Scope puts Ilkeston project on ice
Paul Scope says the Ilkeston-Bermuda project is in “cold storage” but will continue to use his overseas contacts to help the island’s young footballers.
About 30 Bermudians have passed through Ilkeston’s first team or academy since Scope, a former national team assistant coach, forged links with the English non-League side in 2012.
Among those were Rai Simons, the project’s “poster child” after joining Chesterfield, Antwan Russell, Dale Eve, Lejuan Simmons, Jaylon Bather and Danté Leverock.
Shaun Goater further strengthened Bermuda’s ties with Ilkeston, taking over as manager in February with the club second from bottom of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League.
Goater could not stave off relegation, with the debt-ridden outfit going into liquidation before being replaced by a “phoenix club”, called Ilkeston Town, and placed in the Midland League One — five tiers below the Football League.
That level is too low for ambitious Bermudian players, according to Scope, who retains a strong influence at the Ilkeston academy, which is inactive and now operates as a separate entity from the club.
“Unfortunately, the project has stalled and is in a bit of limbo at the minute,” Scope said. “We’re working out how to best utilise the assets that we have left.
“The club went into liquidation, which often happens at this level, and is one of the reasons why I didn’t invest in the club itself or put any sponsorship in there.
“Ilkeston did reform, as most clubs do when they go into liquidation, but they had to drop down two more divisions and I don’t feel it’s a good enough level to send Bermuda’s players. I think it’s lower than our Premier Division.”
Scope is still investigating options for the academy, now run by Nigel Harrop, the club’s former chairman and a former Bermuda resident.
“One of the ideas floating about is whether to run it as an independent academy like the Richmond International Academic & Soccer Academy [in Leeds], where Nahki Wells attended, or use it to organise combines at St George’s Park, which isn’t far from Ilkeston,” he said.
For more than a decade Scope has invested time and money in helping to raise the standard of local football, first through the now-defunct Bermuda Hogges in the United Soccer League before establishing a link-up with Ilkeston.
With several of the Hogges players going on to play professionally, such as Wells, Freddy Hall and Zeiko Lewis, and many others benefiting from spending time at Ilkeston, Scope says he no regrets.
“Like the Bermuda Hogges, I don’t consider the Ilkeston project to be a failure,” said Scope, who continues to rent a property in Derbyshire for Jahtino Richardson-Martin, David Jones Jr and Tevahn Tyrell, as they continue to play locally.
“I think we’ve had 50 players go overseas since the Hogges, more than 30 through Ilkeston. Rai Simons was obviously the poster child and actually got a professional contract [at Chesterfield] out of it.
“I think those players who come back [to Bermuda] did so as better players and more mature men.”
Of those still chasing their professional dreams, Scope feels Simons, without a club after turning down a new contract with Chesterfield in the summer, and Dale Eve, formerly of Stoke City and Forest Green Rovers, are the best equipped.
“I’m loosely in touch with Dale and I definitely think, with his talent, he’s someone who could make it,” Scope said. “I’ve lost contact with Rai since he left Chesterfield. I’d definitely be receptive if he reached out.
“It was definitely a risky play to refuse a contract when you already have a long-term injury. I wish him well, though; he’s a good kid.”
Scope added: “We do have some youngsters with potential but they’re really young. That’s one of the reasons I’m taking a little breather because there’s nobody jumping out at me.
“If there was I’d probably get more excited. I don’t have the time to get someone from 12 years old. I rely on people like Dennis Brown and Richard Todd to recommend players when they reach a certain age.
“I’m really looking for that ready-to-go professional. I like Zeiko a lot and if he was looking to get to England I could probably get someone to take a look at him. I’m still receptive to anyone looking for help.”
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