West Ham United’s Academy Welcomes American and Australian Youth to International Experience
Each year, West Ham United Academy program trains youth soccer players from around the world – primarily America – for one, once-in-a-lifetime experience filled week. After players are selected from Regional West Ham soccer camps, the top performers are identified and invited to a National Camp. Then, at the National level, an elite player pool is selected and invited to attend the training and scrimages in London, England at the West Ham Academy. This article profiles the first of two Spring 2013 programs.
Age groups include U10/U12 and For one special week, from March 8-15, a select group of boys from the U.S. and Australia will come together on the training grounds of West Ham United FC (WHU) for the opportunity of a lifetime. There the boys will work with West Ham United Academy coaches, led by Assistant Academy Director Paul Heffer, as they prepare to take on teams from the Academy.
Can these boys come together in just a matter of days to challenge teams that have been working together for years?
The answer will come on Wednesday evening, March 13, at West Ham’s Chadwell Heath training ground.
But the trip is not just about preparing for a match. The West Ham Elite Player Experience provides a unique opportunity to train with one of the all time best EPL Academies and to be seen by Tony Carr, West Ham United Academy Director and Heffer, Carr’s long time assistant and former West Ham Professional player.
Heffer and his staff will take the boys through several rounds of training at both Chadwell Heath and Rush Green. After the International team vs West Ham Academy match, each player will be evaluated on his performance. In between these sessions, the boys will have the chance to tour London, including a visit to the London Eye Ferris wheel, take in an English Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland, get a behind-the-scenes tour of Wembley Stadium, and have the kind of experiences that most only dream about.
The route to the West Ham Academy Experience began for these boys at West Ham United International Academy identification camps or at some of the many West Ham United partner clubs in North America and Oceania/Australia. Over 1000 boys took part in the 25 regional camps and another 50,000 participated in partner club events. For the American boys, it all came down to the West Ham United International Academy National Camps at Darlington School in Rome, Georgia, last summer. There West Ham Academy Director Tony Carr flew over from London and headed the two national camps where 275 young players learned from some of the top coaches in England.
West Ham United Academy is known as one of the top youth academies in the world, and it success has helped to reinforce the parent club’s title of The Academy of Football. During his nearly 40 years at the Academy, Carr has helped produce such top-level professionals as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson. For his efforts, Carr was honored with a testimonial year during the 2009/2010 EPL season and was named an MBE in 2010 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honors list.
Heffer, who will direct the International teams against Carr and the Academy teams, also has a long history with West Ham. He began as an apprentice at age 16 and continued on with the youth side, along with Carr. Eventually Heffer graduated to the First Team, where he played alongside Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and many other West Ham standouts. After a serious knee injury led to his retirement from play at age 24, Heffer moved to coaching.
Following a three-year stint at Southend United, Heffer was invited by Carr – who had moved from playing to coaching at West Ham – to join the staff. Over thirty years later the two are still working to develop top players for the First Team. Heffer will be looking forward to going up against Carr with the talented young international players.
The boys taking part in the Academy Experience are a veritable cross section of youth soccer, coming from backgrounds as diverse as soccer-mad families and families where the word was barely ever heard. The one thing they have in common is that passion for the world’s favorite game, a passion that drives them to be the best they can be. That, and a love of competing in the newly-released FIFA Soccer 13.
Jarrah Hall-Hart is one of these boys. The Australian youth plays in the National Premier League, which is the second tier of Australia’s A-League. Jarrah has been on the pitch since age five, playing with Mullumbimby, a club near the seaside town of Byron Bay in New South Wales. In 2012 he took part in the Northern NSW Football Centre of Excellence Camp and competed in the Queensland Summer League Futsal finals. Jarrah was chosen for the Academy Experience at a WHU Oceania identification camp.
