12 October 2023
Farming and football don’t usually go hand in hand but the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) is bringing the two together in a union which is benefitting both groups!
The Cirencester-based University has teamed up with two local football teams to give them a much needed “home ground” and a regular, year-round, place to train. In return, the University has been able to invest in improvements to the pitches and sports facilities at its main campus on the outskirts of the town.
This season, the University has welcomed players from Swindon Town Academy’s Under 18s and Under 16s teams who have started training, and playing their home matches, on RAU pitches. The campus is already home to the local Stratton Youth football club who started to use the University’s facilities for some of their training and matches last season.
Swindon Town Academy manager Alex Pike said: “Until now, Swindon Town Academy didn’t really have a base so it’s fantastic for us to finally have a home! We have used various different grounds over the past couple of years but, until now, we haven’t had anywhere permanent.
“To be able to have everything we need, for training and matches, here, instead of carrying it all round with us, has made a real difference to the coaches and training staff, as well as to the players. As well as the great pitches and facilities, the RAU has a real family feel to it and it’s very special for us all to be part of that.”
The Swindon Town Academy players train twice a week – on Tuesdays and Thursdays – using the University’s existing 9-a-side, 7-a-side, and 5-a-side pitches, and matches take place most Saturdays.
And when the Academy has finished for the day, players from nine different Stratton Youth Football Club teams use the pitches, which flank the University’s tree-lined main driveway, for their evening training sessions and Sunday morning matches.
Stratton Youth Football Club Chairman Jon Cummins said: “Stratton Youth is the largest youth grassroots football club in the Cotswolds with more than 19 league teams. The opportunity for our club to use the outstanding facilities at RAU has enabled many more local youngsters to improve their technical skills as well as make new friends.
“It has supported more than 60 children to have access to regulated matches and high-quality training who we would have been unable to support due to a lack of pitch space.
“The added benefit of being alongside Swindon Town’s Academy programme provides the perfect chance to tap into their expertise and enable any high performing players to go into an elite pathway.”
Use of the pitches by both Stratton Youth and Swindon Town Academy is scheduled to fit around the sports activities and matches of the RAU students who returned to campus last month for the start of the new term.
RAU Chief Operating Officer Graham Pollard also coaches Stratton Youth’s Under 9s team, for which his son plays. He said: “Sport can play a significant role in bringing communities together and we’re proud that the RAU is able to help enable this through our facilities.
“The partnership between the RAU, Stratton Youth, and Swindon Town Academy not only provides children from the local area with greater opportunity to become involved with grassroots football but it also gives us, at the RAU, access and insight to elite-level sport that is helping with the development of our own University teams.”
The University’s pitches also recently played host to the FA’s South West trial day for England under 15s goal keepers with the RAU providing classroom facilities and catering as well as the grass pitches and it is hoped that this may become a permanent arrangement with the RAU becoming the FA’s base for the South West region.