Valley Gold caught up with Head of Academy Education Joe Francis to discuss his role, Valley Gold’s contribution to the education programme and what goes into the day to day running of the scheme.
Francis has been with the club since 2001 and his education programme has seen academy graduates such as Jonjo Shelvey, Joe Gomez, Ezri Konsa, Karlan Grant and Dillon Phillips benefit.
When asked to summarise his role, Francis said:
“I suppose day-to-day it’s just making sure we have a program put together. This means including science, coaching, sports medicine and further education for the players.”
Francis, who is a qualified teacher, was an apprentice at Charlton during his youth days before going on to have a semi-professional career in football up until the age of 33 and believes that his experience at the club benefits his role.
“I was in the academy from the age on 14. There had never been anybody doing my role at the club and I remember thinking once I left Charlton that I’d love to come back in some capacity to help with the education. I was a fully qualified teacher and I just wanted to be in football, giving players an education and future regardless of whether they became professional or not. It was about giving them the tools to deal with life, on or off the pitch.”
The Head of Academy Education knows just how important it is to have a good teacher in life as he reflects on his former PE teacher and now academy colleague, Steve Avory.
“Steve and I have worked together now for 20 years” he said. “Funnily enough, he was my PE teacher at school! When I went back to educate the scholars in the early 2000’s, I remember still calling him Mr Avory but that eventually wore off.”
“The great thing about Steve is that we share the same philosophy. His remit is to produce footballers but he understands the bigger picture. He’s the best colleague, mentor and boss you could ask for. Steve makes my job that much easier, he doesn’t just look at producing fantastic footballers but he takes a holistic view.”
2019 saw academy graduate George Lapslie graduate from Anglia Ruskin University. Francis recalls the steps put in place for this to happen.
“It’s great nowadays because you can combine becoming an established professional with continuing your education,” he explained. “I have a great relationship with Anglia Ruskin University and they have a bespoke degree for young footballers which can be carried out through distance learning. George was really interested in this so we got him on the course and he got his degree, something which he worked hard for. He only needed a little bit of guidance, he understood how to study at that level. George is always looking for that next thing and that’s what makes him a success.
“There’s two boys from the academy now, Billy French and Freddie Barton, who are also on that course.”
When asked about the importance of Valley Gold to the scheme, Francis was full of praise for the supporters. He said: “The contributions from all of our fantastic supporters, we can’t thank you enough. We would not be able to provide the experiences that we have been able to provide for our young players. And for those contributors to realise that the money is being spent in the correct way to provide those experiences for all of our young academy players, to educate them as young people. Even if they don’t make it with us, they’ll be a positive contributor to society and our community. And that’s what you want from any learning organisation, we really wouldn’t be able to do it without Valley Gold and I am so grateful.
“It’s wonderful what Valley Gold do for us at the academy.”
Valley Gold enables supporters to play a pivotal role in the future of Charlton Athletic by helping the club to unearth talented footballers through its youth system. Valley Gold is entirely supporter-funded, with membership costing £120 per year. As a member of Valley Gold, you will also have the opportunity to scoop up to £5,000 in regular cash prizes. To learn more about the scheme or to become a Valley Gold member, please click here.