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Q&A with Troy Townsend

Ashley Calver was lucky enough to speak with Troy Townsend recently and asked him about his career within grassroots football and the Kick It Out campaign.  An influential figure and coach in the grassroots game Troy is currently heavily involved in Kick It Out being the head of their Education and Grassroots programmes.

Follow Ash on Twitter - @ashleycalver1

You started your own footballing story as a youth product at Millwall and Crystal Palace, how did you first get involved with those clubs and were you close to turning pro?

My footballing journey started as way back as I can remember, I loved the sport from the minute I could physically kick a football. It consumed my every minute, I was a bright lad at school but never allowed myself to flourish academically because of the game.  Every playtime, lunch time, home time I was the first out into the playground as I was keen to play in matches, develop and win.  I remember winning my first medal in my last game for my primary school, as we won the league on the last day of the season. It definitely wet my appetite for more success.  I joined a local Sunday league team Anaconda, begging my mother to let me miss Sunday School and my career as such took off. I eventually moved on to a team called Beaumont FC, the biggest team in that area. I was playing with the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Martin Hayes, Jimmy Carter, Michael Gilkes, Robert Codner and my role model at the time Vince Hilarie played for the club previously as well.

My debut for Millwall couldn’t have gone better scoring against Aston Villa, in a specially arranged friendly, as a 14 year old my dreams were coming true. One big obstacle to my development was I didn’t have any parental support toward my fledgling career. Often relying on my Sunday league coach to take me to training and if he couldn’t get time off work I couldn’t go. I spent 6 months at Crystal Palace under John Cartwright, who was the best coach I have ever worked under. Palace wanted to see me play, so unannounced sent two scouts to watch me. Instinct meant I knew they were there, I was awful, they left around 65 minutes, I scored twice but my dream was effectively over.

Going into coaching and management at grassroots with various clubs and projects, most notably with Slough Town and Boreham Wood reaching the FA Cup 1st Rd, is that one of your greatest achievements in coaching?

I’d like to think I have achieved so much in the game but being a part of those two squads was very special. Two days before we played Harrogate Railway, the FA Cup came to Slough. It was unbelievable seeing such an iconic trophy in the flesh, getting the opportunity to hold such an esteem trophy that I’d only seen my heroes lift was just incredible. At Boreham Wood we beat Kettering 1-0 in the 4th Qualifying Round, and watched the 1st Round draw in the changing room, begging for a trip to Blackpool. Guess what….that changing room was an amazing place once Blackpool’s ball was pulled out of the hat.

We always hear stories and debate of the magic of the cup fading but just what does it mean to players/coaches at grassroots level?

It will never fade for us, starting the competition in August is what the FA Cup is all about and as they go through the rounds, not just the club and its fanbase but the whole town become engrossed in Cup fever. It will always be magical.

You founded S&T Academy which later joined Redbridge under 17s, how proud are you of that academy and what did it mean to the youngsters in that area of East London at the time?

S&T, was a concept myself and my business partner at the time Steve Browne, who funnily enough was also the manager of Slough Town and Boreham Wood during my time at both clubs. Steve gave me an opportunity at these clubs during a very difficult period in my life.  We worked in primary schools within Waltham Forest and came across and produced some very talented players, both boys and girls. The idea was to give them addition expert coaching to aid their development and social growth.  We understood the environment and the challenges socially within the area, also the lack of opportunities for the young players, who could be deemed challenging. We were also conscious that many were moving from primary to secondary school, which is challenging enough and I don’t believe the secondary school football system is as good as it used to be.  At very late notice and at the request of the players, we formed a girls and boys team and put them both into leagues playing a year above. Particular reason for this was for their development and playing the game the right way, over results.

The 1st year was a massive learning curve not just for the players but also their parents, the few that would support but we were adamant we were doing the right thing and that the quality of our football would shine through and in doing that opportunities would arise for the players.  We became noted for our football, our approach to matches and eventually our winning style and that combination attracted the right kind of interest from professional clubs that wouldn’t have noticed these players before.

