For most football players, their path into football begins at the prestigious academies of football league clubs. However this is not the case for all.
Across England, an increasing number of independent football academies are being established to offer hopefuls a second chance, as well as preparing them for life in a career other than football.
Brooke House College is one of these, and after being established in 2008, it has helped players from all over the UK and the world to progress into a career in football.
Curtis Hartley found himself in a similar position to so many budding footballers after being released from Peterborough United’s academy after he was not offered a professional contract.
Now playing at Corby Town, he believes it was worth grabbing the opportunity offered by these academies, however they are not for everyone.
Hartley said: “It was great to get that second chance, but it was a difficult couple of years to get here.
“You have to commit everything to it; you live like a footballer, training early in the morning, eating a strict diet and all while you’re studying in case you can’t find a club by the end of it.”
The college not only serves as a football academy, but also as a sixth form which encourages players to study for university so they are guaranteed a solid start if they are still unable to find a club.
Hartley said: “Doing my A-levels was a lot of extra work, but I know a lot of guys I used to play with who went straight from the college into university after failing to find a team.
“I remember after Peterborough, a lot of my teammates didn’t know what to do after football, so being given the opportunity to have an escape route was a relief.”
Although, Brooke House has since steadily begun to see the benefits of its football academy just six years after being established.
Recent graduates have gone on to sign for Nottingham Forest, CSKA Sofia, Adelaide United as well as a host of non-league teams in England.
The greatest benefit of the academy according to Curtis was living and training with players from across the globe.
Hartley said: “It was kind of weird at first, we had a lot of players from Europe, Asia and Africa coming to play, but playing with them improved me as a player.
“Their different way of playing was useful, but their attitude inspired me. They were just so devoted because they knew this was their chance to make a football career in England.”
Brooke House accepts students from all over the world, but it also offers scholarships to a select few players from international projects such as from the Pepsi Football academy in Africa which has produced players such as Mikel John Obi.
For players such as these, it’s a unique and often a once in a lifetime opportunity to play football in England.
Hartley said: “They train the hardest and are always so devoted. Just being around them pushed me to give my all, because at the end of it, I realised I probably wouldn’t have that kind of chance again.”
The pay-off for all of that work was a contract at Corby Town, and the chance to begin climbing up the English football ladder from there.
Hartley said: “This is only the beginning really. I know I need to keep up the hard work that I started at Brooke House in order to advance further, but it’s a relief knowing that I’ve now got the opportunity.”