Two budding soccer stars at Plantsbrook School are hoping to kick on and net careers in the Beautiful Game.
Katie Ward, 17, and Cameron Penlington, 16, have been on the books at Aston Villa and Walsall FC since before they were teenagers and are both aiming to become professionals.
Katie, who is in Year 12 at the Upper Holland Road School, joined the Villa Academy at 12, and is about to go on her second international camp with the Wales team.
“I qualify to play for Wales because I’m half Welsh – my mum, Louise, is from Wales and my dad Steve is English,” she said. “It’s very exciting at the moment, because we’re preparing for the qualifiers for the Euros in October, in Andorra.”
Katie trains with Villa five or six times each week and has seen a huge rise in interest in the women’s game over the last couple of years.
She said: “It’s a brilliant time to be involved in football because there is more TV coverage and lots of investment, which has made everything more professional.
“Football is a really big part of my life, and I really think that being involved in a team for all these years has made me more outgoing and confident.”
Year 11 student Cameron has been part of Walsall FC’s academy since he was seven, having first been spotted by scouts from West Bromwich Albion.
He trains three or four times a week with the Saddlers and is hoping to get a scholarship from the club, which could lead to a professional contract.
“A football scholarship is a bit like an apprenticeship, but my ambition is to go on from there and become a professional footballer afterwards,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this for nine years now and I love it – I’ve played against big clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton.
“I have always had brilliant support from my mum and dad, Gary and Marcia, who drive me all over the place to away games.”
And both Katie and Cameron say Plantsbrook have helped them develop their footballing prospects.
Cameron said: “The school is really supportive and makes sure we can get away when we need to, and by helping us keep up to date with our work at the same time.”
Headteacher Jason Farr said: “Katie is one of those students who works really, really hard at everything she does so it’s no surprise that she’s become so successful in football.
“Cameron he is 100% football and really wants to make it, but he knows that he needs to do well at school as well, and he’s always worked really hard to earn the privilege to be able to take time out of school.
“We’re happy to release them to play football if we know that they’re fulfilling their obligations and working hard in the classroom too, and both Katie and Cameron set a real example with that,”
– headteacher jason farr