Former Premier League football player Jamie Fullarton has taken a group of the district’s children under his wing, after launching a coaching academy in Hemsworth.
The midfielder, who played for clubs including Crystal Palace and Dundee United, brought his Costa Unida academy to the UK, from Spain, for the first time in September.
He set up the centre, for children aged six to ten, at Sandygate Lane, a stone’s throw away from where he has set up home with his family in Barnsley.
And he has now begun coaching 14 youngsters born in 2008 and 2009, from across the Wakefield district - for free.
Mr Fullarton said: “The reason I set up the academy here is no different to why I set up in Spain. It is to provide opportunity for young people.
“I am a big believer in developing your local area first and foremost.
“There’s a huge gap between grassroots football and professional academies.
“Young players who do well at grassroots and then move into professional clubs sometimes aren’t used to the expectations and demand of them.
“We are trying to provide the trampoline steps to bridge that gap.
“As a coach, I want to help kids to understand that environment and prepare them for going into it if they are fortunate enough, so they have a better chance.”
The academy has been sponsored by Barnsley-based company Active Response, meaning there is no cost to parents for their children to join, nor is there a cost for kit.
Michelle Bailey, managing director, said: “Having met Jamie and hearing his passion and what he wanted to try and bring to the local community and to local children, that clearly has been very successful in Spain, it just blew me away.
“To be a part of such an opportunity for children is just what our ethos is about.
“To be involve in making somebody’s dream come true, that’s priceless.”
Samantha Mawson, secretary at Costa Unida, said membership of a professional academy normally costs around £30 to £35 per month, with up to £100 for kit.
“The investment from Active Response is enabling some parents that would really struggle to provide that funding to let their children be coached by a UEFA Pro,” she said.
“No way would they get that opportunity elsewhere without paying themselves and parents can’t always afford to do that. It removes the cost barrier.”
Mr Fullarton said the academy aims to coach children to be able to “thrive” in a professional club academy if they are selected to do so and support those who want to, to apply for sport and studying scholarships in the USA.
He also aims to help youngsters explore different avenues in football including recruitment, analysis and sports science, and develop life skills for future jobs.
“The satisfaction comes in seeing the children grow and develop,” Mr Fullarton said.
“It’s not just them going to play professional football or achieving a scholarship, it’s when they become more mature, more understanding and see what life is about.
“It’s when they drop you a message to say thank you. That’s what really drives you forward, making a difference.”
Boys and girls who are interested in joining the academy can visit www.costaunida.co.uk for more details of how to apply.
Coaching takes place between 5.30pm and 8pm on Wednesday evenings at Sandygate Lane in Hemsworth.
Jamie has coached the first teams of both Crystal Palace and Notts County and was U23’s coach at Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest FC.
He enjoyed a footballing career with Crystal Palace in the Premier League, Dundee United and St Mirren in the Scottish Premiership and Bastia in the French top division.
He set up Costa Unida in Marbella 11 years ago to provide players of grass roots clubs the best opportunity to progress to professional football.
He has more than 250 aspiring players in Spain under the Costa Unida banner.