On 30th July 2012 the Club announced that the Fulham Academy had been awarded Category One status under the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
The EPPP is a Barclays Premier League initiative, backed by the Football League and Football Association, with the aim of revitalising youth football by developing areas such as coaching, education, welfare and medical care and providing greater opportunities for young players to progress.
Fulham Academy Director Huw Jennings explained to fulhamfc.com what Category One status means for the future of the Club:
Huw, congratulations to everyone that was involved in the Academy achieving Category One status following a very stringent audit carried out by Double Pass (the league’s auditors for classification) to achieve Category 1 Status.
It was, and first and foremost I would like to thank all the staff at the Academy who have worked tirelessly to make sure we achieved top status. The inspection took place over three days and it was a very thorough and exhaustive process. To complete the pre-inspection alone was a huge undertaking and took at least 80 days preparation. We were assessed in several areas including management, quality of coaching, education and welfare, recruitment, facilities and productivity – pleasingly they were very complimentary as we met what was needed. That was a massive boost and shows we're heading in the right direction because out of the 23 clubs that applied for Category One status we were one of the first to be audited.
So what does our Category One status mean for the Academy and Club?
Basically it will categorise all professional football clubs for their youth programmes. That categorisation ranks from one to four, with one being the highest. So to be ranked in the top bracket is obviously great news for everyone associated with the Club, because the benefits in many ways are endless. One of the main benefits is that a Category One club gets the opportunity to play in a national games programme at Under-21, Under-18 and Under-16 level – providing a more competitive environment. Crucially, we'll also retain the maximum funding level for our academy programme and over the next couple of years the funding to support that will increase as well. Then, on a playing front, we also have the added benefit that over time we'll be able to sign players from further afield and spread our net more widely.
One of the key focuses of this restructure is the long-term development of our young players as well isn’t it?
Well, the idea is to develop more, and better, players for our First Team. Of course, over the past couple of seasons we have started to see some of our younger players make the step up, but we want to create a regular stream of future talent. The Category One status will allow us to give our boys an even more extensive programme by providing increased contact time for our players and coaches. With the success of our Coombe School programme in recent years, we're already in a good place in that sense, but I think we all know how important it is to give players more time with a ball and there will now be up to 12 hours of on-pitch coaching time per week for these players. The award will also demonstrate to our players and their parents that we have the best standards possible at Fulham and with the Category One licence granted for the next three years it is a chance to push on and do even better.
As part of the classification, the new Under-21 league was also introduced to provide a competitive element within the new categories.
With the introduction of the EPPP, the creation of an Under-21 Barclays Premier League is just one of a number of changes that have been put into place. In essence it’s designed to bring together the country’s best young players in a competitive format – and for me, that was an important step. I think many clubs felt that the old reserve team system just wasn’t working. The Under-21 matches will mirror those of our Under-18s and Under-16s, which bring cohesion to the process. It’s a national programme and provisionally we will be in a group of seven which includes Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Each team will be able to field three overage players as well, and an overage goalkeeper. It’s about providing a competitive environment and one that will hopefully provide a stepping stone to our First Team.