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From the Turf to South Africa!

31 August 2017

The Premier Skills programme is an innovative partnership between the Premier League and the British Council, that uses football as a tool to engage with and develop the skills of young people.

Drawing upon The British Council’s domestic expertise, it uses the sport to tackle a variety of social issues such as health, disability, gender, inclusion and education in communities across the globe.

Premier Skills has already delivered tremendous impact in 21 countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas and Burnley FC in the Community were delighted to be a part of this life changing programme with Head of Sport, Matt Pounder, joining the initiative in South Africa at the end of March.

The trip was headed up by Graham Robinson, an experienced practitioner within education and an inspirational individual. Working closely with the South African Football Association (SAFA), SAFA Development Agency and a wealth of local community organisations, Matt, Graham and the Premier Skills team and representatives from other Premier League Clubs, including Claire Streeter from the MFC Foundation aimed to reach and engage with local people who demonstrated potential in the realms of Coach Development.

The team delivered Phase 1 of the Premier Skills programme, focusing on the development of coaches, coach educators and referees, to 60 participants, based out of the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the ‘South African playground’ of Durban.

Through participant-centric delivery, theoretical/practical activities and the implementation of STEPS and SMILES principles, the coaches on the programme were supported and challenged as individuals allowing them to flourish socially, physically and psychologically. Then, when coaches are deemed as having a baseline level of competency the programme empowers them to develop their own community football projects encouraging them to think holistically as coach educators with an objective of going back out into the community and upskilling other local coaches. This then creates a much wider impact meaning thousands of children will benefit.

The week of delivery culminates in a festival for local children from the townships, with coaches undertaking roles such as welfare staff, coordinators, equipment and kit personnel, health and safety marshals and referees. Running in parallel to the coaching programme, referees from the Premier League and Football League, Paul Taylor and Trevor Massey, tutored the referee programme with both groups coming together to put on the festival further highlighting the Premier League’s commitment to teaching disciplines across all areas of football to those in South Africa.

Matt Pounder, Head of Sport at Burnley FC in the Community said: “The trip to Durban was such a valuable experience, it changed me as a person as much as it changed the lives of the coaches we were supporting. It was humbling to see how grateful they were and to see how much it helped them. I came away feeling like no matter who you are or where you’re from the international language of football can reach deep into communities. It’s definitely some of the most important work that I have carried out.”

Premier Skills is an ongoing programme and several coaches will be selected to progress onto stage 2 which will be held later in the year, helping the long- term health of football in South Africa. An example of this potential progression was personified by four South African coaches who had previously completed the three stages of the Premier Skills programme and returned to work alongside Matt, Graham and Claire. This provides longevity and sustainability long after the Premier Skills coaches return home.

Alongside offering the fantastic opportunity for Burnley FC in the Community to strengthen their links with representatives from other Premier League Clubs, it also gave Matt and the team the chance to indulge in the South African culture and meet other charitable projects carrying out vital work across Durban. The team met Tom Hewitt MBE, founder of ‘Surfers not street children’, a charity that empowers ex street children through surfing as they move towards adulthood. The charity houses and rehabilitates children so they can continue their journey towards independence and become ambassadors and role models for others still on the street.

The meeting highlighted the way surfing can be used to inspire and change lives, alongside football and other sporting activities. It also gave the team an insight into the reality of life for some South Africans, as coaches on the programme came from a range of backgrounds including members of local community sports organisations and people who work in the prevention of HIV and AIDS.

The Moses Mabhida Stadium was an exciting location to be based from, built in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup of which Durban was one of the host cities, the stadium carries a sense of national pride meaning the Premier League could harness this passion and emotion and embody it into the Premier Skills programme.

However, it wasn’t all work and no play! Alongside absorbing the culture Matt and the team enjoyed the Big Rush, the Guinness World Record’s tallest swing! The adrenaline fuelled activity allows participants to take the thrilling leap and swing out into a massive 220m arc soaring into the centre of the stadium.

Of the experience, Matt finished: “I was thoroughly impressed by the level of ability of the coaches and the Premier Skills programme itself. It solidified in my mind the impact football and in particular the Premier League can have. Once more education has taken place meaning the future of football in South Africa is in safe hands and I was thrilled to be a part of it!”

To find out more information about the Premier Skills programme visit

To find out how Burnley FC in the Community are changing lives through sporting opportunities visit

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