Velocity Football student Niko Nemonen-Millar described making his starting debut for England Schoolboys U18s as an honour ahead of the squad’s Centenary Shield campaign.
The 17-year-old Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport student played a full 90 minutes in Schoolboys’ 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace U18s at the Premier League side’s training ground on Saturday afternoon.
Born and raised in Oxford, Niko will next link up with the national team on Wednesday, February 23, when they travel to the east midlands to face Nottingham Forest Academy.
The fixtures have been arranged to prepare the squad for next month’s Centenary Shield between England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Despite making his full debut, Niko insists the hardest work is yet to come and is hopeful of more opportunities in the coming weeks.
“It was a huge honour to wear the England shirt,” he said. “I’m only in my first year with Velocity Football, so I was a bit surprised to get the call-up as most of the lads have that extra year of experience on me.
“Saturday’s game went well, and I feel I delivered a solid performance. It’s been a fantastic experience for my development too as competition for starting places is extremely tough, so you’ve got to be prepared to go that extra mile in training.
“All the key principles we learn at Velocity Football have taught me well for this occasion and I’m relishing the challenge.”
The former Gosford Hill student enrolled onto Velocity Football’s full-time educational academy following his release from Oxford United after a spell in the club’s academy.
Director Justin Merritt arranged for Niko to visit the centre’s facilities and learn more about the on and off-field opportunities the programme facilitates. He now trains daily with former Watford FC midfielder Ross Jenkins, experienced Oxfordshire coach Andy Sinnott and Oxford City Junior and Youth Football Head of Academy Jordan Piper.
Training is combined with education towards an industry recognised qualification which provides students with a development pathway to careers in coaching, physiotherapy, the media, strength and conditioning, sports analysis and more.
For now, Niko plans to use Velocity Football as a springboard to realising his dream and becoming a professional footballer. But the programme is providing him with an alternative career pathway should his playing career not work out.
He added: “It’s so important to have a ‘Plan B’ and is ultimately the reason why I enrolled onto Velocity Football. Combining full-time training with my studies is great for my development and I feel I’m achieving a lot more than I ever did at school.
“We work hard every day both on the pitch and in the classroom, but it’s a relaxed environment where I’m engaging with likeminded students who all share common interests so the atmosphere is really positive.
“Plus, we get to work with great coaches like Ross Jenkins, Jordan Piper and Andy Sinnott each day. They’ve really helped me grow a lot as both a player and person.
“My communication has definitely improved. Before joining Velocity, I wasn’t the most talkative player on the pitch, but now I’m a lot louder which is benefitting my game.”
French shines for United in Southern League victory
There was more positive news to report from the weekend as Velocity student Billie French made her Southern League debut for Oxford United – and scooped Player of the Match!
The teenager, who’s in the second year of her Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport programme, starred in U’s 1-2 win against London Bees as right back.
Oxford United Women’s captain and Velocity Football Head Coach Lauren Haynes said: “Billie delivered an outstanding performance against London on Sunday and fully deserved her Player of the Match award.
“It’s been fantastic to see Billie develop both on and off the field in the last 18 months and her current success is down to having the right attitude and focus in training and with her studies.
“It’s an exciting time for her to be part of the Oxford United squad as we chase promotion from the Southern League Premier Division. Well done Billie!”