In the shadow of one of the Premier League’s big six, and with an unmistakable name, Estudiantes is a Haringey football academy which puts educational excellence and social mobility at the heart of everything they do.
Co-founder Darren Wiltshire, 39, coaches the football team, alongside being heavily involved in the access and futsal teams, totalling around 40 players. He also teaches maths at the college.
“It’s a small programme, we hope it’s impactful. We feel it’s quite impactful, and we have good feedback from care-workers.”
Given the purpose of the academy, and its location, it is no surprise that it has a hugely diverse squad. Many are refugees or asylum seekers, living with distant relatives or even on their own.
Despite the challenges, and its creation only being in 2018, Estudiantes have already found success both on and off the pitch.
Everyone who has passed through the club since its inception has gone on to either higher education or full-time work.
The biggest on-pitch success has come from futsal. The team plays in the National Futsal Series, England’s second tier, having won the LNFS Plate last season against adult teams, and also the London Youth Futsal Cup.
At first futsal was all the club offered, at a time when Wiltshire was running the academy through a role with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, but he left this role to be able to grow the project more freely.
The club was originally referred to as Haringey Six Sports Club, until Wiltshire reached out to 1968 club world champions, Estudiantes De La Plata, asking to use their name.
Some emails later with the likes of the club’s Vice President and former Manchester United midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron, left the club in its current, aptly-named, guise.
Wiltshire said: “When we became ‘Estudiantes’ it just gave us that little bit of edge. It gave me a bit of a boost as well.”
Since the pandemic, and the new name, Estudiantes have been able to arrange trips to England’s training centre, St. Georges Park and Old Trafford, as well as organising fixtures against the universities of Loughborough, Cambridge, and Oxford.
The players justify Wiltshire’s perseverance. They enjoy the glamorous trips with benefits like meeting England manager Gareth Southgate, but also respect and appreciate the emphasis on education.
Kahsu Gebreselase, who’s been playing for the team since September, said: “Absolutely [it helps with education] because I’ve been here from September and my attendance is still good in lessons as well. I’m enjoying it.”
Clerys Luka, another of the under-18 side, said: “I like to think ‘learn and play, learn and play,’ and if you learn in school, you play with the team.”
The project is now at a point where it is ready to grow, with Wiltshire hoping to help a wider range of participants, particularly the most vulnerable.
“If anyone shows an interest in football, we’d like to be the go-to people to make sure they settle in England,” Wiltshire said.
This is a big dream for a new team, but it speaks to Wiltshire’s drive and passion for the project, which has already achieved a lot.
However, this requires funding. Wiltshire does so much of the work around the club that he now needs to employ more staff part-time, but this will not come through charging the players.
“We’re proud to keep it free. If I said it was a tenner per game some of them wouldn’t be able to afford that.”
Estudiantes have already acquired a futsal coach, Taylan Gul, who has helped a lot. This is because Wiltshire is admittedly dedicated to the point of near-burnout.
“I’m mainly thankful for that because it was really obviously taking its toll on me,” Wiltshire said.
“I’m incredibly grateful to Taylan,” he added.
Seeing the success of the futsal team given this development, the co-founder hopes to see similar progress in the 11-a-side team.
This would come in the form of a coach, and more training sessions on full pitches, but local pitches costing £150 – £200 per hour.
“You’re thinking ‘Christ, it’s got to be a good training session for £150,’” Wiltshire said.
“But I’ve got someone out there who’s a 16 year old kid, wants to be a pro footballer… he isn’t going to be a pro footballer if he’s training out there [on a smaller astroturf].
“So you’ve got a moral responsibility.”
What might help is the team’s recent move into an adult men’s league, an environment which the team is still bedding into.
“It’s hard to do when you’re 8-0 down and the kids are looking at you like: ‘Why are we in this league?’
“And then suddenly the next day you hear one of them has done a good piece of coursework and I’ll be like ‘wow it’s brilliant!’”
A coach being found soon will hopefully make these ‘brilliant’ moments more frequent, and Wiltshire will be able to focus on the positives more.
Feature image credit: Estudiantes twitter