Academy star returns for scholars talk

Alex Willis standing in front of a backdrop of academy players.

Former academy star Alex Willis was back at the club this week to share some wisdom on possible pathways for the Addicks’ current scholars.

Willis scored more than 500 goals during his 10 years with Charlton, but opted to turn down a professional deal and instead moved to the US to take up a scholarship at North Kentucky University.

The academy’s Head of Education Joe Francis was full of admiration for the move. “I’m immensely proud,” he said this week. “When he left he was only 18. He’s come back and he’s 24, and he’s had an unbelievable life experience.

“He’s come back a man,” Francis continued. “Going across the pond, 6000 miles, and settling into a new life, makes you grow up a bit.

“He’s come back to pursue a career in law, and secured quite a lucrative full-time position up in the city. He’s embarking on further learning within that, and he’s continued to play semi-professionally since his return. He said none of that really would have been possible without the life experience and the experience that he had in America.”

Willis is far from the only Addicks’ scholar who has made the trip across the Atlantic. Ryan Godding, Sam Nwosu and Tyrone Kirunda, among others, have also enrolled in American universities thanks to the academy’s partnership with USA Scholarships.

“It just shows another way that us as an academy can demonstrate success for our young players,” said Francis. “Even though some of our young players might not turn professional with us, we endeavour to find alternative careers for them.”

“I always say to the lads that I’ll be a colleague and a mentor for life.”

The academy does not just offer the opportunities for these sorts of moves, but also the skills which make the players appealing to employers and universities. 

“What’s on offer is not for everybody, but it’s just showing what can be possible with the currency that you’ve earnt whilst being a scholar,” said Francis. “What I mean by currency is there’s so many intangibles that they’ve learnt by being in a professional environment - such as the ability to be punctual, disciplined, live an athletic lifestyle, trustworthy, honest, hard-working, the ability to be resilient. 

“These are all intangibles that the boys don’t necessarily realise that they’re learning, that are attractive to either employers or for further and higher education.”

Francis was pleased with how Willis’ talk went. “What we always try and do with boys that we encourage to return and share their stories is just sow a seed,” he said. “To say, look, ‘this is my journey, these are my experiences, this is what happened to me. I’ve been in the opposition. Don’t just think that your options are only here.’ 

“It’s always difficult to have that conversation with boys that are still pursuing their professional career here, but it won’t be the last time that Alex comes.”

Charlton fans can support the academy by signing up to the Valley Gold scheme. Valley Gold enables fans to support the club’s academy in unearthing the talents of tomorrow, as well as giving them the chance to win cash prizes.

Click here for more information on how you can become a Valley Gold member.

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