In these series of articles, we cover the inspirational summer school sessions our young people have been
participating in. In the fourth session, our young people met the team behind Rising Ballers – a media platform
shining a light on and providing opportunities for talented young footballers to gain a foothold in the game.
In the lead up to the recent international break, England manager Garth Southgate pointed to a
long-running problem facing top flight football in the country: English players are not getting a
chance. The statistics show that he is right. In the last game before the internationals, only 30%
of players who started in the Premier League were English, with that figure considerably less for
the top six clubs– 19.2%. With so much money flowing around the most lucrative league in the
world, it is the country’s young and talented players who are losing out. One organisation has
been working to change this. Since 2016 Rising Ballers has been dedicated to shining a light on
the talented youth in the UK, with considerable success too.
One of the challenges facing talented footballers, both within and outside the academy system, is
a lack of support. Given the highly competitive nature of the football industry, many young
players have to face the prospect of not being able to realise their dreams. Without adequate
support this realisation can have a significant and negative impact on their personal
development. Someone who is well aware of these pitfalls is Rising Ballers Head Coach, Alfie
Cain. He started playing football at the age of three, describing his journey in the game as “very
up and down, generally more downs than ups. I was at Chelsea for five years, from the ages of
seven to 12.”
His time at Chelsea was cut short when he was diagnosed with a heart condition which put his
dream of a professional football career in jeopardy. He told our young people, “When Chelsea
found out, they sent me to a specialist who told me I was never going be able to play football
again – because my condition meant I could die as my heart wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
Which as a 12-year-old was really hard to take.” Fortunately, he ended up getting treatment for
the irregularity at Great Ormond Street hospital that resurrected his hopes. He ended up joining
Barnet, and while things were going well on the field, he noted the lack of a support system like
the one we provide for our young people at FBB which led him to astray at school.
As a skilled footballer, he had expected to join the club on professional terms. However a change
of management, who he didn’t see eye to eye with saw those opportunities diminish. He
reflected on how a network like FBB, where young people are given support, encouragement and
advice would have given him the tools to manage those disagreements better. Still only 21, Alfie
has been galvanised by his work at Rising Ballers and has currently been on trail at Dulwich
Hamlet FC, a non-league club in South London. And despite these setbacks he remains
committed to carving out a career as a professional.
His story is perhaps more than just one of personal struggles and triumphs. It encapsulates in
many ways the driving force and motivation for the work both Rising Ballers and FBB do—the
importance of giving young people a system of support to realise their potential. For Jamie
Pollitt, co-founder and director of Rising Ballers, it was this knowledge of the wealth of
footballing talent that went unrecognised that drove his passion to set up the platform.
He told our young people: “We all know someone who is amazing at football, people that should
be professional footballers. However the biggest problem is that because there is such an
abundance of talent in the country, too often these talented players go unrecognized. This is the
premise upon which we decided to launch Rising Ballers: to get these young players recognised
for their footballing ability. And we are on the way to doing it. There have been players who have
signed on professional terms with top clubs after we have promoted them on social media.”
Having founded the platform from the ground up with brothers Eni and Brendon Shabani,
working long hours to make his dream a reality, Jamie had valuable advice to share with our
young people. “I didn’t know a single player at the outset of the project, I just had an idea of
building a platform for footballers” he explained. “I spent every single day working on this
project, teaching myself how to create videos, edit them and all the other skills necessary so that
the project could become something footballers would connect with.”
As well as the members of the Rising Ballers team, our young people also heard from Akin
Solanke-Caulker, a football agent. Football offers a plethora of career paths outside of playing
professionally, and we at FBB value greatly the opportunity of providing our young people with
experiences that demonstrate this. As a successful football and sports agent, Akin explained the
inner working of his trade and how he manages to differentiate himself from others in the field.
The session was another hugely successful learning experience for our young people. An
experience encapsulated best by Jamie Pollitt when he told them: “The main message I want you
guys to take away irrespective of any of the projects you work on is that no matter what
environment you come from, no matter how much money or what skills you have, you can learn
things yourself if you apply the right mindset. You can build from the ground up.”
We would like to extend a warm thank you to Rising Ballers and Akin Solanke-Caulker for sharing their
experiences and advice with our young people. There will be articles featured in our upcoming Summer School
magazine which will be launched at our Annual Showcase event Football For All on 11th October 2018.