Links between Weston College and Weston AFC, "vital", says Panes
- Credit: Will Cartlidge
Weston’s new Head of Academy and Recruitment Simon Panes suggests it is “vital” there are links between education, with Weston College, and the football club.
Panes spent 20 years with South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, previously known as Filton, as their Director of Sport.
And during his time with the college he helped set up and manage academies for Bristol Rovers and Forest Green Rovers.
After spending time out with his family, he signing a six-month contact with Newport County as their Operations Manager, where he oversaw an FA Cup run to the fifth round, which he called “unbelievable” and a experience he will never forget.
Panes then became Chief Executive Officer of the Herefordshire Football Association, but resigned after three months, before being appointed by the Seagulls.
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“I am really looking forward to it, with the experience I have got it is what I know and what I think I do best,” said Panes, who started the role on April 6.
“It’s something I’ve actually missed for a while, having contact with young players and coaches.
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“I have got to a stage in my life where I can look back on what I have really enjoyed doing.
“I’ve delved into one or two things since leaving SGS and when this came up, and after speaking with Oli (Bliss), I just felt this was the right move for me.
“When I saw the job advertised the first thing that impressed me was a club at Weston’s level was investing heavily in their academy programme, which not many Non-League clubs do.
“I was attracted by that. I know Scott Bartlett very well. Scott used to work for me in his past roles at Forest Green Rovers and I know that he believes in youth, which I certainly do.
“The facilities at the club are very good and there is an education pathway with Weston College, which is vital with any programme. There need to be education involved, that’s certainly my opinion."
But what will Panes bring over to Weston from his experiences at SGS College?
He added: “What I can use from that is that it works. Sport and education together works. The beauty of what we were able to do at SGS was we were able to put the sport first and build the education around it where many other programmes is the opposite.
“Nothing was hindered, everybody could get on with their sport and education and a timetable was created to enable them to do that.
“It’s vitally important for any programme and the chances of any of these boys and girls coming professional players is small. We want to give them every opportunity we can.
“But it’s as important, if not more important, the academic pathway is the correct one for them.”
Panes strongly believes in there being a back-up plan, as there are very few players who actually make a career in the game.
According to Michael Calvin, in his book No Hunger in Paradise, all the boys who enter an academy at the age of nine, less than half of one per cent make it or a make a living from the game.
And only 180 of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football in England, a success rate of 0.012 per cent, will play in the Premier League.
The statistics paint a harrowing picture but for Panes, who played for Bristol City, Sydney City, Manly, Yeovil Town and Forest Green Rovers in the 1980s and 1990s, says players are only deemed successful after signing a second professional contact.
And he fully believes education is the way forward by ensuring youngsters have a future and keeping them in the system, even if that means keeping them until the age of 22 or 23.
“One of the things I’m very open about, and frustrates me, with the scholarship scheme for the Premier League and EFL clubs have to go down if all their scholars are doing the same academic qualification as everyone else,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s healthy because you may have an individual who wants to do three A-levels, that wants to do construction or a sports-related course and the beauty, I believe is the same as Weston, is we can offer that range of study which will no doubt enhance their career.
“You have only got to look out at the drop out of academy players in the professional game. It’s very high.
“A career is very short, even I know that, you've got to have something else to fall back on.
“If you are an individual that’s not motivated by the academic study pathway that you have taken, it’s going to affect you as a football player.
“If you're not enjoying studying or the lessons you are going to, it’s going to affect your morale and I’ve seen that. The ones that flourish are on the right academic pathway, football will take care of themselves.
“That for me was a big attraction, the club have recognised that. The thing is with Non-League we don’t have to meet the criteria set by the Premier League and the EFL.
“We can run a bespoke programme that suits and is very attractive and that’s what I was able to have at SGS College.
“We were able to create our own scheme of work that suited the individual and I’ve seen a lot of boys, and now girls, that have become disillusioned by choosing a sports-related course, because that is what they thought would be the easiest pathway.
“In a sports industry there’s very few jobs. Are we setting them up to fail? Some people would say that.”
*See part two of Panes’ interview next week, where talks about Weston, his aims for the club and where he hopes he can help them move forward.