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Alliance Section – Q&A with Lee Johnson (Head of Youth Development)

What is the overall aim of Thurrock FC’s Alliance Section?

The Alliance Section offers a professionally run football coaching programme for talented u13 to u18 players which provides a platform for potential progression into either a professional club academy or senior non-league level football in the future. The Alliance squads play in the Eastern Junior Alliance League and, from time to time, we arrange ‘development’ fixtures against pro-clubs to allow the players to test themselves as the highest level.

How are young players benefiting from the Alliance Section’s coaching programme?

There is certainly a growing interest in what we are doing here and I believe we have one of the best Alliance set ups around. We regularly have pro-club scouts attending our Alliance Section games and have received some great feedback on the way we operate.

The Club has invested in pitches and changing room facilities, adjacent to the Club’s main stadium at Ship Lane so we are closely associated with the Club’s senior reserves and first team set up.

Thurrock FC is one of very few non-league clubs with a head of youth development. My role is to identify, recruit and develop the right profile of Alliance team managers, coaches and players to ensure we can successfully deliver the Alliance coaching and player development programme. 

In the last six years we have had over twelve players go to professional clubs, five players play for England Schools, two players play for England Colleges and lots of players representing both Essex and London FA County sides. We have also seen a large number of Alliance players’ progress through to the Club’s senior reserves and first team.

Our teams are always competitive in their respective leagues and we have enjoyed plenty of team success over the last five seasons:

2010/2011: U-15s and U-16s Essex Division champions, U-16s Chairman's Cup winners

2011/2012: U-17s and U-18s League Cup finalists, U-16s and U-18s County Cup finalists

2012/2013: U-14s, U-15s, U-16s and U-18s all County Cup winners (no other Club has ever achieved this in the same season!) and U-14s Essex Division champions

2013/2014: U-18s County Cup winners (first team in 94 years to retain the Pelly Cup!),       U-16s Essex Division winners and winners of the five counties trophy

2014/2015: U-14s Treble winners (County Cup, League Challenge Cup and Essex Division champions)

What has been your proudest moment at Thurrock FC over the last 6 years?

Tough one as there have been a number of proud moments with individual players I have coached progressing to play for pro-clubs or the Club’s senior teams. I have had the pleasure of working with some great groups of players, managers and coaches during my time here, enjoying league and cup success the way. One I will certainly not forget is the fantastic treble winning experience last season with the U14s Alliance squad.

However, with my Club hat on it has to be the unprecedented County Cup winning season where four Alliance age groups (u14, u15, u16 and u18) all won the Essex County Cup in the same season. As you can imagine, plenty of celebratory drinking went on at the end of that season!

How can the success of the Club’s Alliance Section be developed more broadly across the Club’s Cubs and Youth Sections in the future?

Our previous Thurrock Youth Club Secretary, Mick Keeble, did an amazing job developing Thurrock Youth over many years, something which many people will always appreciate and remember.

Simon Dent, the new Club Secretary and I have now taken over full control of Thurrock Youth so we are busily making plans to continue Mick’s great work and to develop the youth system further. For example, we plan to:

  •  Develop closer links with a pro-club to promote grassroots football in the community and to help improve coaching and player development;
  • Revamp the Cubs section by introducing coaches with FA Youth Module qualifications and reintroduce a Girls Section;
  • Establish Alliance ‘development squads’ at u11 and u12 age groups in order to better prepare managers and their teams earlier for Eastern Junior Alliance football at u13s;
  • Introduce an annual indoor Futsal tournament in conjunction with a pro-club;
  • Work more closely with the Thurrock FC Academy which provides secondary school leavers with the opportunity to study for and obtain the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma In Sport;
  • Work with the Club’s Chairman, Tommy South, to introduce a third pitch adjacent to the Club’s main stadium so that we can bring the Cubs Section and more Youth football closer to the Thurrock FC set up.

Going forward we intend to carefully recruit/select Thurrock Youth managers, coaches and players who we feel understand and genuinely buy in to the Club’s objectives and ethos. An ethos which is centred on developing young players in a fun and positive learning environment and achieves the objective of providing an opportunity to play football for players of all ages and levels of ability. 

What advice would you give young players who have the desire and ambition to improve their football skills and knowledge of the game, but are not quite ready for pro-club academies?

I guess it is not surprising that the individuals who have joined us and then gone on to play at professional or non-league clubs have all shown the right attitude in training and on match days. They listen, ask questions and work hard practicing what they are being taught. These players also tend to do additional training in their own time (fitness, technique etc.).

If a player has the desire and potential, they need to ensure they belong to a Club with a structured and proven youth development programme. When searching for the right club, ask how long their youth development programme has been in place and how it is organised. Does it have a dedicated youth development officer? Ask for real examples of how other players have benefited from the programme and maybe speak to the Club’s youth development coaches and players to gain a wider perspective.

We certainly feel we are doing things the right way here at Thurrock and will continue to evolve and develop as a Club

Thurrock FC has been running an Alliance Section since 2007 designed to identify, educate and develop talented young players who have the potential to go on to play senior football for the Club’s first team or maybe professionally.

Alliance Section team managers are supported by experienced UEFA B and FA Youth Award qualified coaches, and it is our aim to give each Alliance Section player a personal development plan which is monitored over the course of the season.

The Club has invested in Alliance Section pitches and changing room facilities, adjacent to the Club’s main stadium at Ship Lane. Thanks to the support and work of Tommy South (Club Chairman), Simon Dent (Head of the Alliance Section) and Lee Johnson (Head of Youth Development) the club has achieved great result over the last few years.  A pathway to 1st team football remains open and to date the Alliance section has supplied around 40 players for the 1st team set-up.

If you are interested in being part of our Alliance Section as a player or coach, then please email your football background / experience and contact details to: or call him on 07918 730612.​


Thurrock Youth Football Club