Joining Jarrah from Down Under is eleven-year-old Archie Waterson from the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. However, the trip will be a sort of homecoming for Archie, who was born in London, just two miles from Wembley Stadium. To say that Archie is passionate about soccer (football) would be an understatement. Besides training three times a week with his Sunshine Coast Fire U12 team for weekend matches, his home life revolves around the sport. The family regularly watches matches from the EPL, FA Cup, Champions League, Europa League and more – even getting up in the middle of the night to catch the live action from England.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of family passion is the story of Leo Hecht from Princeton, N.J. Leo never even stepped onto a pitch for a serious game until about three years ago. But even then the young lad had a driving passion for European football. Today Leo, whose favorite team is Bayern Munich, has a collection of 40 jerseys and wears a soccer outfit seven days a week. His first real taste of soccer came when his family signed him up for recreational soccer when they moved to New Jersey from Boston. After only 20 minutes the coach knew Leo was something special, and he was added to the travel team without tryouts. Some players are clearly born for the game.
At age 9, Euan Higgins is the youngest player to take part on the International Team. For the attacking midfielder, who plays for Alpharetta Ambush SC of Georgia, this will not be his first trip across the Atlantic for soccer. The American-born son of Scottish parents, Euan visited Spain last year to watch his hero Leonel Messi and FC Barcelona take on Athletico Bilbao at Camp Nou. On that same trip he saw Cristiano Ronaldo lead Real Madrid against Apoel in the Champions League quarter finals. When not following La Liga play, Euan enjoys rooting for his favorite team, Glasgow Celtic.
Another young hopeful is Donovan Roux, who holds dual U.S./French nationality. The ten-year-old plays with the Wee Highlanders of FC Carolina Alliance in Huntersville, N.C. Donovan grew up playing soccer with his two older brothers, which forced him to improve quickly in order to keep up. While he has visited France before, he is looking forward to his first trip to London and the West Ham facilities.
Brandon Jardine, an eleven-year-old from the West Pine Strikers Soccer Travel Club in Pembroke Pines, Fla., will make his second trip to London – although he doesn’t remember much from his first visit at age one. Brandon, who has been on the pitch since Pee Wee soccer at age three, began taking private lessons to better prepare for his West Ham experience. He hopes to one day play professionally in England.
Michael Scavuzzo and Derrik Stephenson are two players from San Diego’s Surf Soccer Club who both play on the same BU11 team but discovered the path to West Ham Academy from different regional camps. Michael attended the program in Temecula and Derrik earned his chance in Orange Country. Both players were invited to attend the National Camp and now look forward to traveling to England to train. While the boys look forward to the challenge of taking on an Academy team, their real interest is in experiencing the EPL academy-quality training.
A third young man from San Diego is Zachary Thorn, who currently plays center-back at San Diego Soccer Club (SDSC). While Zach first began playing recreation soccer in Seattle, it wasn’t until his family moved to Southern California when he was six that his skills began to develop. Zach began on the U7 team at Carmel Valley Manchester in 2006, but his passion for the game truly took off when he moved to SDSC. Recently Zach has been receiving extra training from Riley Swift, starting goalkeeper for the fourteen-time indoor soccer champions, the San Diego Sockers. Attending the West Ham Experience was a difficult decision for Zach, because he will miss his team’s National Cup Round of 16 match, but hopes to play in the semifinals the weekend after he returns.
While the on-field highlight will be the International vs. Academy matches, training does not end there. On the final day of the camp, the players will go through one last session before they receive evaluations from Heffer and his staff. Each player will be given a breakdown of his strengths and areas for improvement, as noted by the West Ham Academy coaches. Following this, the players will travel to Wembley Stadium for their tour. While the trip will end on Friday, March 15, 2013 the lessons and memories these boys will take with them will truly last a lifetime.The March 8-15 camp is only the first session this year. Later in March a second, older group of boys will attend the West Ham Experience, including the son of former English International and current FOX Soccer commentator Warren Barton.
The West Ham International Academy National Camps and the West Ham Academy Experience are managed by Global Image Sports (GIS), a sports management company that provides opportunities and experiences in partnership with such clubs as West Ham United, Wolverhampton FC and Chievo Verona. Chief Operating Officer Mike Kelleher, who oversees day-to-day operations, is a former employee of the English Premier League and assisted the Director of Youth for the FA’s Academy program for five years.
West Ham United International Academy ID Camps are currently underway around the country. Visit the West Ham United International Academy website for more information or to register for any of the 2013 camps.