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New Deal offeres new start in New World (Western Mail)

AN American soccer team has snapped up two young players only a few months after they signed on to the government's New Deal scheme for the unemployed.

Six months ago, Neil Roberts and Neil Jatt were kicking their heels as two of the many unem-ployed men in their home town of Caernarfon.

But soon they will be kicking footballs in the land of opportunity - and being paid $500 a week to boot.

Last October the pair were among the first 15 people to join a new course for soccer coaches run by Porthmadog Football Club.

The scheme is funded by the government as part of the New Deal programme.

Now they have been signed to play for Colorado Stampede, a team in the Second Division of the US professional league.

In April they will fly out to prepare for the three-month US soc-cer season.

They win coach juniors at the club between playing engagements with the senior team.

Colin Hawkins, co-ordinator of the New Deal project, said, "The Colorado Stampede play in Colorado Springs, which is 7,000ft above sea-level.

"Our boys are going out three weeks before the season starts to get used to the altitude.

"They will have to fly to away matches because the teams are spread so far apart."

The two young players attracted the eye of a Colorado Stampede talent-spotter on a visit to Wales because of their ability to play and to coach - skills that do not always come together.

Hawkins is also manager of Cymru Alliance club Porthmadog. Ironically, the club launched its New Deal scheme at the same time that it was being relegated from the League of Wales to the Cymru Alliance. With the help of local enterprise agency Antur Dwyryd-Llyn and the Employment Service, the club now runs the only course in Britain teaching unemployed people to be football coaches.

"Other coaching schemes are for people who have got other jobs, can get a bursary, can afford to pay for a six-month coaching course or are ex-footballers who can get financial backing," said Hawkins.

"Ours is the only course avail-able to get people out of the dole queue and into football coaching."

He said the demand for coaches would rise quickly next year, when new regulations will be introduced which will require coaches of ju-nior football teams to have formal qualifications.

"Traditionally the under-nines are coached by a local person -usually a fat bloke who has done it for years and has no first-aid qualifications. That's been banned from 2000," he said.

He added that In Denbighshire alone there were vacancies for 160 coaches, some of them for summer jobs related to fun camps for young holiday-makers in Rhyl.

Hawkins said the New Deal course, which offers an NVQ Level Two qualification in sports and leisure, could be expanded to offer training for rugby coaches, life-guards and referees.

Soccer coaches are in such short supply in Britain that Hawkins trawled the Internet to find two Swedish players who were quali-fied to coach new coaches. Also helping with the New Deal pro-gramme is former Liverpool and England full-back Chris Lawler.

After a successful inauguration in Gwynedd, the scheme is being expanded to cover all North Wales. Organisers expect there will be 50 participants in the football-coach-ing scheme by early April.

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