Liverpool invest in a Penny for their future.

As the country eases itself out of lockdown, and coaches of all sports can begin to plan and look ahead to the resumption of their activities, Sport Furness took time to catch up with Barrow born Tom Penny who is currently in Hong Kong as the Technical Director of Coaching at Liverpool FC International Academy to see how things have effected them out there.

First we asked him for some background information on his early sporting achievements and eventually the route that led him into coaching and finally into his current role.

“My dad is a proud Evertonian, but my Uncle John got in first when I was a baby with a Man Utd dressing gown, so they became my team, much to my dad’s dismay! 

I was born with Perthes disease which effected the growth around my hip and leg, so I wasn’t sure if I would be able to play sport due to the pain. Gradually I got involved in games and played as goal keeper, then eventually to playing centre half/holding midfielder. I was never the most technically gifted player, later on in my coaching career it was understanding why this was that developed the early thinking in my coaching philosophy. I believe Kids need to be encouraged to be comfortable and technically sound on the ball before introducing passing into their game, this is key in the basic building block of becoming a good footballer.

At 17 I volunteered to help with Neil Doherty’s Inside Out Soccer School. Quickly I realised that it was something I enjoyed doing, and acheived my FA level 1 coaching course. Having completed a year of helping I left Barrow 6th Form in 2010 and was offered and accepted a full time role as an apprentice football coach. As part of this I travelled to Leyland, home of Lancashire FA and completed many courses; FA modules 1&2, coaching with disabled footballers, Futsal level one and level 2 in coaching. 

I must have made a good impression at Leyland as I was encouraged to apply (successfully) for a full time coaching role with the English FA in their FA Skills Programme and in June 2013 I left Inside out Soccer to take up the full time role.

I combined working for the FA with a role with Barrow AFC Performance centre and working with Cumbria Schools Football teams, and at aged 21 became the youngest U18’s County Coach in English Schools Football history. On the back of this I was also invited to work on the coaching staff of the North of England U18 squad.

During my time with the FA I worked on the Sir Trevor Brooking FA skills programme delivering to schools also mentoring primary school teachers to achieve coaching awards. I found this really challenging, but rewarding as I was delivering to different abilities and had to adjust coaching sessions accordingly. I was fortunate to visit St George’s Park, England HQ and had the opportunity to coach and work alongside England manager Gareth Southgate who is one of the best coaches I have seen.

In Nov 2016 I was successful in getting a role with Liverpool FC’s International Academy, delivering sessions in Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark and coaching in the prestigious Dana Cup alongside Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler. It’s great to be able to share experiences like this with former top players and professionals, little hints and insights are eye opening and give me plenty to think about and how to introduce it into my coaching sessions.

By 2018 there was some uncertainty as what was happening with Liverpools International Academy, so through contacts I’d already made, I was approached and made the switch to work for Manchester City as a football schools coach. This involved working with teams from China and the USA as well as players from Spain and Australia. During this time I was based in the UAE for 3 months and attended training sessions in Abu Dhabi working with the Man City first team squad which was a fantastic experience. We got to spend time with the players socially, but unsurprisingly, all mobile phones were banned!

My contract was expiring and once again there wasn’t and clear plan as what was happening with my role at Man City, so when I was approached once again by Liverpool to take on the role of Technical Director of coaching based in Hong Kong, I saw this a great opportunity.

I now lead a group of coaches and we deliver coaching sessions to academy squads from ages 7-18 and make sure they are aligned to Liverpool FC’s coaching philosophy, ethos and player pathways.

Before travel was banned due to Covid, we would come back to England for training courses. On one such time I ended up at Anfield for what thought was for a day of coaching, but it turned out they just needed staff members to be on the Xmas tv advert! So I had my 30 seconds of fame with Nathaniel Clyne posing for some photos not really realising what was happening. The week after I went to get some lunch from the office in Liverpool and my face was plastered on the club shop in Liverpool One shopping centre along with Firminho , Ben Woodbury and Daniel Sturridge, and also appeared in a video on LFCTV. Safe to say I got plenty of stick from my mates!!

Honk Kong is an amazing place to live and work and things were really going well until the Covid pandemic arrived. HK was very strict with what you could and couldn’t do, if you were caught without a mask it was a £5000 fine along with a 6 month jail sentence!  I think we were lucky Hong Kong had previous experience in dealing with the SARS virus as with 7.5 million people living in the city, virus would spread very quickly.

On the football side of things, we were not allowed to deliver any sessions or play any matches for the months of February, March and April 2020. During these three months of no outdoor sessions, we supported our players by sending them content from our Individual Training Programme, which was supplied to us by LFC back in the UK. This was broken down into 4 sections which included; Watch, Analyse, Practice & Challenge.

  • Watch – Our players could access at home links to LFC Youtube content.
  • Analyse – Our players could access at home workshops on LFC first team players & match analysis videos.
  • Practice – Our players could access athletic development videos, receiving skills videos, home workout videos, ball manipulation videos and fitness injury prevention videos.
  • Challenge – Our players could access our LFC skills challenges which included turning, passing, dribbling and shooting.

Housing in Hong Kong is flat living and they are very small and in high rise buildings, so the videos were shot in small areas at the coaches’ home to replicate the space that the players may have at home. We then sent these out to the players for them to practice. Gradually we went from sending a coach doing skills on their own at home to two coaches working together outside with masks on in a small area performing volleys, passing, heading, receiving techniques with each other.

We were just getting back to some normality when the 2nd wave came in July, so we had to revert back to previous remote sessions. Gradually as things eased we got back to small groups on large pitches, not ideal but we worked had to make it as positive as possible, then in December a 3rd wave frustratingly shut us down again. 

As the situation has improved each week, the rules are changing for the better and it now means in May 2021 we can have matches and competitions, players can have contact in sessions and do not need to wear masks. We can have larger groups and normality seems like it is just around the corner. 

Explaining our session to Liverpool 1st team player Djibril Cisse

I hope it can continue the way it currently is and we can get back to what we know and love here and around the world. It certainly has been a very hard and challenging time but nowhere near what many other less fortunate people have gone through and who are still currently going through it. My thoughts are always with the less fortunate. 

I never take for granted where I am in the world, the job I have, the love I have for my work and the ladder I want to continue climbing in educating coaches and players to get to the very top. It is very hard work, but if coaching is your passion what I have achieved shows if you are committed you can achieve whatever you desire. I’m now looking forward to travel restrictions being lifted so myself and my girlfriend Gellin, can finally come back to Barrow to visit family and friends and take in a game at Barrow AFC!!

Oh, and I’m still a Man Utd supporter!!

Written By
Ian Allington

Ian Allington

Cricket Correspondent

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