Sunderland College student Harry Gardiner has signed a scholarship contract with boyhood club Sunderland AFC.
Harry joined South Shields FC’s academy in 2020 through its partnership with the college and, despite difficult circumstances due to COVID-19, he has excelled both on and off the pitch.
As well as studying Sport, History and Criminology, the 17-year-old has impressed during his time at Shields, his talent and attitude catching the eye of several professional clubs including the Black Cats who offered him an eight-week trial before signing him up on a long-term basis.
“I can’t wait to start my journey with Sunderland AFC as they were my boyhood club and to now get the opportunity to play for them is a special moment for me,” Harry said. “I’ve absolutely loved my time at South Shields FC; the coaches at both academy and first-team level were great with me. I can’t thank everyone at the club enough for making my time there so valuable and enjoyable.“
The academy was established in May 2017 when Sunderland College teamed up with the Northern Premier League side to create a football development programme which combines high-quality coaching and competitive matches with a choice of education pathways ranging from A-Levels to vocational courses.
Harry added: “I would like to thank Sunderland College for giving me the opportunity to explore my educational options within dual career. I have really enjoyed my time at the college, so much so, I am looking to complete what I have started next year.
“The lessons have been engaging and staff so friendly and approachable. Although it has been a very tough period for us all, the college has been so helpful, supportive and understanding, especially around my trial with Sunderland to ensure I can fully focus on my scholarship.“
Harry is the latest in a long line of players who have progressed into professional and semi-professional football or gained international scholarships through the partnership, following in the footsteps of Huddersfield Town’s Will McCamley as well as South Shields players Arron Thompson, Callum Guy and Sam Hodgson.
In 2021, fitness student Dan McGuire, was offered a prestigious scholarship at Florida’s Flagler College where is studying a degree while playing for Flagler Saints in the NCAA.
Carl Jones, Football Development Centre Co-ordinator, said: “Harry is an excellent student-athlete, his ability both in and outside of the classroom are apparent, and he has excelled. “To see his efforts rewarded by being offered a scholarship at Sunderland AFC is testament to his hard work, commitment and diligence in his approach. During a difficult period as football grappled with the many challenges presented by COVID-19, Harry has shown resilience, engaging with online remote learning with us at Sunderland College, and still giving his all towards his harbouring technical professional football ambitions.
“Finding the balance between his academic subjects and aforementioned football ambitions is not always easy, but something Harry has worked through, and managed, in the most difficult of times. We are all extremely proud of his efforts.“
In addition to academic support, academy students receive professional coaching including specialist technical coaching sessions, and strength and conditioning sessions delivered by Martin Nugent (one of the top sports and conditioning coaches in the North East), alongside tactical performance analysis and regular elite athlete screening.
South Shields FC Academy compete in competitions such as the National League Under-19 Alliance, ECFA Category One and national cup competitions including the prestigious FA Youth Cup. The programme is enhanced by fixtures against Premier League and EFL academy sides, in order to fully test and develop players and prepare them for first-team football.
Wess Brown, South Shields FC Academy Manager, added: “Harry has excelled since joining us in 2020 and, although we were only a short part of Harry’s football journey, it has been a pleasure to be the final stepping stone in reaching a professional club.
“He is a quiet young man on and off the pitch who has a bright future, and we wish him all the luck in the world on his new venture.“
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