From playing two matches in six hours, hosting Liverpool FC and playing at St. George's Park, football at Loughborough is a truly unique experience.
In Learning Curve, Chris Evans explores the idiosyncrasies of university football and finds out why studying for a degree might just be a smarter decision than most young players realise. Evans meets student footballers past and present to reveal the untold stories of British football's best-kept secret.
With the foreword written by Arsenal legend and Loughborough Sporting Club Hall of Fame member Bob Wilson, this book isn’t to be missed if you're a football fan.
Author Chris Evans, who also writes for FourFourTwo and the Independent, commented:
"Before I started working on Learning Curve, I'd only ever been to Loughborough University once – in fact, I'd only visited the town once previously. But something grabbed me about the idea of a team of student footballers taking on squads of hardened semi-professionals in non-league. The further I delved into the club's unusual approach and the untapped world of university football, I discovered dozens more fascinating layers that make Loughborough University FC so special."
The book is available now on Amazon, with Loughborough students and alumni able to purchase a copy for just £8.99 for a limited time only.
In the meantime, here’s an extract from the book to whet your appetite:
It doesn’t feel like non-league.
Driving along the narrow driveway leading to the cluster of buildings and football pitches that make up the FA’s St. George’s Park, a feeling of anticipation washes over me. Whether it’s the setting itself or simply what it represents, there’s a distinctly regal atmosphere.
There are the tall gates, embossed with the Three Lions crest, that announce visitors’ arrival at England’s National Football Centre, the winding road that leads you past seemingly endless green fields at a pedestrian pace and, strangely, a herd of cows crowded a few yards away. It’s a combination of a country manor and a clandestine facility, set back from society to keep its secrets locked away from prying eyes. Perhaps the latter is exactly what St George’s is – at least in the FA’s mind.
Trundling behind an ambulance snaking its way towards the collection of pitches, I try to drink it all in. Once I’ve seen the detail behind these high-security gates, no one can take it back.
I’ve never been to St. George’s before and I didn’t expect to make my maiden visit to watch a pre-season friendly involving two sides I have no affinity with. Yet somehow I find myself anxiously glancing at the clock on my car’s dashboard to make sure I don’t miss a minute of Loughborough University’s clash with the Nike Academy.
As I watch the back of the ambulance lurch over another speed bump, I peer towards the horizon for a hint of where the main St George’s complex will appear. I don’t want to be late.
Today is the first match of a new season for Loughborough. It’s a campaign I’m following to get under the skin of one of the country’s most unusual football clubs. Not that many people recognise them as that.
The Scholars have been competing in non-league on and off since 1939, when a student team from Loughborough Colleges entered a wartime edition of the Leicestershire Senior League and lifted the title ahead of 10 other clubs. It made them trailblazers, as one of the first student teams in Britain to enter a senior FA league.
While Loughborough University – or Loughborough Colleges as they were known before the mid 60s – haven’t entered a team into each of the 76 seasons since their first great adventure, the university proudly led the way for others to follow.
Regular competitors in the Midland Premier Division since returning to the semi-pro ranks in 2007, Loughborough University are fast becoming a non-league staple. Albeit a bit of a novelty to the teams they come up against. While most teams playing in the ninth tier of English football are made up a ragtag bunch of grizzled part-timers who juggle their day jobs with a life on the pitch, the Scholars squad have more spare time on their hands. They’re all students and are part of what is as close to a professional football set-up as is possible at this level.
That starting XI’s elixir of youth and extra time on the training pitch aren’t the only things that make Loughborough stand out. After all, it’s not every day that a non-league side is welcomed to St. George’s Park to play a fixture of any sort, let alone a pre-season friendly.