Sunday, November 13, 2005

Charlton Athletic backs A-League's Knights in NZ

A-League club NZ Knights have welcomed Les Reed and Steve Gritt to New Zealand from English Premiership League club Charlton Athletic on a week long visit to further assist the Knights with the implementation of an Academy program. The Knights are a remarkable venture. Based in New Zealand in the Oceania Football Confederation, they are a franchise of the national professional league of new Asian Confederation member, Australia.

This hybid arrangement sometimes disadvantages the club; it was not, for instance, invited to participate in either the Australian or New Zealand qualifying rounds of the Oceania club championship. However, the Knight's special program with Charlton appears to have a dual role in building for a healthy future in the A-League while assisting the long-term future of soccer in New Zealand.

Both Reed and Gritt are employed by Charlton’s community program and youth development and it is through this expertise and guidance that the Knights, supported by New Zealand Soccer, wish to develop strong relationships with the grass roots of the game.

"As the only professional club in New Zealand we have a responsibility to help foster interest in the game but also to help identify good young talent as early as possible. The Charlton Young Knights Academies are about participation and the delivery of a quality football experience for children of all abilities but will also help identify the children that will then go on to elite programs. Our business plan clearly identifies contributing towards the overall enjoyment and participation levels of children throughout New Zealand, the Charlton Young Knights will help us do that," Knights chairman, Anthony Lee, said.

The CYK academies are targeted towards children aged 5 to 14 years and are very much at the grass roots of the game, the base of the pyramid so to speak. The intention is to provide top quality coaching programs during school holidays, after school and on weekends. The academies will also provide access to Knights players and exposure through mainstream media such as the Young Knights program on Sky Television New Zealand.

(Pictured from left: Knights chairman Anthony Lee, Charlton's CEO Peter Varney and deputy chairman Bob Whitehand).

The four-year deal between Charlton and the Knights was signed in June this year and, according to Charlton CEO, Peter Varney, “It's an exciting partnership on a number of levels. It will include the exchange of players at senior and academy level and we'll also share ideas and our experience with regard to community-based activities."

He added: "I have been asked several times abut the identity of the first New Zealand player we will sign, but the Knights are being asked which will be the first Charlton player they will sign. We think it's a great market for us. More than 60 percent of the people there have access to UK passports and it a great opportunity for us to make our mark.

"It's very difficult for young players, say 18 to 19-year-olds, to break though in the Premiership now so there is an opportunity for them to go to New Zealand and play first-team football, and there is also an opportunity perhaps for players towards the end of their careers. In reserve-team football there comes a point when young players plateau, because it is played in a false atmosphere with small crowds … if we can get those players out there playing in a competitive league where points really matter in front of big crowds, that can only be good for them.

"Sky have a five per cent stake in New Zealand Knights ... and that helps in terms of coverage going forward as well. Apart from any benefits from club to club we want to spread the name of Charlton further and further across the world," he said.

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