PORT ADELAIDE’S relationship with English Premier League powerhouse club Arsenal has continued with two academy players spending time at Alberton as part of a gap year program.

Sam Roberts, 19 and originally from Manchester, and Kafele Morgan, 20 of London, are taking part in the Arsenal Community Gap Year Programme.

The programme gives young men and women a year of development in coaching, teaching and leadership skills.

They first undertake five months of training at the Arsenal Hub in Islington, where they get coaching badges and undertake classroom-based activities in primary and secondary schools.

Participants can then be offered placements overseas for up to four months to help with Arsenal’s community projects around the world.

Roberts and Morgan came to Australia to spend time with Football Federation South Australia but also contacted Port Adelaide Football Club General Manager of Power Community Limited Ross Wait with a view to visiting Alberton, and he was happy to oblige.

“I’ve been engaging with Arsenal in the Community over the last few years and spent a day with Arsenal in London last year and we’ve struck a relationship on mutual understanding and community benefit,” Wait said.

“Coming from the soccer background, learning about Aussie Rules is quite unique for them, so learning about our programs and how we engage with the community is quite similar to what they do in the UK.”

Arsenal and Port Adelaide begun a collaborative partnership focussing on sports science and professional development opportunities after the Power’s Head of High Performance Darren Burgess was handpicked by Gunners coach Arsene Wenger to work at Highbury last June.

While the sport is different, Wait expected the visiting Arsenal Academy players would realise that sport was a powerful engagement tool for young people.

“We’re using football to engage the community and to get different social outcomes and improve the community benefit, all by using sport as the vehicle to engage,” He said.

“Sport, with athletes as the brand and the vehicle, can help educate young people about the right things to do with their lives, and that’s regardless of where you are in the world or what code of sport you use.”

Wait said he thought Port Adelaide could consider a similar gap year program for its students in its Aboriginal AFL Academies.

“I see a lot of opportunity with the gap year so we could give students, like those in our Aboriginal AFL Academies, the chance to learn about football but then also do experience in the community as a gap year,” he said.

“And if we could build up AFL around the world we could even potentially send some of these students to China to promote and develop the game there.”

Roberts, who is playing soccer in the local league for Adelaide Comets while he is in town, said he had the option to travel to more exotic places but chose Australia.

“The other options were India, the Philippines, South Africa, Bolivia, Uganda and Ghana and you put your three top placement options down and my top option was Australia and I was lucky enough to get it, although I am going to Uganda in a couple of weeks so I am sorting my jabs out at the moment,” He said.

“The weather is really nice here, it’s a different culture like it’s a lot more relaxed in Australia, especially here in Adelaide, it is very quiet and I actually prefer the culture here.”

Roberts and Morgan spent the morning with Port Adelaide’s Aboriginal AFL Academy students learning about Australian Rules football, with Morgan being given a demonstration of some of the skills.

They then visited a southern suburbs school to see Port Adelaide’s community programs being carried out.

Roberts said he had seen “a couple of AFL games” but after being shown a number of videos by the boys in the Aboriginal AFL Academy he was developing more of an understanding of the game.

“It’s very rough,” he said.

“But one thing I have learnt is that the people are a lot more humble and they don’t get paid anywhere near what English top players do, which I agree with and think is really good.

“I like that the fans sit together because it is a more community game whereas in England the rivalry is a lot more fierce and the supporters need to be separated.

“Just getting an insight into how football in England differs to Australian football is great but it is nice to see the facilities and how you go about your business and the community programs, which aren’t unlike what we do at Arsenal.”

It is the first time any of the Arsenal “Gappers” had spent time with an AFL club and Arsenal Gap Year Coordinator Alec Norton said the benefits could be huge.

“Some of the most successful people in sport often highlight the benefits that you can gain from watching and learning from other sports - how they train, the different muscle use, the nutrition side of it, and the psychological aspects,” Norton said from London.

“Eddie Jones, the England Rugby coach, who is an Aussie, spent some time with our national soccer side to discuss the winning mentality he installs in his players and the skillsets that are transferable across the sports - so it is something that is done at the top level.”

Norton said the programme was a valuable way for young people to grow and develop their life skills immeasurably, while doing something worthwhile.

“Throughout the duration of the programme, Gappers develop their football coaching, teaching and leadership skills as well as other key skills such as confidence, public talking, teamwork, organisation, communication, resilience and problem solving.”

“Former Gappers have gone onto be teachers, gone into further education, and coached for professional soccer Clubs both in the Premier League and across the world, while others have gone into areas such as sport marketing and the NGO sector.”

“I think it is great for our Gappers to get this experience, I am sure it will make them better soccer coaches as a result.”

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