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Junior Premier League preparing to launch in East Anglia

There is a new youth football league coming to the area – one in which statistically a player from each team goes on to be picked up by a professional club’s academy.

The Nerf Junior Premier League (JPL) launched in 2011 with just 32 teams spread across the Midlands and the south west.

However, such has been the level of growth during the last decade, when the government gives the green light for the 2020/21 season to get under way, almost 1,110 teams from across the entire country will be under its umbrella.

Mildenhall's Recreation Way
Mildenhall's Recreation Way

The likes of Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion enter youth teams, with an estimated 50 per cent of matches attended by scouts from professional sides.

Teams from age groups under-8 to U18 will play others from their respective regions in a traditional league format before the winners enter into National Play-Off against other champions. There is also a cup competition that opens up nationally.

Each league also put together representative teams that in recent years have featured against the like of Chelsea and Manchester City, as well spending some time at the Real Madrid academy.

The east is one of the last areas the league has tapped in to, but with a number of clubs signed up – including Mildenhall Town – it is ready to get going.

And Martin Brock – league founder and chairman – is hopeful it will help to bridge the gap between grassroots and the professional game.

“I founded the league because I felt there was an issue with grassroots players getting into the professional game,” he said.

“Our aim is to get the best players coming up against each other, and all of them receiving the best coaching.

“We want high standards in all our leagues. We are picky about where teams are playing because you cannot play good football on a cow field, and all coaches must be a minimum of (FA) Level 2 qualified. Right now, I think half are UEFA B or above.

“There are trophies to win, but our league is more about the development of players and keeping them interested in the game.

“In a lot of youth leagues, between 40 and 60 per cent of players drop out the game between the ages of under-12 and under-16. In our league, it is currently just three per cent.

“It is constantly evolving. We ask the players what they do and don’t like, and if we can implement those requests we will.

“At the moment one in 11 of the players from our leagues are signing for a pro academy. Herbie Kane (Liverpool, on loan at Hull City) played in the league and so have a few in League One and League Two.

“We are excited about launching in the east. It has taken a bit of time because we wanted to make sure of our product and that what we offered was a good alternative because there are already some strong leagues.”

Matches, which are played on Saturdays, are split into four periods rather than two halves – similar to football in professional academies.

Brock added: “We have gone down that route because it means coaches can have more input and it doesn’t just make the game about who has the superior fitness.

“And we don’t want players to leave their current clubs. They can still play those games on a Sunday, and in our league on Saturdays.”

Teams signed up from the east: Lowestoft, Needham Market, Bury Town, Fitch (Braintree), Stanway Rovers, King’s Lynn Town, Mildenhall Town, St Neots Town, Peterborough United, Future (Norwich), Personal Best (Norfolk) and Peterborough Sports