Fulham have showcased their commitment to holistic development by sending their apprentices out into the local community as part of the club’s theme to ‘give back’.
The Cottagers have organised several events since the start of the season, with apprentices leading coaching and reading sessions at local primary and secondary schools, as well as playing a match with the Foundation Badgers, which is Fulham’s Down’s syndrome team.
The youngsters also led a coaching session at the Linford Christie Stadium for children from the Grenfell community, many of whom were affected by the devastating fire in June, while they have further plans to organise a fixture with the foundation’s walking football team and various other activities after Christmas.
“We reviewed our Leadership Programme before the start of the season and felt it was very static,” Academy Education Manager Sean Cullen told LFE.
“We’d have speakers come in and they’d talk at the players for an hour about certain issues, but we wanted to make it more engaging and active by getting them out into the community, which really brings to life some of the qualities that we hope to nurture from the Leadership Programme.
“This year, with the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, it made sense to get the apprentices out. From a team perspective, it forced them to work together and creates a tighter unit, while obviously it’s a chance to give back to kids who have gone through unimaginably terrible circumstances.
“The lads have been fantastic. What these sort of activities do is give you a chance to see the players in a completely new environment and it’s always the case that the players you think might struggle end up rising to the top.
“The quiet ones in the group really came out of their shell when pushed into a situation out of their comfort zone and that’s great to see.”
Academy Operations Manager Lee Hagger reinforced the aim of the scheme to target personal development, which will prepare the apprentices for the next step in their careers, whether inside or outside of football.
He said: “It’s important that they have the ability to talk and present themselves positively. We believe that better people make better professionals, whatever line of work they end up in and it is our responsibility to give them that education.
“They’ve spent the last few weeks going into the primary schools and we’ve forced them to take responsibility and move out of their comfort zone and already you can see the difference in confidence levels.
“They have a social responsibility to make a difference because they are looked up to by the next generation and they are in a very privileged situation. We often get comments about how mature and respectful our boys are and we believe this stems from our Leadership Programme.”
First-year apprentice Sonny Hilton joined the club from Tranmere Rovers last year, while 16-year-old Timmy Abraham arrived in the summer from Charlton Athletic.
Both players have integrated with their new surroundings quickly through contributing heavily to the range of activities.
“It’s important for us to give back to the community because not everyone gets what we experience,” said Hilton. “We have a great opportunity here and it is our responsibility to represent the club properly and give the kids something to aspire to.
“It makes it very real that we can be role models to them and that extra responsibility will improve us as individuals because these activities give us different life skills and pushes us out of our comfort zone.”
Abraham added: “It hits home that we’re in a very fortunate position to help those who have had lesser opportunities growing up. It gives you a different perspective on people in different positions to yourself.
“It has also improved my communication skills and put me in situations that force me to work on qualities other than football. We interact with people of various ages and backgrounds and that sort of thing improves us as people, just like how we improve our footballing ability on the training pitch.”
Having received positive feedback from the community and the players, Cullen was eager to salute the mutually beneficial project.
He said: “You see footballers get bad press about not appreciating things and that they get an easy ride but I don’t think that’s true and that’s certainly not the impression I’ve had ever since I arrived at this football club.
“The lads here are well grounded and have a good understanding of the community and a lot of credit has to go to the local schools for bringing them up in that way, so a scheme like the one we’ve built this year is a good way to bring the term ‘giving back’ to life.”