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Making the final pass

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An ex-Manchester United player, who has nurtured the talents of countless youngsters over the past 25 years, is retiring from his football academy and handing it over to a former trainee. PETER BARRON reports

THE grass roots seeds were sown when Paul Bielby took his daughter to her regular dancing class back in 1997 and waited outside with the other parents.

A group of lads were kicking a ball against the wall while they waited for their sisters and one of the dads shouted: “Hey, Paul, you need to start a football group.”

“That was how it started,” recalls Paul. “I thought it was worth giving it a go and the first week 220 boys turned up – I couldn’t believe how much interest there was.”

The Paul Bielby Football Academy, based in his hometown of Darlington, is now in its 25th year, and with Paul reaching 65 later this year, it seems a good time to blow the final whistle.

“It’s been a privilege to be involved with so many children, their families and some fantastic coaches for all these years, but the time’s right to give it fresh energy,” says Paul as he watches his final training session at The Education Village before handing over to his successor, Tom Craddock.

Tom was still at primary school when he first attended one of the academy’s holiday courses, and he went on to become a professional footballer himself after signing for Middlesbrough.

The Paul Bielby Football Academy has officially become The Tom Craddock Football Academy, continuing Paul’s legacy of providing inclusive football coaching sessions that are open to all children.


© The Northern Echo

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