Tournament Football - The success of the forgotten Great Britain programmes

14 Jul Tournament Football – The success of the forgotten Great Britain programmes

Football at the World University Games – The Story and a missed opportunity?


12th July 2015 – Female Champions: France 2 Russia 0
13th July 2015 – Male Champions: Italy 3 Korea 0

I thought, as the second largest Multi Sport event in the World comes to an end in Korea, and the organisers are already thinking about the next event in 2017 in Chinese Taipei, I hope you forgive me for some nostalgia and review of the wonderful experiences, that being involved in the Games has given me, but more importantly many athletes and support staff, in football and sport generally.

This year BUCS with the Football Association decided due to funding constraints not to support sending the male and female teams to take part in the Games after having brought home the Gold (female) and Silver (male) medals from the Games in Russia in 2013. This for many was a real disappointment as it was felt that the Games gave a significant development opportunity to those in the Education sector and the currently unreported secondary positive outcomes.


The football tournament and history in World University Games?


The World University Games football tournament, is something until you have been involved in it, is very difficult to contextualise, a very unique football test for staff and athletes. It goes from exhilarating (opening ceremonies of 50,000 plus people, akin to any Olympic Games – with 11000 plus athletes and staff) to brutal (6 games in 14 days – it’s the only reason FIFA don’t sanction as a family tournament) to exhilarating (Reflection of success, bonds built and experiences like no other). The male tournament started as part of the multi sport Games in Kobe (Japan) in 1985 and the Women in Buffalo (USA) in 1993. The tournament is a full ranking 16 team tournament, with the initial stages split into four groups of four, with ranking based on performance in previous tournaments. The post group stages are where groups are split and the top two play for 1-8 and the bottom two play for 9-16 – effectively each team plays with six games, with a squad size of 20.

The Games and the tournament gains significant profile and media coverage in North America, Asia and South East Asia, whilst in Europe some of the Games is covered on Eurosport. I have been very lucky to have been involved in three Games, but to have two in Russia and China have been a special privilege. To training and competing in World Class facilities, at times playing in front of crowds in excess of 25,000 and winning two semi finals (once against a host team valued in excess of £12m) on penalties are memories that will stay with all of us.


Great Britain’s results at World University Games


The female and male codes have competed in the Games over different time periods, the Men commenced in Kobe in 1985 and have competed in 14 tournaments and the Women in 2007 in Bangkok and have competed in the last 4 tournaments. Below is a highlight of the successes, showing 5 medal finishes for GBR.

Male GBR Highlights (1985 – 2013)

  • GBR Best Finish 2nd Shenzhen 2011, 2nd Kazan 2013
  • GBR Best Finish abroad 2nd Shenzhen 2011, 2nd Kazan 2013
  • GBR Best Finish in Europe 2nd Kazan 2013
  • GBR Best Finish in Asia 2nd Shenzhen 2011
  • Number of GBR Medal Finishes 1 – 3 3 (Above plus 3rd Sheffield, 1991)
  • Number of GBR Finishes 1 – 4 4
  • Number of GBR Finishes 5 – 8 5
  • Number of GBR Finishes 9 -16 5


Female GBR Highlights (2007 – 2013)

  • GBR Best Finish 1st Kazan 2013
  • GBR Best Finish in Europe 1st Kazan 2013
  • GBR Best Finish in Asia 7th Bangkok, 2007
  • Number of GBR Medal Finishes 1 – 3 2 (Gold Kazan, 13 & Bronze Belgrade 09)
  • Number of GBR Finishes 1 – 4 2
  • Number of GBR Finishes 5 – 8 1
  • Number of GBR Finishes 9 -16 1


The Games what are they like in a GBR context?


During my time as Head Coach of the male group the planning and organisation starts two years out, effectively as soon as the plane lands from previous Games. I was lucky to experience the Games as part of Graeme Dell’s team in 2009 in Belgrade and I learned so much not just about the way the tournament is set up and privileged to see at first-hand 16 different world playing philosophies. However I also experienced the challenges of running an international programme that is not linked to the Game back in the UK, and is undervalued, not recognised and operates with serious budget constraints.





This experience, plus my commitment to the development of the English Universities and Home Nations programmes and my understanding of the athletes in the football pyramid I was in a good position to capitalise on the work that had gone before. I would not have been able to achieve anything without the commitment (we were all volunteers!) of great people around the UK willing to support the GB programme. This included Scottish Universities staff in Ross Campbell & Michael Renwick, English staff including John Hall, Tom Curtis, Graham Potter, Tom Radcliffe, Steve Sharman, Bryn Clark and Ian Burchnall and the Welsh staff including Steve Savage and David Gough.

In the winter of 2010 we all committed to go on a journey to see if we could select a team that would represent the UK (Athletes around the world with British passports are eligible) and the work going on here to compete in the Games in the summer of 2011.


How did we prepare and deliver in China and Russia?


Preparation for the tournament comes with exactly the same pre tournament challenges, as any Home Nations team would come up against, just all at various levels:

  • Talent identification and being clear on the ‘type of athlete’ who can cope with the environment
  • Management of the relationship with clubs (Professional and Semi)
  • Contact time with the athletes (including training camps timings etc)
  • Performance decisions being led by team, logistical and operational requirements
  • Selection of staff group that understand the demands of the tournament and the environment





I was very fortunate, that our Team Manager (who ended up having an impossible job of doing for both codes in 2011) was Stewart Fowlie, who is a very good friend, and knows me very well. He won’t like me saying it, but success in both China and Russia was very much down to his human characteristics. Someone I would work with any day of the week. We both gave up a significant amount of our time to ensure that we got through preparations to the best of our ability, much at personal compromise. The support team for China was Michael Skubala (Now England Futsal Assistant Coach), Pat Fox (Now Head of Sport Science, Hong Kong Sports Institute), Steve Nawoor (NHS Physio), Kim Stafford (Lead Analyst, Qatar FA), Kevin Shoemake (CEO Northamptonshire FA). In Russia the team changed but the characteristics, commitment and quality didn’t, Stewart and Kevin remained but the technical staff included Steve Guinan (PFA Coach) and Ross Campbell (Business Dev Director at Herriot Watt), were joined by George Labor (Physio, now in Australia), Jason Cook (Analyst Wales Senior & U21), Tim Blevins as Team Doctor. Craig Stewart (Head Coach at Providence College) a former athlete I coached at Loughborough supported with the US College recruitment and selection process for both Games.

