A better place to play: Oasis Academy supporting Crystal Palace FC

By - Wednesday 9th April, 2014

The tie-up between Crystal Palace FC and Oasis Academy Shirley Park is paying dividends on and off the football pitch

“Champions of Europe, we know what we are!” Chelsea supporters may sing this outdated chant along to the overused tune of the Beach Boys’ ‘Sloop John B’, but Oasis Academy Shirley Park’s Under 15s side of 2011/2012 could proudly proclaim that they were the champions of England. After all, they came out victorious in the English Schools Football Association competition with performances from a plethora of recognisable names from the Crystal Palace FC youth teams.

The Oasis Academy Shirley Park is just like any other academy school in South London, except that it has one key distinction; it is the school of choice for Crystal Palace’s young footballers.

Formerly Ashburton Community School prior to its sponsorship and renaming by the Oasis Trust in 2009, the school is situated in the Woodside area of Croydon, certainly not half a world away from either the Crystal Palace training ground in Beckenham, or indeed Selhurst Park stadium. The school’s link with Palace not only strengthens the work that the club is doing in the local community, but also encourages high standards within the school, and benefits pupils in their quest for a career in professional football.

Football in the community, and other projects designed to get kids off the streets and entertained whilst doing something productive, are an integral part of the work that football clubs are required to do outside of 22 players kicking a ball around a field every week. Although the Oasis Academy does not equate to football in the community directly, it does have a certain benefit for the young people involved in the Crystal Palace set up.

Palace clearly prides itself on educating the youth players and allowing them to thrive as people and footballers

In 2011, the club revealed the full details of a scheme to work alongside the Academy, which involves pupils at the ages of fourteen and fifteen years of age entering the school and having a set number of hours to continue their schoolwork, as well as maximising contact time with regards to football; as they train with the Palace academy for more hours a week.

This is an important link because it enables them to continue their football education as well as their normal education. Some young lads who may not originally have passed their GCSEs or gone on to do well in their exams, have done so because it is a requirement that they study further should they be in the academy; and Palace clearly prides itself on educating the youth players and allowing them to thrive as people and footballers in all environments.

It is inevitable that if a player is attending school elsewhere then there will be clashes with training for Palace, and this consequently causes issues with missing lessons to train for a dream that so few really achieve. In a day and age where foreign players dominate the upper echelons of the football pyramid, the harsh reality is that very few youth players will ever see themselves pull on the shirt of a professional club. To offer an education alongside football compensates for plucking a boy out of his normal environment and thrusting him into the pressurised nature of the football world, which also impacts upon his studies.

A boy who grew up in Croydon and went on to score on his first team debut for Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is about South London. The billboards which proudly displayed the tagline ‘South London and Proud’ were evidence of that, but what many people may not be aware of, is that, in fact, one of the players featured on those billboards was a former pupil at Oasis. Although it was still Ashburton when he plied his trade in the Palace youth teams as well as studying there, Sean Scannell, the dreadlocked winger who shone at youth level, is one of the school’s more notable alumni. A boy who grew up in Croydon and went on to score on his first team debut for Crystal Palace, Scannell was often seen in photographs from Palace after visits to schools or local charitable causes. Indeed, in October 2011 he accompanied another Eagles youngster who had progressed through the school to talk to current pupils at the school.

In the Evening Standard that week, the players were pictured with two pupils who were in the Palace academy, and one of them may even emulate his mentors in a few years time. That pupil was Will Hoare, a 17-year-old central midfielder who moved up to the Eagles’ Under 18s squad last season and impressed sufficiently to be awarded the Oasis Academy Shirley Park player of the year award in 2011/2012 and has gone on to represent Scotland at youth level.

The relationship with the Oasis Academy truly brings better all round education. Rather than the disrupted school days of dashing out of class to make the journey to the Beckenham training ground, they are on site throughout the day and their education does not suffer as greatly as it does with the intermittent nature of training and studying.

Players have to act as representatives for the club, and for the school

The link ensures that the magic notion of ‘contact time’ with players has jumped from six hours a week to eighteen hours a week, with the added opportunity for the football club to assess the character of young players as they conduct themselves day in, day out in the school environment. However, it is not simply about the benefits for the club but the students too. With state of the art facilities and impressive technology available for analysis and rehabilitation, students are also able to learn about the science behind sport, whilst being in a football academy ensures that they are taught about how to look after their bodies.

Essentially, the relationship is a positive move all round, as the community benefits from having a football club dedicated to looking after its young people but at the same time ensuring they achieve the best possible education they can, undertaking the same curriculum, with the same training times and same routines, during their period as Crystal Palace players. Players have to act as representatives for the club, and for the school, and thus far they have done that job extremely well with success both on and off the field. The academy has been rated ‘outstanding’ in its latest OFSTED inspection.

It is a credit to all involved that the partnership has been a roaring success, as little by little, standards have improved at the Oasis Academy and young people have every chance of succeeding if their football dreams are dashed.

The assistant principal of Oasis Academy told Crystal Palace’s official website that “[t]he partnership between Crystal Palace and Oasis Academy Shirley Park is proving to be a resounding success and one that with time will provide the next generation of Crystal Palace FC players.” That generation of players is the current Under 18 crop in the Palace academy, and with many of them having attended the school, it surely will not be long before an Oasis schoolboy who has benefited from the scheme breaks into the first team at Selhurst Park.

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam is a Kingston University student in his final year as a Politics & International Relations undergraduate. A campaigner on mental health he is the founder of @Talk_Out, as well as part of the TalkEasyTrust, and seeks to break down stigma by encouraging talking out. Matt is also an avid Crystal Palace fan and the online editor of Five Year Plan Fanzine, as well as a regular contributor to the Croydon Guardian.

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