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Widnes Headmaster Becomes England Schools FA Manager

Andy Williams

At the start of the 2010-2011 season Andy Williams took over the reins as the Manager of the English Schools Football Association (ESFA) Under 18 Schoolboy International team. Read on for Andy’s answers to questions posed by ESFA National Competitions Manager, Mike Spinks.

Mike Spinks (MS): Andy, you and I have something in common, as Primary School Headteachers. My Headships were a few years ago, but I’d like to know about your school.

Andy Williams (AW): I am privileged to be the Headteacher of Moorfield Primary School in Widnes. The school isn’t particularly large, but we are blessed with wonderful people who are totally committed to the school and brilliant pupils. The school has a strong traditional sporting background, which I enjoy immensely, and consequently we have a number of very talented young athletes.

MS: Tell me something about the football you played yourself as a schoolboy in the Primary and Secondary Schools you went to.

AW: I played primary school football early on, representing my school team, Spinney Avenue C of E Primary School in Widnes, from Year 4 onwards. My playing career peaked around age 11 when I represented the Widnes Primary Schools Town Team. Although enjoyable, it wasn’t really a successful season, so not much to talk about there! At Secondary School I represented Wade Deacon High School and loved every minute of it. Later at Widnes Sixth Form College I was Captain when we won the Cheshire Schools’ Cup.

MS: How are you now involved locally with schools football in your area?

AW: When I first graduated I took three school teams each year before coaching the Liverpool Schools Primary Under 11 Team and later Merseyside County U16s; I have fond memories of those days. Combining my Headteacher duties with coaching the National Team, my time now doesn’t really lend itself to coaching district or county teams. Maybe that is something I will return to when my days as the International Team Manager are over!

MS: Your school & family must be very proud of your elevation to ESFA U18 Team Manager.

AW: I hope so. It’s not something I shout about too much; I find it all rather embarrassing to be honest. I’d rather just quietly go about the business of developing and challenging young footballers.

MS: What should a prospective young player do to be chosen for an ESFA trial?

AW: You must be passionate about performing at your best level all of the time for your school and for your county, be it in practice, during matches, or even off the pitch. You have to get noticed by doing all the right things.

MS: Could you tell me something of the preparation that goes into selecting a squad of international players.

AW: This is England, so the process is rigorous and thorough. You might want to get have a cup of tea handy before I start – we could be here some time!

We scout across the whole country and see as many players as possible before making our decisions. We rely on our County Managers and Secretaries to make player nominations. We have a large team of coaches and selectors who then travel across four regions during the Autumn Term viewing the trials. From those trials we select four regional teams who then play games against each other. Progression from the regional games will see approximately 34 players selected who will then receive two coaching weekends at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre during December, and play more trial games. The survivors who get through all of that have made it. At this stage you are in the final 18, ready to represent your country and have the honour of receiving an international cap.

MS: So you’ve now got your squad. What kind of a season can they look forward to?

AW: By the time the squad is selected we have arrived at the end of January! The journey starts with a coaching weekend when the players are awarded their England shirts and play their first friendly fixture. Half term sees a five day warm weather training camp – for the last few years this has included a game or possibly two in Southern Spain. When we arrive back we enter the Centenary Shield fixtures programme with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We then tend to go off on tour to the USA where the boys are involved in a lot of charity work as well as playing a further two fixtures. There may be an odd friendly international thrown in for good measure and possibly a game at Wembley to look forward to! All in all it’s a fantastic experience for us all; we spend a lot of time together and become like a second family gathering many lifelong memories along the way.

MS: What happens when an International Match takes place?

AW: For home games we travel across England by train. For away matches in Scotland and Ireland we fly. All travel is arranged for the players. They usually set off from their homes in the morning the day before a game. After arrival at the hotel we are staying in we take lunch together. This will be followed by an intense afternoon coaching session when the starting XI is usually announced and we run through some patterns of play and set pieces. After evening dinner we will have a short seminar and discuss the game plan we hope to deploy.

The morning of the game is low key. Usually there would be a lie in and late breakfast followed by a brief swim or occasionally a visit to the stadium to orientate ourselves. Then it’s back to the hotel for lunch and a lie down during the afternoon. Three hours prior to the match kick off we will have a pre-match meal, usually cereal and toast, before travelling to the game.


MS: How much help do you get in running the ESFA U18 International Team?

AW: Let me just say I’ve got the easiest job! I just turn up and coach the team! There is a massive support system to get to where we get to, support I could not do without. Obviously there are the County Associations that do all the ground work in identifying and nominating trialists. This is co-ordinated by John Read, the ESFA Chief Executive, with the support of Sue Gifford and a great team at the ESFA office in Stafford. There is a very experienced Selection Committee who help to organise the regional trials and regional games and they are co-ordinated by ESFA Council Member Dave Woollaston. There is a large coaching team; we have our regional coaches who coach at the trials and trial games, and then there is my team – my Assistant Manager Andy Buckignham, my goalkeeping coach Shaun Hemmings, the physiotherapist Dave Burns and the doctor, Arthur Tabor.

MS: Where are the internationals in 2011 likely to be played?

AW: The fixture list is yet to be finalised, but what we do know at the moment is that we will tour the United States in February for two fixtures, one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego hopefully against Mexico. We also have two home internationals against Wales (possibly at Yeovil Town) and Northern Ireland and two away internationals against Scotland in Inverness and the Republic of Ireland. Beyond that I don’t know at this time.

MS: The players you deal with in your U18 International Squad will all be taking exams at the end of the next school year. How important are these?

AW: Playing football at this level is an unexpected bonus. Most or all of the players will be studying to gain a University place or a football scholarship in the United States, so their exams are extremely important. We always encourage the boys to apply themselves as well as they can with their academic studies. When we are away on international duty, particularly on tour, we always try and set enough time aside for them to put some hours in.

MS: When you look back on your first season as International Team Manager what will determine whether it’s been successful or not?

AW: Simple – success will be a spirit in the camp where the players aspire to greatness and play for the team. They are all talented players, so if we achieve that, then the likelihood is the players will play well and we will win games. Or that’s the plan anyway! So ultimately, success will be the strength of the TEAM. I will always select team players ahead of individuals as experience tells me that is a better foundation for success.

MS: During your time with the ESFA have there been any players who have made it into the world of professional soccer?

AW: Yes of course, quite a number. It’s really encouraging to see because you can imagine many of the boys in our system still harbour designs of making a career in football. I’m not going to name names because I don’t think that’s fair.

MS: Do you support any particular football team yourself, besides England, of course?

AW: I think I’ve already answered that question! I support any team my son Alex plays for, but I do have a soft spot for Barcelona, as I’m sure do many others!

MS: Many thanks for sparing the time to answer my questions Andy and may I wish you the best of luck for the season ahead with the ESFA Under 18 team. I’ll leave you in peace to return to your most important work – with the children, staff and governors of Moorfield Primary School.

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