Blantyre Soccer Academy gets NEETs on to the pitch

Sported and BT Sport’s The Supporters Club back local football club


Blantyre Soccer Academy is set to launch an innovative new scheme that will train young people, aged 16 to 21, who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) to become qualified football referees.


The club’s new Refer2Us programme has been launched thanks to a joint funding initiative between Sport for Development charity, Sported, and The Supporters Club – BT Sport’s initiative that aims to build a better world by bringing people together through sport.


Blantyre Soccer Academy is one of the new breed of community football clubs emerging in Scotland where they place as much value on the development of the young people and the role they play in the community, as they do on the development of the sport. Since the club was founded in 2010, it has grown to 360 members and has now has teams of all ages and sexes, from mini soccer to an adult amateur team; there is also a SFA Full Disability Club.


Through its Refer2Us programme Blantyre Soccer Academy will train 40 young people per year from Blantyre and the surrounding areas who are NEET in the SFA’s football refereeing award. The qualification they gain will be recognised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) as an advanced Higher Grade. This is a significant qualification when it comes to employment and will also guarantee the young people a place at the local college – New College Lanarkshire. Alongside the refereeing qualification, young people on the programme will also benefit from employability skills workshops focusing on interview and presentation skills, and CV writing.


Refer2Us is being backed by the Scottish Football Association (SFA), who will be subsidising the SQA Award with no cost to the club, and also referring young people from the local area to the programme.


Graduates from the programme will be offered pathways into employment by the SFA, LFDA – the Lanarkshire league – and Blantyre Soccer Academy themselves, who will all employ the newly qualified referees in the local area and nationally. The course is also open to female participants and it is hoped that graduates from the Refer2Us programme will help alleviate the current shortage of referees in the women’s game. The addition of a qualification equivalent to an advance Higher Grade on their CVs combined with the personal skills and confidence they will develop on the programme will also greatly enhance their employment prospects.


Jimmy Whelan, Chairperson at Blantyre Soccer Academy, said: “Blantyre Soccer Academy prides itself on being a real community club, so it’s fantastic that we have been able to launch our Refer2Us programmes with the support of Sported and The Supporters Club.


“We know from the first-hand experiences of some of our Under 19’s team how difficult it is for young people in this area to find work or afford additional training courses, so it was really important for us to do something positive about it. The programme will not only help overcome a shortage of qualified referees in the local area, but more importantly it will give young people the qualifications, skills and confidence they need to take the next steps into further education, training or employment.”


Blantyre Soccer Academy has been receiving business support from Sported in the form of a volunteer business mentor for the last six months, and now thanks to the charity’s partnership with The Supporters Club, the club has been chosen as one of ten community sport clubs in the UK to benefit from a joint grant to fund sporting and personal development activities.


Chris Grant, Chief Executive at Sported, said: “At Sported we support community groups that use sport as a tool to transform the lives of young people. Blantyre Soccer Academy is a great example of what can be achieved when passionate volunteers come together to put something back into the community. The target group of 16 – 21 year olds often do not have many opportunities to differentiate themselves in the employment market, so taking a qualification and proving themselves capable of succeeding could be a real game changer for them.”


Dave Rowley, Head of The Supporters Club, said: “The expansion of the Blantyre Soccer Academy is a further example of the compelling social and sporting change that the combination of BT Sport viewers’ donations allied to BT Sport’s strategic relationships can bring about. We are proud of our relationship with Sported having partnered with one of its projects in Bristol for our volunteering campaign #MyExtraTime late last year and look forward to building on this.”


The Supporters Club aims to build a better world through sport by changing the lives of disadvantaged young people. Funds are raised thanks to BT Sport customers choosing to add an additional £1, £3 or £5 to their monthly BT Sport bill as a donation. The Supporters Club has raised over £3 million from BT Sport customers and BT. So far The Supporters Club has partnered with Comic Relief to fund 27 sport-inspired community projects – 17 in the UK and 10 overseas, with over 93,000 people now giving monthly donations.