Leeds United College & Prague Raptors FC
Daz Moss interview with Football Praha.
How are Raptors living through/enjoying/not enjoying unplanned football break?
Everyone understands the severity of the situation we are in and the reasons behind the lockdown…we have a few Italians in the club and their hometowns saw much of the worst of what has happened so far…it is an extremely sad time and impacts our players and staff differently.
Some people are struggling in their business, our students are learning online and many people are away from their families – of course this is the same for everyone, whether footballers or not. I guess a difference with a club like the Raptors is that many people feel more cut-off with their families on the other side of the world.
The break is not welcome too from a footballing perspective, as both Men’s A & Ladies sides were very close to the top of the league, so we are obviously disappointed with the decision to void the league, but we understand these are unprecedented times and that there are much bigger things to worry about.
Our players continue to keep fit where they can and we are chatting over WhatsApp, video conference regularly. We will need to see what happens after the lockdown, we assume some people will want to move back home after this situation so we may be a little short of players for the new season.
You now have to leave the match preparation behind, however the football fans have noticed the news about your official partnership with Leeds United. What is this connection about? How is it going to work? What are your expectations? And how did it all happen? I connected on LinkedIn with an ex-Leeds player when we first launched the club. His name is Jamie Forrester – he scored an amazing goal in the FA Youth Cup final against Manchester United back in the 90s – you should look it up. Jamie has a lot of contacts at Leeds and knows the club still from top-to-bottom – he works on various projects with them. Once they started Leeds United College he quickly discussed with me that he thought it would be good to do an intro and see how Leeds United could help us with our academy and how we can help them in return. I went across to Elland Road at the end of last Summer, met with the College management team, we hit it off really quickly and agreed the partnership before Christmas, it then took a couple of months to finalise everything before we could release the news. Our focus will be working with Leeds United College – a new venture at the club which will see them providing education to people all around the world. Similar to many other clubs (Man City, Barcelona etc…) they are expanding their empire into increased offerings – football has a great connection to Education. Leeds are offering football and non-football based education – some of which will be practical (coaching) and some online.
Our partnership with Leeds means we will be helping them with promoting their offering in this part of the world, and in return they will be helping us with increasing our football knowledge & ability – mainly focused on our academy which is still in the very early stages. The agreement is quite ‘open’ and we will work on unique projects as opportunity arises and the plan is to grow our co-operation with the club as a whole over the coming years. It is probably not that usual/easy that a president of a still fairly new Prague club just gets in touch with a team like Leeds United and asks ‘work with us’ or is it? I think really they just liked our story and ambition. We have aims to climb the leagues, offer football to many people in the community and also continue to support local and global charities…once I explained that to the team at Leeds they seemed very interested in us. Leeds are working in co-operation with Sheffield FC (the World’s oldest running football club) – their Director was out in Prague earlier in the season so we met at Raptors match and discussed more about the ambitions of all 3 clubs and how we can work together, that really helped to cement the relationship moving forward.
Why Leeds United?
I was born in Leeds and always a Leeds United fan, I grew up idolising players like Gary Speed, Tony Yeboah & Mark Viduka – my whole family are fans, my brother still has a season ticket in the Kop and I go every time I am back in the UK…so once I heard of the potential there was not really a question for me. Leeds have had a tough 16 years outside the Premier League but finally things are looking up for them…if they manage to get promoted this season they will quickly become a top 10 side in England (in terms of turnover at least). Between the new owner (Andrea Radrizzani) and coach Marcelo Bielsa they have rejuvenated the club and city. A team in the second tier with over 35,000 at each game, and now our key partner is obviously very exciting for us. I am biased but they really are a sleeping giant.
Would the experts from the island work with the Raptors players or will someone from Raptors go to Leeds to join some football camp for example? Is the program aimed specifically on the Academy which you set up not that long time ago or are the adult players (A,B and the girls) going to participate as well? When will the co-operation kick off? Are you going to celebrate it with some special match?
The initial work will all be focused on the academy. Actually we had planned to have a 2 week training camp where coaches from Leeds United and Sheffield FC would come to Prague this Summer and train not only kids from our academy but others too…unfortunately due to the situation that has not happened but hopefully next season. Our Academy is only just growing but the bigger we become the more involved we will be able to get with Leeds and Sheffield.
We already have an agreement with the Leeds United Ladies team to play them if we can ever get the squad out to England – I think if we can arrange that we would also now be able to arrange a match against some youth team from the Men’s, similar as we have done with Slavia Prague here before.
As the partnership is quite open there is potential for anything to happen really – what we have discussed is that we do not really know yet what can be the biggest help and what Leeds United College can do in Czech Republic. For example, we have also discussed having coaching camps for managers wanting to improve their tactical, technical and motivational knowledge – I think it could be a good addition to the offerings from the Czech FA as it gives a different view…but it can only work if there is interest. Most likely we will try a few things and see what has the biggest impact.
