By Stuart James LEEDS UNITED Ladies are offering the female stars of tomorrow a unique chance to kick-start their career through the launch of a women's football academy. The move signals the club's intent to build on the progress it has achieved this season.
Having finished fourth in the National Women's Premier League the next target is to break the stranglehold of the country's London-based leading sides – Arsenal, Charlton and Fulham.
United's international striker Lucy Ward, will be the academy's personal and academic tutor and is confident that the chance to develop home-grown talent in a professional environment can bring long-term rewards.
"The good thing about Leeds United is that we have actually managed to break the top four so we are the best team outside London at the moment," she said. "This academy can only lead to better things in the coming years."
The girls enrolling at the academy, which is due to open in September, will have the opportunity to hone their football skills under the guidance of experienced Leeds United coaches as well as further ing their education through a range of academic courses.
"The thing about the academy here is that it brings all the girls together at 16; it enables them to carry on their education while they play football," said Lucy.
"If we can get young talent all in one place, being coached every day it's just like being a young professional male footballer."
The women's academy will be based at Boston Spa Sports College, which has been home to their male counterparts for the last six years.
First-team players James Milner and Simon Johnson have both benefited from the educational facilities at the college, which is located only a short distance from the club's Thorp Arch training ground.
"I'm studying sport and leisure at Boston Spa and I'm finding it enjoyable and challenging," said Milner. "The teachers are helpful and the facilities are fantastic."
But Ward is also keen to highlight the difference between the academy regime and the limited opportunities open to young female footballers hitherto.
"They will be training every day which is unheard of for girls football," she said. "I wish that chance was around when I was 16 or 17. To be able to play everyday and to be coached properly everyday is a tremendous opportunity."
The England forward is also hoping that her own success on the field as Leeds United's leading striker will inspire the scholars to push for a place in the senior side.
"It's nice for them to think 'that is where I want to be'," she said.
"If I get two or three girls through in to the first-team then that's my job done really as a teacher."
l Initial trials will be held on Saturday, May 22, at Boston Spa Sports College. Any talented footballers interested in the academy should contact Michelle Rushton at Boston Spa School on (01937) 842915.