Above all else in playing football, Eamonn Dolan always believed that having fun was the most important part of the game.
While he was Academy Manager here at Reading, Eamonn aimed to promote this message throughout our youth ranks.
Lead Foundation Phase Coach, Lewis Goater, is hoping to keep his legacy alive with the introduction of the Eamonn Dolan Tour Series last season. This sees a selection of U9, U10 and U11 teams from Reading joined by teams from all around the country for a series of tournaments, and it has grown even wider support for this season.
"He was my mentor, really, in football coaching but in life as well," Goater says. "He taught me a lot about not just coaching but about life and people.
"When I was first employed full-time as Lead Foundation Phase Coach, he said, we want to create the 'Fundation Phase'.
"He never talked about the seriousness of it. It was always about fun, being yourself, and making sure the kids have a great time."
Each club hosted a tournament in the match format of their choice. It could be futsal, a five-a-side indoor game with a heavier ball, matches on bigger or smaller pitches than the boys are used to, or even “In and Out of balance” matches, encouraging players to solve problems like dealing with numerical disadvantages on the pitch or playing in different tempos.
The competition’s initial season was so successful that the Premier League introduced the Under-11 Premier League Regional Series from 2017/18, which got underway last month.
This tournament gives each of the 40 teams involved the freedom to host a tournament with a format of their choice. The group winners progress to the South Series and North Series Finals.
The Royals won the U11 series last time around, which has inspired the Premier League to develop a national competition.
"The kids will always remember the Eamonn Dolan Tour Series games, because they're a bit different and fun," Goater says.
"Also, the boys get to play five teams on one day, rather than one, and they know they're playing for points."
Dean Smith, Games Programme Manager for the Premier League, adds: "Eamonn's vast experience and knowledge led him to constantly instigate new ideas, which we are proud to continue in the development of this series."
Dolan did not just focus on the development of the young players but also the coaches in charge of that development. He helped to set up the Premier League’s Elite Coaching Apprenticeship Scheme (ECAS) in 2014 and was keen to create a coaching fraternity, whereby coaches could go to each other and help each other out where possible.
"One of the key things is the togetherness with the coaches," Goater says.
"We have a meeting twice a year about how we can improve things. It does work well.
"It's bringing a grassroots culture back to Academy football, in a way, which has been quite refreshing.
"It keeps Eamonn's name going, and it's something he would be an advocate of; getting everyone together and coming up with innovative ideas and creating a coaching fraternity, which is what everyone wanted."
The 2016/17 series raised funds for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and Action Bladder Cancer UK in Eamonn’s name, and collections for charity will also continue this season.