The Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, despite sounding like an academic institution or somewhere ladies go to gain deportment, is actually a pretty posh football pitch and training ground at the Jebel Ali Shooting Club. The four floodlit premier league pitches have played host to top visiting European and international football and rugby teams, and the facilities, changing rooms and equipment are top notch. Home to the Umbro Youth Academy, it runs a comprehensive football-training program for young boys and girls to improve their game and train with ex professionals, as well as providing facilities for parties and holiday camps.
Keen young footballers from the ages of seven through to 16 hone their skills at the Umbro Academy on a weekly basis. With over 300 members, training sessions are split according to age, with 60 kids in the advanced group training twice a week. Plus, there’s a Jebel Ali Youth League on Saturdays, with more than 400 kids taking part, too. The season runs throughout the year on the outdoor pitches while weather allows, switching inside to an indoor facility near Safa Park when it gets a bit sweaty. Ten to 12 week terms reflect the school calendar and although the training is intense, with both parents and players alike taking the noble game very seriously, there is a real sense of camaraderie within the groups, not to mention the social element of mixing with kids outside the usual school sphere. Leagues are regularly organised with other teams from Dubai and further afield, so kids on different teams get to know each other well, as do the parents, which makes for one big happy footballing family (albeit with a few rivalries).
Parent volunteers get actively involved with the organising and running of competitions between other clubs both here in the UAE and beyond, so there’s a big commitment from members of the family (dads and mums!) who are happy to fulfill this duty. Last year, teams got the chance to travel to Cardiff to compete in the TTD International Super Cup, which was ‘a fantastic experience for all the kids involved,’ according to Chris Howard, football dad and active volunteer. This year the Umbro Youth Academy will be taking four teams of older kids to the 2012 Madrid Cup from July 9 to 14, as well as a team made up of the best of the under-10s from various football academies from around Dubai.
The under-10s ‘elite’ team was put together by the parents of the city’s footballing community and are heading there under the banner of the Jebel Ali Academy to compete against teams from scores of different countries. The lucky few will get to experience the thrill of being inside the Real Madrid stadium, along with the chance to compete for the annual Madrid Cup, a youth tournament ranked number two in the world. And, as if this excitement wasn’t enough, there will be hordes of sports media to capture the event and professional football scouts snooping around with their eyes peeled for the stars of the future, too!
‘Just to have made it to the first round is a massive achievement as there are so many high quality teams competing,’ says Chris. ‘But our boys WILL be Cup Champions.’
Any company or individual who would like to see their name emblazoned on the shirts of the potentially winning under-10s can get in touch with Chris or Jebel Ali and lend support, because as with everything, sponsorship is vital. The winning team gains the title of Madrid Super Champions, but even if they miss out on the title, the kids still walk away with a sense of achievement and a fantastic experience to dream about the next time they kick a ball around.
If your name’s not down this year, you’re not in the team, but for kids wanting a slice of all the action can give the Academy a call and pop in for a taster session before signing up to the whole term.
Visit www.jaicentreofexcellence.com or call Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence on 04 883 0828. The team will be holding a tournament soon with all proceeds going towards the trip, for people wishing to lend support contact Chris Howard on 050 344 6804.