Tell us a bit about the concept of your academy
For a new club we have quite a strong philosophy around how we play…just because we are in the lower leagues does not mean we cannot play attractive football. We like to play pressing, high-intensity games with fast passing and an attacking mindset…our coaches don’t like long balls and ‘ugly’ football. This sits well with our partnership with Leeds United as it is coincidentally much the same as what Bielsa has instilled at the club. The Leeds u23 team play the same style as the Men’s team, as do the youth teams. The idea behind that was started though before our partnership with Leeds United – our Men’s Head Coach, Jon Davies, is a coach at Slavia Prague youth and they work in a similar way too, so we decided early on we want our club to have a shared philosophy…this fits with our motto too ‘Attack As One’ (much like how Raptors are thought to have hunted).
The plan for the academy is therefore to carry on this mantra. Right now we are focused on kids aged 5-8 but we want to quickly expand. The feedback we have from players, coaches and staff around the world is that often academies at an amateur level fall into 2 camps – super strict but with good learning or super fun with poor learning…it is strange how many people I speak to that talk about their times in academies and it is one or the other…so the trick is to finding that balance – keeping kids interested and not starting to hate football, but at the same time working hard and learning.
Right now our key issue is space – we rent our pitch from FC Zlicin who obviously have their own clubs to look after, to grow our academy we need some pitch of our own, we have ability to fund such a venture but unfortunately cannot find any green space in the city.
What did the players say about this partnership?
The players are of course excited…maybe not as much as me but they see it as another step in us trying to over-achieve versus our current position in the league structure. I think we have done a good job in growing in a short time but none of that would happen without great coaches and players – if we never win games these types of things would be much harder to achieve.
Do you believe also this step can help the Raptors move up in Prague’s league in the future?
I hope so, it can help us to generate more sponsorship and get other players interested to join us. Everything comes down to money in football now and this will help, already since the announcement we have sold more Raptors shirts to people based in Leeds so it can only help to continue to grow our academy and make the relationship closer.
What are your current football aims? What do you want to achieve in the near future?
Well the aim for this season was 3 promotions, both the Men’s A & Ladies had a good chance, with some good recruits over the winter break we felt quite confident of finishing the season well. The cancellation is obviously a setback but in August we go again and hopefully do even better next year. Already we know a few players will leave over the Summer so we will need some reinforcements for next year. I think we already have some players in both teams that could play in the higher leagues so if we can add 2-3 quality players each season I think we can continue to climb the leagues for a little while – but we are under no illusion it is going to get tougher and every part of the club will need to improve too for that happen…again key to this is having more time to play & train.
More medium term our aim is to build the academy out so we have the age ranges 4-16, including both girls and boys team. We have to get to the point of becoming self-sustainable and to be bringing through players to the squads each year rather than hoping on new players moving here or transferring from other teams.
Prague Raptors are not known only for their football achievements (you manged to get promoted in your 1st year), but also with your charity work and your multicultural team. You have players of lots of nationalities. In the Czech Republic – unfortunately – the foreigners are not always accepted very well and often meet with not very friendly behaviour from Czechs. What is your experience with that?
This is something we got warned about before we started out playing…I would say overall we have had a better experience than what we feared…most people are very friendly with us and some even excited to see us and to speak in English, see new cultures, styles of play etc…of course no country is perfect and we have had a few bad incidents on and off the pitch, but I think the longer we are here the better it will get.
There are many foreigners throughout the leagues of course, not only at the Raptors and I think that helps…all of the foreigners should not just be in 1 or 2 teams.
I always say, we did not set out to be a foreign team, it was just natural that is the players we found – we also want to keep growing our number of Czech players and staff - my Wife is Czech and my Kids half Czech so we are not against Czech people for sure 😊 We have quite a few Czech players in the Ladies team and I know a few are interested in joining the Men’s team if we can climb a couple more divisions.
Do you wish that this group of people I talk about would through football and your charity work change their opinion or perception about foreigners? Do you think it is possible?
I think sometimes on the pitch people react to things quickly with little remarks and it is not really always what they think – football is full of emotion and sometimes people cannot really control things…so I think it is important to note that although things can feel bad at the time, it is not necessarily how the person really feels. Of course we are also not angels on the pitch and sometimes quarrels can get out of hand – key is to know where the line is and to act like grown-ups afterwards.
Of course, that is not the case with everyone and some people just don’t like anyone who is different – that is not just on foreigners, it is ethnicity, sexuality, age, gender and it is up to everyone to help change that. We are trying via our work with FAREnet & FootballvHomophobia but I think we are only at the start – as we grow I hope we can do much more.