Youth development at Bohemian FC - Meet Conor Emerson (Youth Director), Ian Morris (Youth Development Officer) and Nils Veenstra (Marketing Officer)
Q: Conor, as Youth Director at Bohemians FC, can you sketch a brief overview were the youth section of the football club was two years ago, how it has progressed, and what your goals are for both the short term as well as the long term?
Conor: A couple of years ago when I first got involved in Bohemian Youths, the club at all levels was recovering from the financial difficulties it faced 6-7 years ago. At one point we had a vibrant Youths section though the influence of managers was significant and each came with their own vision. This created a lack of stability and made medium/long term planning impossible. I noticed that there were some great people in the Youths but the sense of connection with Dalymount and our senior team was poor. We set up a Youth Committee and developed a plan that is being implemented and developed at the same time.
The first steps were to increase teams, bring in new coaches and nurture the relationship between the Youths and the broader club. We felt we needed to make all Bohs people connect with Dalymount Park and the atmosphere and culture that exists there. We encouraged coaches to bring teams to games and began running a Nursery in Dalymount every Saturday morning for 4-7 year olds. As a result, we had parents who were living locally for ten years visiting Dalymount for the first time. We now run our growing Academy in Inspire in Cabra (because of the availability of indoor facilities) and have 30-40 kids playing every week. We want to be able to offer these 4 year-olds a clear pathway in to the senior Bohs team. On their journey, we want to influence them to become Bohemians who represent the values of the club on and off the pitch. We want to create an environment that allows players to grow and excel in every area. We are currently working towards building educational links locally that will enable players to access third-level education where it was not previously possible.
The underage League of Ireland (LOI) teams offer a huge opportunity for the club. Already, the U17 team – which is a partnership with NDSL – is working well. We have players getting the best coaching in a great environment, many already getting involved in the international set-up. We recently had two players who still qualify to play U17 LOI representing our senior team. We expect that to be the norm in the coming years. The progress for the coming season is starting to reflect our investment. We appointed Ian Morris as Head of Youth Football in April and his impact has been immediate. We have doubled our number of teams and attracted some excellent coaches and players. We hope to extend that progress year on year until Bohemian Youths is the destination of choice for Youth players.
Q: Ian, you have been around professional football both in the UK as well in Ireland for a long time. What made you leave England in the your prime, after 250 Football League appearances, and jump at the opportunity to overhaul and revamp the Bohs youth set-up, and how do plan to go about it?
Ian: I left England mainly because of my kids. Since our first child was born we have had four house moves! Coming back and having family and friends around was the right decision for my family. That said, I have always wanted to coach. Starting at Leeds United, I began my coaching badges and have been involved in some way ever since. I worked in Northampton Town’s youth section for two years before I came back to Ireland. When the role of Youth Development Officer came up for Bohs I put my CV in straight away.
Having done some background into the Bohs youth section I was taken back with how far it was away for where I believe it should be; one of the top producers of young Irish footballers. There is a clear pathway from our Nursery from 4-7 years old, right through to our senior team in the SSE Airtricity league. We began by putting out advertisements for new coaches to come and help us build the club. Before you get players in, you need good people involved to manage the teams and develop the players. We started recruiting players by visiting schools and getting the word out for our trials for the upcoming season. We had nearly 300 kids at those trials earlier this month (July, 2016)! We have gone from 6 teams last season, to having 13 teams for this season, and we are delighted with all the boys and girls who have come down and joined us. The club is also in the process of hiring a women’s coordinator, to help in the setting up and running or our girls and women’s teams. We are building for the future.
Q: Can you both elaborate a bit on challenges you’re facing?
Ian: The challenges we have faced so far have been testing at times. From attracting players, to obtaining equipment and finding facilities, there has been a lot of work put in. Investment is massive for the club. The cost of running teams is quite significant. We would love a Dublin-based company to get involved with us, helping us provide more football for kids in the community.
Conor: Yes, the challenges in developing the Youths are many. While we are able to bring together teams and coaches, costs are high. We are doing our very best to offer kids the opportunity to play football for as cheap as possible. This season, the fee for the season, including training gear is €300. This leaves a hole of around 15k in our budget just to break even. Even at this pricing level, we know there are kids who can’t afford to play. One of the primary costs for us is the renting of all-weather facilities. This can cost up to €400 per team per month. We are also having difficulty in finding match playing facilities. Most public pitches in the city are taken, making expansion without the money to access private facilities a difficult prospect. We are very eager to get third-parties involved in our project – particularly local business – as we believe that we can offer excellent value for money in influencing young people to reach their potential.
Nils: I agree. The Bohemian Football Club wants to play an integral role in the (North) Dublin community. The Bohemian Foundation is doing wonderful work in the prison system, with at-risk youth and with senior citizens. It’s only natural that our social inclusion efforts should manifest itself in the youth football set-up, in which we can offer boys and girls access to physical activity in a safe and positive environment, very good coaching, expert guidance, and even a better pathway to third-level education and playing professionally for the senior team if that is what the player aspires.
Conor is 100% correct when he says that an annual contribution of €300 per person is precluding children to take advantage of playing football at Bohemians. In order to drive that cost down, we’re actively engaging with the Dublin business community and exploring ways to get them involved in developing the Youth Academy. For example, through my work as an entrepreneur in the technology space I come across a lot of fast growing companies that have recently expanded to Ireland and are looking for innovative ways to improve their branding for business development and especially recruiting purposes. Why not sponsor Youth football at the oldest professional club in Dublin?
Please feel free to reach out to our Youth section directly:
Youth Director: email@example.com
Youth Development – Technical: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing and Strategy: email@example.com
Youth Secretary (non-LOI team information): firstname.lastname@example.org
Youth Administrator (HR and Child Protection Officer): email@example.com