice what we preach and in this case, preach what we practice. These are lessons for life that when they are delivered by a footballer can be more powerful or heard more clearly by pupils in schools than the same message always coming from a teacher. It is our responsibility to use our position properly, give our time to others and provide these youngsters positive role models, messages and aspirations.
We are always hamstrung by a lack of facilities and a lack of finance. We continue to look for partners, both in funding bodies, local authorities and businesses to address the latter point, as well as initiatives to grow our already hugely extensive youth development scheme and community programmes. The former will only be addressed with a successful planning application for the Sporting Village. Grosvenor have been fantastic landlords in the last three years and together with their development partners, Wrenbridge, are committed to delivering fantastic sporting facilities for the club, trust and our city. We have a clear vision of how we wish to progress these plans, develop the trust and ensure a sporting organisation can be created that far exceeds anyone’s expectations for Cambridge. I have been fortunate enough to see examples across Europe and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. Our job in the coming months will be to cast vision, articulate this vision and then sell the vision to the relevant authorities to make it happen. People talk about Olympic legacy but rarely does a city have the chance to provide fantastic facilities across a plethora of sporting activities at no cost to the tax payer. This is what is being offered to Cambridge. Facilities that are needed. Facilities that will provide the next generation with an opportunity to participate in organised sporting activities, with an excellence programme for the most gifted and talented, and the prospect of a healthier lifestyle, improving self esteem, wellbeing and providing enjoyment for those who simply participate.
In my second paragraph I spoke of pride in what we are doing this week in schools and how the first team players are tremendous ambassadors for our club. Well, pride has been my overriding emotion on several occasions in the last week.
How many people felt proud watching Luke Berry’s battle with Edgar Davids, a Champions League winner? This is a young local lad who has now represented our club on over 100 occasions, having come through our youth system. Every fan that travelled to Bury would have been proud of the performance of our team, who represented the club with distinction, deserved to win but more importantly, again epitomised the values on which we are building the club and have built the trust. Following on from the pride in which we feel in producing home grown players, it was fantastic to see how Josh Coulson and Liam Hughes performed, as well as the aforementioned Luke Berry, in a great team effort.
Talking of youth products, I watched our Under 11’s, 13’s & 15’s play Norwich City last weekend. Our Under 9’s, 10’s, 12’s & 14’s travelled to Colney for the return fixtures. We will never brag, we will never cite results and we will never say that we are better than anyone. We try to let other people talk about us and remain self-effacing. However, you should know what we have got here. I feel great pride in how far we have progressed over the last seven and a half years since the scheme re-formed. We have hugely talented players in every age group, we can compete with Premier League clubs, we acquit ourselves brilliantly in fixtures, we play in the right way and the boys conduct themselves brilliantly. In short, we are good. And as you know that is despite everything. The very biggest clubs in the country know about what we are doing and respect us. They can’t work out how we do it. We can play category one EPPP clubs, with multi million pound annual budgets and compete. In many cases, we more than compete. Our youngsters will have played Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Southampton, Coventry City and Tottenham in consecutive weeks in November and December. The willingness of these clubs to play us says it all and rest assured, we never rest on our laurels so we will keep getting better.
Whilst we always hope the outcome of our youth policy will be that players progress into our first team, we also accept that in certain circumstances, it may be right for some individuals to move on to other challenges. This has been the case for Sam Lawn, an Under 15 academy player, who has just joined Norwich City. Sam is a talented young player, who lives in Norfolk, and this was the right opportunity for him, so we have supported his decision to leave and worked with his parents and Norwich City to ensure the process was handled correctly. Sam leaves with our blessing. He and his parents have conducted themselves impeccably. And so have Norwich City. It is refreshing when the authorities let us down by not providing us with any protection for our players, that clubs are willing to sign agreements with us to recognise our right for compensation and then agreeing a package when a situation arises. We thank Norwich City for their integrity, for the respect they have shown our youth scheme and doing what is morally right despite no legal obligation. Other clubs take note. We will co-operate but only when things are done correctly and compensation is agreed for our players.
Finally, I mentioned in my last notes that we have undertaken a commitment to coach the Blues football team. Our visitors were Harpbury; reigning champions, in fact champions for six successive seasons. They had played five, won five and had yet to concede a goal. Well that all changed at Fenners, with Cambridge University winning a thrilling match 4-3! I won’t mention any individuals because it was a monumental team effort, with extraordinary team work, endeavour and character. The players were brilliant and showed the qualities that have defined our start to the season. There is something unique about the bond that is created through sport, the spirit that is forged through working for your team-mates, the challenge of competing and the exhilaration of winning against the odds. We are proud of our involvement with the other CUFC. We hope to stage a Town v Gown match in the New Year to raise funds for a suitable charity but also showcase the talents of our young players against their counterparts within the university.
And finally, congratulations to two young men who started with our youth scheme in 2006 and have just been offered scholarships. Owen Boddey, from Haverhill, and Dylan Williams, from Saffron Walden, make it five of our “own” youngsters to have progressed through our academy from the first group we recruited seven and a half years ago. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work from the boys, huge commitment from their parents and the efforts of a number of coaches and staff. I would give one person a special mention though – Tom Pell. He joined us at the start of this journey, played a massive part in the recruitment of these players, a massive part in their development and deserves massive credit that five players will be in the first group of scholars from that initial age group. He should feel very proud.
Richard has mentioned your fantastic support in his notes. The players are proud to represent you, proud to play for you and really respond when you get behind them. Keep banging that drum and making a noise!
Enjoy the game.