Academy of Football Alumni Programme members

Academy of Football Alumni Programme hosts first meeting

West Ham United Academy graduates returned to the Club last week to participate in the first in-person event of the Academy of Football Alumni Programme. 
The new initiative acts as an opportunity for past Academy players, who represented the U18s and U21s groups, to come together, discuss and celebrate since leaving the Academy. The graduates were at all different stages of their careers, some still working in football, while others are beginning to consider their post-playing options. 
As part of the programme, Alumni members were able to hear from various guest speakers from the Premier League and the PFA around the topic of sporting transition and support.

The main focus of the evening was to re-connect with past teammates and meet others who have graduated through the Academy in recent years.

Academy of Football Alumni Programme

Academy Player Care Officer Evan Hall said: "It was a very successful night and hopefully it’s the first of many where people can come together and help one and other.

“Seeing people who have not seen each other for six or seven years coming back together in our space and chatting with each other about their time in the academy and what they’ve gone on to do has been very enjoyable.

“We started the thinking behind the Academy Alumni Programme a couple of years ago so it has been a long process in the making. We’re looking to build on the existing transition support that we already in the Academy.

“It’s all about getting past players back involved, to re-connect, share good stories and for people to feel part of a community that they’ve been through. It’s important for everyone to connect with each other and to learn from that and help each other through transition in sport.”

Kieran Sadlier, a former Republic of Ireland Under-21 international, now with EFL League One side Wycombe Wanderers attended the event at Rush Green and expressed his delight to be a part of the programme.

“It’s a really good initiative from the Club to get people back networking with each other again”, said Sadlier.

“Some play football, while some don’t play football anymore, so it’s a great opportunity to get back together and talk with each other as you never know where things lead to in football.

“Football is a cut-throat industry and things can move so quickly and you lose contact with people naturally, so I think it’s really important. I’m really happy to be here and to see how things such as the facilities have improved as I’ve not been back in nine years.”

Joe Widdowson has forged himself a successful career after football. 

Becoming a professional footballer can be a dream come true, but it can also be a relatively short career, and the uncertainty of retirement can be one of the biggest challenges of football.

But Widdowson, who was forced to retire due to injury in 2022, has recently completed a degree in Sports Journalism and works at the PFA as a Player Services Executive. 

He said: “I’ve got so many special memories from time at the Club and coming through the Academy as it really molded me and helped me go on to have a career in the game.

“It’s been great to connect with people at the Club and coming back here was such a good experience and it felt like home again. When you come out of football, it is always difficult to find your way and to discover your next path.

“I retired around a year-and-a-half ago through injury and wanted to assess my different options. I did a Sports Journalism degree with the PFA which I’ve now completed and luckily the Club invited me in to do some work experience. It’s not been easy, but I now work with the PFA and am really enjoying it.

Kieran Sadlier & Cristian Montaño
Kieran Sadlier & Cristian Montaño

“You realise that as much as we want to play football and hope it goes on forever, it doesn’t. One of the most challenging parts is discovering what you want to do and where you want to go with your life. It’s important that you understand what drives you after you finish playing football and understand where your skills lie elsewhere.

"It’s not been an easy journey to end up where I am but, thankfully, I’ve worked hard and tried to make things happen.”

Cristian Montaño, meanwhile, is playing his football with Scottish Premiership side Livingston - but was hugely enthusiastic about the opportunity presented and opted to fly down to east London to re-connect with old teammates.

“It [Academy of Football Alumni Programme] is absolutely huge”, stated Montano. “When I was growing up, there wasn’t such a thing where the players that left had a connection with a club, but now this programme has given the chance for everyone to reunite, connect and offer their support and stay in contact.

“It’s massive in this day and age, especially with the mental side of football. Some people might not get a contract and don’t know what they want to do in life. Sometimes when you leave a football club you might think you’re a loss, but when you connect and chat with all these players, you understand that everyone’s in the same position and are trying to figure out what to do in their life.

“You can take a lot of inspiration from people here and the pathways they’ve taken in their careers to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Former Hammers interested in becoming a part of the Academy Alumni can express an interest here or can email [email protected]