The move to Redbridge was based on continuing the players development and helping them to play at the best standard of football afforded to them. In my one and only season, we achieved the double and gained more recognition for our style of play. Unfortunately, the season was soured somewhat, after the players were racially abused. This contributed massively in my decision to retire at the end of last season.

We always hear of academies and projects within football but do you believe there are enough facilities and funding to satisfy the demand of youngsters and help them develop as people and players?

This is a real sore point for me, because if we are talking about real grassroots football they could always do with more facilities and funding. Talking about my area alone, the cost of hiring the small number of pitches for training or matches is far too high for the area. The standard and up keep of pitches is non-existent.  At our old home ground before the move to Redbridge, we had to rake the pitch of surface water and sand it, just to make it playable after a night of rain fall and this was on a  regular basis. One season we played one game between November and the beginning of March, that cannot be right.  We trained twice a week but could only afford to pay for one, so trained in a local park for the other session, dodging the dog mess during drills.

Two of your achievements recently were being named as one of the 150 Grassroots Hero’s as well as being included in the ‘Football Blacklist’. How important are these awards and achievements for the football community as well as you personally?

Being a black man in an industry where we are still fighting for equality, these achievements were a massive statement. The Grassroots Hero award, was not just for me but for every person that gives up their time to benefit others, we don’t do it for plaudits or recommendations, it’s all for the love of the game but when we are recognized its important to share.  Personally, both awards filled me with great pride. The boy from Walthamstow, who’s playing dreams were shattered, who left school without qualifications, who in his early years deemed himself as a failure, was entering Buckingham Palace to be honoured for his services to football. Not only that but was also seen as one of the most influential black people within his field, no one can ever take that away from me.

You are heavily involved with the KickItOut campaign, recently as an equality and diversity tutor for the football league and premier league, what did this involve and how great is the need to educate with football?

My full-time role at KickItOut is Education and Development Manager, this role affords me the opportunity to support those who have ambitions of working within football. As an equality and diversity tutor, I have the privilege of educating tomorrow’s generation of players.  With the current state of play in the game, its important for players to understand their role off the pitch as well on it.

The delivery is based around their understanding of discrimination within the game and society, whether they have experienced any form, how they challenge and report. Sessions generally last around 120 minutes with players contributing their thoughts on the above matters. Many feel that players cannot be engaged in a classroom environment for that length of time, well I’m here to tell them they are wrong.

As head of KickItOut’s Education and Grassroots programmes, could you tell us what some of the programmes involve and just how big a difference KickItOut and others campaigns like Show Racism The Red Card make both in and out off football?

A typical example of how we can affect/support local communities and aid with communications and relationships with their local professional football club and County FA, was an event we held in Bradford, with a community group called Shapla. Despite being a stones throw away from Valley Parade, the local Asian community had no engagement with the football club, County FA and were left to their own devises.  With the adults being volunteers and not suitably qualified, KickItOut hosted an open day at the community centre and enlisted the support of the football club, County FA and media to really push awareness of young Asian children, who wanted to play sport many of whom had never played football. On the day we delivered an educational workshop, Bradford City provided a stadium tour and West Riding County FA delivered football sessions.  Over 100 children attended and Shapla, now have qualified coaches and run specific sessions to match their communities needs and Bradford have a new legion of supporters.

And finally what is the future for you? are you finished with football management/coaching? I read you did a little presenting work with your own show on YouTube, is that a path you would prefer to follow?

Ah, the future. Well, I suppose you should never say never but I retired from management and coaching at the end of last season, believing the time was right. At present I don’t see any reason to regret that. I am lucky enough to work in the game and my drive and passion remains as bright as ever.

Yes, I was lucky enough to host my own show for about six months and I absolutely loved it. The programme called ‘From Grassroots to Premier League’ was exactly what it said on the tin. I sourced all the guests, predominately friends from within the game and we just talked football, the concept was very simple but affective. Gary Lineker may need to watch out.

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