I felt that the selection of the right athletes was going to be the most important part of building a culture. I travelled up and down the country watching games over a period of four years at all levels in order to find the ‘group’ of athletes who were going to fit the way we had to go about things to give ourselves the best possible chance. The details of what this was maybe for another blog!

For China in 2011, once we had our long list of 40 after 9 months of trawling, we were delighted and indebted to former Leeds Met Head Coach Graham Potter and Chairman Daniel Kindberg at Ostersund OFK who funded our pre tournament camp to Sweden where we concentrated on the embedding our playing philosophy into the group before we left for four day holding camp in Hong Kong and then onto Athletes Village in Shenzhen. For Russia, we completed our pre tournament training camp in Chester for 8 days, then flew in Moscow to have our holding camp at CSKA Moscow’s training ground before moving onto the Athletes Village.


Where are some of the players and support staff now?


Below is just a ‘snap shot’ of some notable journeys some of the players and support staff have made since their involvement:

Support Staff

  • John Warnock (Former GB Men’s Team Manager 1989 – 1991) – Now Technical Director for FISU Summer Games
  • Graeme Dell (GB Head Coach 1997 – 2009) – FIFA Futsal Instructor / Ambassador & Team England Deputy Chef de Mission 2014
  • Dawn Scott (GB Head of Sport Science 2007 & 2009) – 2015 World Cup Winner, USA Women
  • Laura Harvey (GB Head Coach 2007) – Head Coach, Seattle Sounders, USA
  • Tracey Lewis (GB Lead Physio 2007 & 2009) – 2015 World Cup Bronze Medal, England Women
  • Steve Guinan (GB Assistant Coach 2013) – PFA Coach
  • Gemma Grainger (Head Coach 2011) – England Women’s U20 Coach



  • Natasha Harding (GB Athlete 2009) – Wales Senior (Vice Captain) & Manchester City LFC
  • Fran Kirby (GB Athlete 2013) – England Women Bronze medallist & Chelsea LFC
  • Jemma Rose (GB Athlete 2013) – England U23 & Bristol Academy
  • Demi Stokes (GB Athlete 2013) – England Senior & Manchester City LFC
  • Isobel Christiansen (GB Athlete 2013) – England U23 & Manchester City LFC
  • Gary Warren (GB Athlete 2011) – Professional Footballer, Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC
  • Kyle MacAuley (GB Athlete 2011) – Head of Recruitment, Osterunds FC
  • Joe Lolley (GB Athlete 2013) – Professional Footballer, Huddersfield Town FC
  • Johnny McClaughlin (GB Athlete 2009) – Professional Footballer, Burton Albion FC
  • Ben Purkiss (GB Athlete 2005 & 2009) – Professional Footballer, Port Vale FC & member of the PFA Management Committee
  • Matt Smith (GB Athlete 2007) – Professional Footballer, Bangkok Glass FC & Socceroo full international
  • David Weir (GB Athlete – 1993) – Assistant Manager, Rangers FC


Forgive me here, I have missed so many people on the above list that have been through the experience, but just wanted to give an idea of the contribution the Games has given various athletes and support staff on their journey.


A time to celebrate the contribution of the Education in personal and sporting achievement


Although this tournament is not really covered or given any profile in the UK, the experience for those that take part is very much something that they will recall for the rest of their lives. Engagement not just in a tournament of a very high standard, but being involved in a programme that for many, especially the men, is something far away from the week by week grind back at home in the UK.




The Games I firmly believe provides an unbelievable exposure to personal challenge, what I mean by this is this…We all have potential, we all have desires and dreams, but sometime you need exposure to what life could be like, to re light the fire. The Games and everything that it exposes athletes and staff to is something that has to be cherished, but for some, can be built upon. The recent past shows (as show above in list) that this experience, could be considered, educational has supported the desire for many on return to push themselves that little bit harder, to chase the dream that they otherwise gave up upon or have put them in a position to be more positive and driven about the next steps in their career.


An opportunity for consideration


In my opinion, the return on investment that this opportunity of continued engagement with this wonderful tournament far out ways the minimal investment required to take part every two year cycle. There is an undoubted role that the experience provides in potentially developing the next set of coaching staff, support staff and administrators that can help support the performance of our National Age group teams in the Home Nations…otherwise where do you give these individuals the chance to grow and develop? Added to this, the current reignited debate about the decision to place a GB Women’s team in the Rio 2016 Olympics further adds value to the contribution these opportunities can make on being linked on a development pathway:

  • Supporting the growth and development of the Game, especially in Women’s football
  • Opportunity to contribute to the ‘education and development’ aspiring National Age group staff (U23 through to U15) in the Home Nations giving real exposure to tournament environment
  • The opportunity to give athletes within the education system the chance to compete on a truly World stage (in the case of the World University Games), raising their aspirations and helping them fulfil their potential


We too often always think of the player development pathway as being the most crucial….however, for this to be the best possible experience we need to ensure that the cycle of development is their for support staff as well and most crucially is one cycle ahead of the athletes which are in their hands.

“It is investment in people who add value to development process first, not buildings.”