The PFA’s Union Learning Fund (ULF) ‘Achievement Through Sport’ programme has been supporting members with GCSE retakes, as the story of Jack Sparkes demonstrates.
Exeter City FC first year professional Jack Sparkes spoke to the PFA’s Riz Rehman regarding his journey from an Apprentice to a professional footballer and some of the sacrifices he had to endure in order to achieve his boyhood dreams and GCSE English.
Jack, 18 years of age, is one of the many talented players who have come through the Exeter City Academy and into the first team. The player, from Exmouth, made the step up to the first team during the 2016/17 season despite only being 16 years old at the time.
He has got an eye for goal and a fantastic left-foot and can play anywhere on the left or right and in central midfield.
I made my debut for the club away at Swindon Town coming on as a second-half substitute and rattling the outside of the post with a long-range effort with my first touch. I then scored my first goal for City later that month in the Checkatrade Trophy against Yeovil Town and it was like a dream come true.
However, being only 16 and half-way through my GCSE exams I sort of struggled through that period and unfortunately failed my English GCSE. When I then joined Exeter City as a full-time Apprentice, I enrolled onto a Level 3 BTEC in Sport, Exercise & Science as all the Scholars had to continue with their education. On top of attending college twice a week, I also had to spend half a day after training once a week retaking my English GCSE.
The support I received from my PFA & Unionlearn Rep Jamie Vittles was excellent in helping to source a tutor who was willing to travel to the training ground and sit with me for 3 hours at a time. Whilst most of the lads would have Wednesdays off I was in training with the first team in the morning and then doing the bit extra on my English retake in the afternoon. The days could be long but we have senior professionals at Exeter who either have a degree or enrolled on an Open University course via the PFA so it was important that I excel off the pitch as well as on it.”
Jamie Vittles, Head of Exeter City Community Trust and long-standing ULR said:
We’ve created an environment at Exeter City that encourages education. There’s a difference between actively promoting that they should look to the future and a more organic approach. This has happened naturally, not by any decree from me. We’re an unusual club, like-minded people producing an environment of mutual encouragement which I’m very proud of.
In Jack’s case, his priority is his football but he’s surrounded by educated players at the first team level who know the importance of spending their time wisely. And actually, to be successful you need players to interpret information in the right way. The better they interpret the information given to them by the coach or the situation, the better they will play. So training your mind to be receptive can only help you advance and develop as a footballer and it was no coincidence that Jack was the only Apprentice in his age group to get a professional contract, he’s a bright lad.”
Riz Rehman said:
There are so many first team lads at Exeter City studying part-time as they know that football is a short career and they will need to start planning in advance of their retirement from professional football. The PFA/ULF project has invested into the education room at the training ground which is now being used by the Apprentices and first team players on a regular basis.
Having got to know Jack during his time as an Apprentice and now a first team player, it’s always good to see young players balancing their football and education. Jack is already talking to his ULR and the wider education team at the PFA to enrol onto an Open University course.”