Southampton, Crawley and Chelsea chase Sussex football talent

editorial image

Young football stars continue to earn chances to make the breakthrough to professional football thanks to Chichester coach David Eldridge and his team.

The Elite Training Centre’s coaches have seen more than 40 young players being snapped up by pro clubs.

And ETC’s conveyor belt of talent has been given a boost with a sponsorship deal with Bognor hair salon Lotus Styling.

ETC have gone from strength to strength this year and have seen two boys earning early scholarships at new Premier League side Southampton.

Under-15 duo Josh Sims and Harry Isted (pictured above), the latter a pupil of Chichester High School for Boys, are the only two boys to be offered a scholarship at their age group and this takes them one step away from earning a professional contract.

Eldridge said: “To date, there’s been a gap between professional clubs and grass-roots football. Talented players either leaving professional clubs or trying to make the step up found themselves in a void where opportunities to develop and progress were limited.

“We offer players such as these the opportunity to continue their football development through professional coaching and competitive matches.

Gifted players are often overlooked and cast aside without being given the chance to demonstrate their ability and achieve their full potential. With key contacts in professional clubs, we are able to ensure every player at the ETC will be recommended, when ready and on merit, for a trial placement.”

ETC have plenty of success stories. Tommy Block, an under-12 player who attends CHSB, was taken on by Brighton & Hove Albion two years ago and has recently been offered a four-year extension to his contract.

Tom Atkinson suffered heartbreak early last season when Aldershot abandoned plans to continue their under-15 centre of excellence team.

He returned to ETC, where his performances have seen him earn a contract at Crawley Town.

Eldridge added: “Tom has also dedicated several hours to strength and conditioning training at Chichester University and I am sure the work of Paul Wallis, Marcus Smith and Simon Northcott have aided his rise to play higher-level football.

“The Regis school pupil typifies the attitude expected of all ETC players and one that is required to make the next step up on the football ladder.”

Two older former ETC players have also enjoyed successful seasons.

John Swift has represented Chelsea under-18s all season and came off the subs’ bench to play for the reserves towards the end of the season.

Last month Swift was part of the FA Youth cup-winning team who beat Blackburn 4-1 on aggregate in the final. He has also travelled Europe this season playing for England under-17s adding to his tally of international caps.

Will Aimison, who attended the ETC in the early years, has made great strides. After several outstanding performances this season he attracted interest from Hull City and after many weeks on trial, he has been offered a professional contract.

Lotus Styling owner Daren Terry says backing the next generation of emerging stars is very worthwhile. “We’re proud to sponsor ETC and to see talented lads get a chance at realising their dreams is absolutely brilliant,” he said.

ETC offer additional sessions that do not interfere with players representing their grassroots club. Sessions are at Chichester University on Thursdays from 5.30pm to 7pm.

If you’re interested, email