In September 2023 Beechwood School will officially launch its new Elite Football Programme. Eileen Leahy meets the scheme’s Director of Football Greg Thurstans and its Head of Coaching Matthew Rose to discover more about this exciting and unique sporting offering for students at the independent co-education school
Ask any football mad boy or girl what they want to be when they grow up and chances are they’ll respond ‘a professional Premier League player’. But for most those dreams are usually, well just that…
However, Beechwood School on the Pembury Road in Tunbridge Wells has recently invested in the services of Greg Thurstans and Matthew Rose who run the Elite Football Programme which will give those gifted at the game the opportunity to develop their skills and access into the hallowed world of professional football.
In September 2023 Greg and Matthew will officially launch their players’ programme which will be open to pupils in Year 3-13. Those who successfully qualify will have the opportunity to train in the school’s new state of the art facilities, which are currently being built, and play at the highest level possible – with the chance of being picked by a Premier League club if they go on to be successful.
“We combine football and academic excellence,” Greg tells me as we sit down to chat in the late autumn sunshine in the glorious grounds that surround Beechwood which accommodates boys and girls aged 3 to 18.
“The aim of the Elite Football Programme is to be a unique development hub for aspiring football players”
“We both have unrivalled and vast experience,” says Greg. “I am a qualified PE teacher and was Director of Sport at the Royal Russell School in South London where I developed this programme. Matthew is a former Arsenal player and professional football coach and we met when he started training students at the Royal Russell a couple of years ago.”
The aim of the Elite Football Programme is to be a unique development hub for aspiring players says Matthew.
“We both have a passion for football but when we discovered we were both living Tunbridge Wells we thought about pitching the idea of running the Elite Programme here. We met with Alpha Schools who own Beechwood and also its Headmaster Justin Foster-Gandey and thankfully it was a resounding yes,” he continues.
“Our big USP is that we really concentrate on each individual’s development. Each player’s football programme will be tailored to their personal needs.”
Since they got the green light to go ahead significant investment has gone into getting the pitches ready and ensuring facilities such as a state-of-the-art conditioning suite are ready for the launch in September 2023.
“It’s all really exciting,” continues Greg. “This is our foundation year where we are ensuring we have the infrastructure and facilities all correct for training and fixtures. We’re currently recruiting the appropriate staff and will be holding our first open day for prospective students later this month.”
Both Greg and Matthew are very keen to stress however that the Elite Football Programme will in no way compromise pupils’ general education.
“We are very determined that it won’t impact children’s academic progress. We hope it will enhance it. Pupils will not lose out on lessons if they qualify for the programme.”
“The Elite Football Programme, will take on talented boys and girls each year and incurs no additional fees for parents”
Greg says students will have sessions at different times during the week so they will never miss out on the school curriculum.
“Lessons will be delivered on a six-week cycle so the programme doesn’t impact the same lesson which is why the days change each time. We’ll ensure we avoid children missing core subjects at certain key ages too. The unique thing we personally offer is understanding the integration of education alongside football,” states Greg.
“There are some fantastic schools out there and really good football programmes but no one is really combining the two. As a Director of Sport and a qualified PE teacher I understand the importance of ensuring that someone is very successful in the classroom but the challenge comes in monitoring that progress whilst they are playing high level football.
“We offer a bespoke, integrated timetable ensuring the right balance is met from a football and academic perspective. Our other key USP is our individual experience. We know how to do it from all angles. From education to practical experience we have it all covered,” smiles Greg.
Matthew adds that because of the relatively small size of the school the pair can offer smaller training squads which will enable them to focus on developing the individual. But they are determined not to be elitist within their new setting. In fact they are focused on ensuring that Elite becomes fully integrated into the school.
“We are staff members at Beechwood and we want anyone joining the programme to be engrained in general school life. We do not want pupils to come here only for the football programme. They need to be involved in all areas of school life. They have to be that well-rounded student otherwise it doesn’t work. You just end up with a divide.”
He also says that the Elite Football Programme, which will take on talented boys and girls each year and incurs no additional fees for parents, is about ‘quality and not quantity’.
“We won’t be doing tonnes of matches. We will be selective about who and when we play. We want to be looked upon as a development tool. We will play academy level matches to showcase the players’ talent or we’ll pick one or two prestigious independent schools’ cups. We’re about supporting the player and what’s best for them.”
And because of their contacts in the professional game, Greg and Matthew can also offer pupils unrivalled access to other areas in the football world.
“If you don’t make it as a professional footballer then there are so many other avenues to go down,” says Greg. “You can go into physio, photography, performance analysis or nutrition.
Matthew sums up the scheme by saying: “I always say sport and life are very similar. You need to be disciplined and take responsibility for own actions. The tools we will give pupils with our training programme will be what they need in life anyway and if they don’t make it as a footballer at least they will have the right tools to do other things.”
“What we are offering is really unique. There is nothing like this anywhere else. And the great thing about being based in Tunbridge Wells is that we can access London and the South so easily. This is a really exciting opportunity for those who want to have a pathway into and a career in football. What we’re offering is very unique, and at present no one can compete with us.”
Beechwood Elite Football Programme at a glance:
- Fixtures against key academies such as Charlton, Bournemouth and Reading
- Entry into ISFA and ESFA national competitions
- Entrance into Isthmian Youth League and FA Youth Cup, the most prestigious national competition
- Fixtures against the best Independent Schools in the country
- Top British University fixtures including the likes of Loughborough and Oxford
- A pathway for players selected for ISFA England national team
- Players already at professional clubs are supported by supplementing their existing training
- Proven track record of developing players for elite clubs both here in the UK and abroad and securing scholarships to the USA.
Football facilities at Beechwood School:
- A state-of-the-art Strength and Conditioning development suite
- Brand new stadium box goals
- Multi-use Astro
- Grass pitches – investment in drainage, seeding and top soiling to ensure best quality
- Indoor Futsal sports hall
For more information and a guided tour, please contact us:
Phone: 01892 532 747
Director of Football:
He has over 20 years’ experience in teaching within independent education and eight years as Director of Sport at the Royal Russell School in London. Notably one of the youngest coaches to achieve both outfield and goalkeeping UEFA ‘A’ Licences. He also holds FA youth modules 1,2 and 3. Greg was previously a coach at Crystal Palace Academy, England Independent Schools national U16/18 teams and scout for Brighton FC. As a player he was at Chelsea FC for a period at the age of 21 and went on to play for a number of semi-professional clubs. His educational qualifications include a BSc in Sport Science, a PGCE in secondary PE teaching and Qualified Teacher Status
Head of coaching and player development:
He has over 25 years’ experience in professional football notably a successful career in the Premier League with Arsenal and QPR playing over 300 games. Until recently, he helped keep Barnsley in the Football League Championship as their Assistant Head Coach. He also has experience as an Arsenal Academy coach which saw him place scholars at Arsenal, with other players going onto play for clubs in Europe. Matthew has vast experience in coaching across Europe including FC DAC, which saw him in charge of the implementation of a training regime specific to the needs of developing young players. He holds the UEFA ‘A’ Licence and has attended FA position specific courses.