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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
Lessons from Senrab's soccer school
By Sarah Holt

THE SENRAB GRADUATES
Aston Villa defender Jlloyd Samuel
Players:
Jlloyd Samuel - Aston Villa
John Terry - Chelsea
Ledley King - Tottenham
Paul Konchesky - Charlton
Sol Campbell - Arsenal
Bobby Zamora - West Ham
Muzzy Izzet - Leicester
Lee Bowyer - Newcastle
Jermain Defoe - Tottenham
Ade Akinbiyi - Stoke
Leon Knight - Brighton
Coaches:
Alan Curbishley - Charlton manager
Dario Gradi - Crewe manager
Ray Wilkins - Millwall asst manager
Tony Carr - West Ham Youth Academy director
Every week 250 youngsters turn out for Senrab football club on Wanstead Flats playing fields all with the same goal - making it at the highest level.

Back in 1994 John Terry, Ledley King, Jermain Defoe and Jlloyd Samuel were among them.

On Wednesday night Samuel and Defoe will be reunited with their schoolboy team-mates.

But this time east London has been swapped for Gothenburg as the duo are poised to earn their first England caps against Sweden.

"As youngsters we didn't think we would all come through the ranks," said Aston Villa defender Samuel.

"It is very rare for that to happen but it would be a dream if we could all play for England."

Since its foundation in 1961 Senrab - the name is Barnes backwards - has developed as a breeding ground for some of the South-East's most talented footballers.

Chelsea swooped on skilful midfielder Ray Wilkins back in 1973 and recent exports include Paul Konchesky (Charlton), Lee Bowyer (Newcastle) and Bobby Zamora (West Ham).

But what is it about Senrab that has made it so successful in unearthing and then nurturing future Premiership stars?

"Our predecessors set such a high standard that we have to follow on the tradition," club secretary Tony Carroll told BBC Sport.

"Some of our coaches here are top class. Alan Curbishley used to play for Senrab and Dario Gradi was a coach here - those sort of people leave their mark.

We've all stayed in touch from the early days
Aston Villa defender Jlloyd Samuel
"All of the staff give their time freely. We get paid by seeing the boys enjoying themselves, improving and if they join a club then you know you've done a good job.

"Players also have a code of conduct. We've thrown people out of the club for misbehaving, for causing aggravation at games and in training.

"But if people want their boys to play football then they come to us."

Youngsters are drawn to Senrab from across London often by word-of-mouth.

Many are the sons and grandsons of former Senrab players who have now left the area but who are willing to trek across the capital so their youngsters can follow in their footballing footsteps.

Finding the next Terry or Defoe amongst 18 teams aged between six and 15 cannot be easy.

"There are thousands of kids that have got the talent but haven't got the right temperament," said Carroll.

"You can send a player to a professional club and think he's the best thing since sliced bread but then they send him back two weeks later because his time-keeping is poor and he's not disciplined.

"The players have to be 100% committed and if they're not then they're wasting the club's time.

"Most of the clubs across the South-East will send scouts to watch us when we play in the Essex County Cup and Premier League Cup finals next month.

England's Ray Wilkins takes on Argentina's Ossie Ardiles in 1977
Wilkins went on to take on the world's best with England
"We have a few promising players at Chelsea, Charlton and Sam Long and Anthony Graham are progressing well at West Ham."

When a potential star is signed up by a Premiership club they have to cut their ties with Senrab.

Samuel headed to Villa Park in 1998 but has maintained a close relationship with his peers in the illustrious Senrab alumni.

"We've all stayed in touch from the early days," said Samuel.

"It is nice for us that we keep talking and helping each other."

The 23-year-old is also one of several Senrab graduates who has returned to the club's headquarters in Poplar to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.

"One of the old boys always comes along to present the awards at the end of the season," said Carroll.

"Ledley's done it twice and even brought Ashley Cole along. The players are marvellous and come along and hand out the medals and sign all the kids' shirts.

"It's a lot of work but they are happy to do it because they are passing on the Senrab legacy."


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