Joe Hopewell

Emerging Talent Operations Manager, Leicster City
FA Learning Coordinator & Academy Coach, Nottingham Forest FC


In the UK, the chances of becoming a professional footballer are extremely small. According to Michael Calvin, author of "No Hunger in Paradise: The Players. The Journey. The Dream," of the 1.5 million players who are playing organised youth football at any given time in the UK, less than 1% of them will become professional players. Young footballers leave the academy system and must figure out what the next step in their career is. Joe Hopewell was one of them.

Involved with football from a young age, Joe was picked up by Stoke City’s U16 team and then received a Youth Team Scholarship for Rushden & Diamonds. However, the club went into liquidation after his first year, and suddenly Joe found himself out of playing academy football and having to pivot his career.

“It was tough. I was 17 and I had trials here and there, but it just didn't work out and it gradually fizzled out, which happens to a lot of young players in the system, we finish playing and then that is it, you are on your own which can be tough. I spent a year or two not knowing what I wanted to do or what I enjoyed or where to go.”

Although Joe didn’t initially know what direction he would go, he knew he still wanted to be involved in football in some capacity and make a career out of it. Luckily, an opportunity working part-time at a football centre steered him down a new path.

“I was playing at a local 5-a-side centre, and I started working part-time for them, this then evolved into a full-time role. I was lucky to progress, using the football knowledge that I gained through playing and being involved with it from a very young age. Eventually, I became a manager and then a one-year apprenticeship opportunity opened at The Football Association, where I did a Level 3 in Business Administration. Although there was no guarantee of a job after one year, I thought that while I am at a young age and the opportunity is there, I need to take it.”

More than five years later, Joe is still employed at The FA and has held multiple roles including as a Grassroots Co-ordinator and now as an Education Development Co-ordinator, supporting a group of FA Youth Coach developers (or what Joe describes as “the coaches that coach the coaches”). Alongside his work at The FA, he decided to pursue coaching and currently works part-time at Nottingham Forest. Joe feels both roles complement each other.

“My part-time role helps me in my full-time role, and my full-time role helps me with my part-time role. At The FA, I serve as administrative and operations support, which provides me with informal CPD (Continuing Professional Development). Seeing them work and what they do on a day-to-day basis is great. With coaching at Nottingham Forest, I really enjoy working with the young players in the Academy, helping them to be the best player and person they can be.”

Working as an Education Co-ordinator at The FA has encouraged Joe to continue in his own education and learning journey. Although he was gaining great experience, he saw the value in pursuing a formal qualification.

“It is a competitive market. Everybody wants to work in football. Having additional qualifications is only going to help with what I am trying to do. I also feel that pursuing a degree in football has given me credibility within The FA. They see that this is more than just a job to me, it is a career.”

Ahead In Sports BSc (Hons) Applied Football Studies programme has also provided Joe with transferable skills that he applies in his day-to-day roles.

“In the coaching module, we review topics around football and the 4-Corner Model. We talk about the method and go into more detail with the tutors. That now has impacted how I plan my coaching sessions on a nightly basis.”

Like other students in the programme, Joe has benefited from the flexibility of the programme, especially as he continues to take on multiple roles.

“The university degree is great because it is all online. You can pick it up and put it back down when you can, so if I'm busy for a couple of weeks, I can be honest with the tutors and say, ‘I've got a lot of work going on at the minute, but I'll catch up when I get some downtime.’ The flexibility that the course allows me to dive in and do the work I need to on my own time.”

As for where Joe sees himself in 5-10 years? He is keeping his options open and taking in everything he’s learning from Ahead In Sport.

“The world of football is massive, and I still probably don’t understand and realise the number of jobs that are involved. The degree helps with that because it is so broad. There are so many different modules on different topics, and some I knew little about and they piqued my interest to dive deeper. I am still very much keeping my opportunities and decisions open, but I'd love to work full-time in club recruitment and football development. Getting more people involved in football because it has so many positives within the game and outside in people's personal lives.

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