Graduates of the only FA Elite Coaches Course: Where are they now?

The 16 graduates in June 2013 (Picture courtesy of Jed Davies)

The 16 graduates in June 2013 (Picture courtesy of Jed Davies)

WHEN Neil Critchley was appointed as Blackpool’s new manager on Monday, the club proudly described him as “one of only 16 coaches in the country to have gained the highest possible qualification in the game”.

This left many, including myself, slightly perplexed. The former Liverpool Under-23 does hold the Uefa Pro Licence, but so do dozens of other English coaches as well.

An enquiry to TGG's knowledgeable following on Twitter helped me find the answer. It turns out that Critchley is one of only 16 coaches to hold the Football Association’s Elite Coaches Award. And there are unlikely to be any more, because the course was disbanded after its first cohort had graduated in June 2013.

The course was the brainchild of the late Dick Bate, the FA’s Elite Coaching Manager, who had earmarked a group of what he considered to be the best English coaches under the age of 40.


One of the graduates of the course was Louis Lancaster, who was Brentford's Youth Team Manager at the start of the course and is now assistant coach of the Utah Royals.

He told TGG: “I met Dick when I was doing the A Licence in 2009 and he was absolutely fantastic. A couple of years later, I got an email asking if I wanted to be part of an elite coaches group he was putting together.

“The Pro Licence is about preparing you as a manager, but Dick was a coach’s coach and didn’t think your coach education should stop when you became a manager. So he set up this course and led it, along with FA learning consultant Alistair Smith, who was also excellent.

“This wasn’t something Dick had just dreamt up - he’d been thinking about it and planning it for a long time.

"We started off at Wokefield Park and then moved to St George’s Park when it opened towards the end of 2012.

“It was residential and we did the sessions during pre-season, weekends, international breaks and so on. The course was fantastic, because it educated us, it challenged us and it encouraged creative thinking.

“We did one-on-one coaching, unit-specific sessions, how to brand yourself and interview techniques. I remember we also had to analyse a team over 10 games and I chose Bayern Munich in what turned out to be their treble-winning season (2012/13).

"The guest speakers were also a real highlight. Sean Dyche was sacked as Watford manager at 4.30pm one afternoon and still came in to talk to us at 7.30pm. What a man. (MK Dons owner) Pete Winkelman told us what he looks for in a manager, and Brian Ashton told us about his experiences as England rugby coach and about his player-centred approach to coaching.

“In one week we had to prepare a team as if we were about to face Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final and then actually put on the training sessions for it.

“Afterwards, we came in and Rene Meulensteen was standing there. He’d been United’s first team coach for that game and told us exactly what they had done in the run-up to that game. It was incredible.

"The best thing of all was the people on the course though. They were talented and ambitious and we got to know each other really well over a period of 18 months.

“I still keep in touch with a fair few and try and keep tabs on what they're all doing in their careers.

"On the last day of the course, we did our final assignment and had a dinner. (Director of Football Development) Sir Trevor Brooking gave a speech, told us the significance of what we’d achieved and presented us with our framed certificates (pictured at the top of the page).

“Dick was simply the best coach educator on the planet and I continued to stay in touch with him after the course, often calling him up for advice. It’s fitting that a pitch was named after him at St George’s Park.”

The 16 graduates

Andy Awford: Played more than 300 games for Portsmouth and went on to become their Academy Manager and then assistant caretaker manager, which is the role he had when the course started. Got the job on a permanent basis in May 2014, but was sacked in April 2015. Currently Academy and development manager at Luton Town.

Liam Bramley: One of three Newcastle staff on the cohort. Has been with the club since August 2009 and currently Under-23s assistant manager.

James Collins: Came through Crewe's Academy and made 29 appearances for the first team. Returned to the club as Academy Manager in 2005 and was Head of Coaching from 2017. Now U23s boss at Wolves.

Neil Critchley: Another Crewe man, who was born in the town, came through their youth ranks and made one senior appearance for the side. Returned to the club in 2007 as Academy Director and joined Liverpool in 2013, as U18s coach, before being promoted to the 23s in 2017. Appointed Blackpool Head Coach this week.

Ben Dawson: Was an FA coach educator at the time of the course and joined his hometown club, Newcastle United, as Under-21 coach in 2014. Now the club' Head of Academy Coaching

Andy Edwards: Played more than 500 senior games. Was an Arsenal Academy coach and later the Leyton Orient manager for two months. Joined the FA in January 2017 and was England U20's out-of-possession coach when they won the World Cup in 2017.

Lois Fidler: Was the England U17 Women's coach at the time of the course, a role she held for a decade. Went on to become girls technical director at Southampton and is now Women’s Talent ID Manager at the FA.

Simon Hayward: Academy Manager at Exeter City from July 2001 to November 2017. Now the Director of Football at Charterhouse School, a role he has held since August 2018

Gareth Holmes: Currently the U18s coach at Nottingham Forest. Has previously been the first team coach at Mansfield Town, the Burton Albion centre of excellence manager and Professional Development Phase coach at Birmingham.

Michael Jolley: A Cambridge University graduate who has worked as a trader in London and New York. Was Burnley U23s manager and boss of AFC Eskiltuna in Sweden before taking the helm at League Two Grimsby Town in March 2018. Was sacked in November 2019 after 18 months in the job.

Louis Lancaster: A globetrotter, who is currently assistant manager of the Utah Royals in the American National Women’s Soccer League. Has coached at Arsenal, Portsmouth, Brentford and Watford in England, and was Head Coach of the Chinese Taipei national team in 2019. Worked alongside fellow alumni Gary White at Shanghai Shenxin in 2016.

Kevin Nicholson: Was U16s coach at hometown club Derby at the time of the course. Went on to become U23s coach at Cardiff City and manager of Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League. Currently works as a consultant with the auditing company Double Pass.

Joe Sargison: Assistant manager of Ostersunds in Sweden. Set up the charity 'Balls to Poverty', which involved taking youngsters from Nottingham to coach in townships in South Africa and hand out footballs. Was given the ITV News’ Pride of Britain award for the East Midlands in 2009 for his work. Has also been an Academy coach at Sheffield United and an FA coach educator.

Alex Weaver: Never played pro football and began coaching at the age of 17. Worked with Manchester United Soccer Schools in the US, before moving to Singapore in 2013. In 2013/14, he won the league title with Warriors. Now works in Switzerland as Grasshoppers Zurich U18s coach.

Gary White: Managed the British Virgin islands, Bahamas and Guam during the period of the course. Took Shanghai Shenxin from the relegation zone to a 10th-placed finish in 2016/17, with Lancaster as his assistant. Has a Chinese wife and currently manager of Nantong Zhiyun - and having to contend with a country battling the coronavirus.

Neil Winskill: With Newcastle since September 2012 and currently their U18 boss.

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