HARTLEPOOL UNITED’S Under-18s team has been saved thanks to a partnership between Hartlepool College of Further Education and local grassroots club FC Hartlepool.

With Hartlepool’s income having been badly hit by the requirement to play National League matches behind-closed-doors, it was feared a halt to funding for the club’s academy would make it impossible for the Under-18s to continue.

However, in a new youth programme for the 2020-21 season, the players, aged between 16 and 19, will study for either a full-extended diploma in sport or enrol on an engineering course. As well as gaining a formal education, their footballing schedule will remain as it would have been had they been a paid scholar at Hartlepool United.

Ian McGuckin has been appointed by the college as head of high-performance coaching, having spent the last three years as youth-team coach at Victoria Park. He will be working with another former Hartlepool player, Ian Clark, who is the high-performance coordinator at the college.

Shaun Hope, assistant principal at Hartlepool College and a former youth player at Coventry and Sunderland, said: “It is a shame the club’s previous youth-team arrangements could not continue and we will aim to build on the great work done by our friends at East Durham College.

“Clearly the difference to previous years is that they are not being paid. What is happening is that two of the town’s anchor organisations and a local grassroots club, in times of trouble, have come together to try to help a club really struggling to keep up its academy after relegation from the Football League.

“Priority one is we will provide an outstanding education. Priority two is they will receive the best football education to assist a transition into the paid game, whether that is in the National League at Hartlepool, above that in the Football League or below in non-league.”

The programme is backed by Hartlepool United boss Dave Challinor, who said: “I didn’t do a traditional football scholarship when I was younger. I did my A-levels, played for Tranmere. I was a pro for 15 years and at the back end of my career I did a physio degree. Education for the kids is massively important, and they need to see a pathway to play first-team football too.”