22 years after joining Preston North End as a player, Graeme Atkinson is back at North End, but in a slightly different capacity.
Graeme was appointed as the education manager for the Sir Tom Finney Foundation last month after several years at Myerscough College.
The former Hull City man has been employed to expand the Foundation’s ever growing BTEC education programme amongst other things, and Graeme has been impressed with what he’s seen in his first few weeks in the job.
“The facilities we’ve got here at Preston North End are fantastic. We’ve got great resources here and down at Play Football, so the students coming onto the programme have got the opportunity to gain some valuable experiences,” he said.
“The programme, ran in conjunction with the Football League Trust has grown massively since its introduction a few years ago, and I believe Preston has done a really good job by jumping on board with the Football League Trust and offering the programme.
“They’re not all going to be footballers but the education is far more important to providing opportunities, and with the opportunities that comes working at a football club as well as the resources the Club has at its disposal in all of the departments for me is real world activity and a fantastic place to learn.
“No disrespect to the colleges out there, but the programme can offer more real life experiences and the chance to offer real opportunities for learners on and off the pitch, and I hope I can put across some of my own ideas that we can develop as well as helping to progress the individuals.”
Graeme experienced first-hand the benefits of gaining an education at North End but in a coaching capacity. As his career was grounded to a halt because of injuries he was forced to think about his next career path and was given the chance to work with the academy just after the turn of the Millennium; something which he fully enjoyed.
He added: “Working at the Academy in 2001 was a blessing to get some hands on experience whilst playing. When you’re a footballer, you concentrate on your football first and foremost, and you don’t want anything to cloud your way into the team so you work hard at your technical and physical stuff.
“It’s only when you get the injury that you start thinking this could be long-term and in my case it was, but I don’t think players really look beyond the next game although they should do. I felt confident in coaching, and I was confident in my delivery and I'm comfortable in groups, and coaching was something that I was passionate about.
“I gained my experience in a real-working environment and those that sign-up for the programme can also do just that. The course, and the practical aspect of it is between an apprenticeship and a college course so it’s something right in the middle.
“You get the theory but you’re also getting lots of practical experience. Like myself coming out of the game you need something to fall back on and even those who are naturally gifted footballers, they’re going to have to have some practical experience behind them full stop.”
On being reunited with PNE, he continued: “It’s fantastic to wear the Preston badge again. From my perspective, I’ve had great life experiences and wouldn’t swap it for the world. I’d just like now to help the programme grow and to help Preston North End’s reputation grow and work in a great environment with great people and help change people’s lives so to speak.”
On Graeme's appointment, Head of Community at the Sir Tom Finney Foundation Andy Haythornthwaite added: "“Bringing Graeme in as our education manager is an excellent addition to our community team.
"He brings a wealth of both footballing and education experience having worked in education for 10 years. His appointment will help guide our learners and develop them in areas that they show real interest in.
"I was delighted to be able to offer this role to one of our former players. I remember watching him play from the terraces back in the day and I'm confident he will bring the same hard-working attitude he had on the pitch into his new role.”
Preston North End are currently interviewing for next year’s intake; we offer both a BTEC level two and a BTEC level three extended diploma in Sport and Exercise, so if you’re aged between 16 to 18, have a keen interest in sport and looking to further your education, this could be the perfect opportunity for you.
For more details about the course and how to enrol, contact the community department on 01772 693309, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.