Rion’s Journey from Sheffield United Community College to Handsworth First Team

Many students are primarily drawn to the college with ambitions of pursuing careers in football. Therefore, it is essential for us to offer clear and viable pathways for their progression. Given the chances of becoming an elite footballer are slim (approximately 0.012%), we are transparent in how we market and promote our college, focusing around providing realistic routes into semi-professional football. Hence, we established a partnership with Handsworth FC to offer a viable pathway for our students. Handsworth FC, a club which competes in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division (Step 5), provides the perfect entry level step into semi-professional football, allowing our students to transition into paid adult football, as well as exposure to leagues and competitions within non-league.

The following case study highlights the journey of Rion Arbouin, a recent Sheffield United Community College graduate, who through a combination of sporting ability and dedication, has managed to achieve this step.

Upon joining the college in 2020, Rion’s footballing ability quickly set him apart. Moving straight into the college’s elite side (a squad typically made up of second year students), it did not take long for Rion to gather interest from above. By the beginning of his second year, he was invited to train with the U21 squads, eventually progressing to Handsworth’s first team within just three months.

During his time at Sheffield United Community College, Rion really came into his own. He gives credit to the college for boosting his confidence in social situations and for creating an environment where he could excel both on the field and in the classroom. Reflecting on his experience, Rion said, “Being at Sheffield United College was a game-changer for me, both personally and as a player. It helped me break out of my shell socially, getting me comfortable to work alongside new people from different backgrounds. On the field, it was intense – everyone there was hungry to improve, which pushed me to be better. I loved the challenge, always learning new tactics and trying out different positions. The schedule was packed with lessons, training every day and games mid-week, but it was exactly what I needed. It’s rigorous, but you develop a lot, and it suited me perfectly.”

It was not only the football side that pushed Rion, but from an academic angle he thrived, finishing his course with Triple Distinction. Rion said, “I didn’t really enjoy secondary school much at all to be honest; It wasn’t the environment for me. The teaching methods aren’t always right for everyone with the way you just come in, the teacher explains what you’re doing then you just carry on answering the questions throughout the duration of the lesson. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed college so much as it was a class about half the size of a school, and was a lot more individually focused. It’s why I enjoyed college so much, as James, my tutor at the time, was brilliant! Every day he’d come in with a smile on his face and would make everyone feel welcomed and included. The college staff always look to challenge everyone in the classroom and make us try to be better in one way or another. They take pride in the way they teach lessons and they understood that people learn differently. The mentoring was also very good as it made people feel like their opinions, thoughts and feelings were heard and valued.”

During his time at college, Rion embraced every challenge and opportunity presented to him. Aiden Spowage, Head of Football Development, spoke in glowing terms of Rion: “If you could have 20 Rion’s in a classroom, you would. We couldn’t have asked for a better student with Rion, on and off the pitch, he’s a perfect example of what you want day in, day out at college. In his first year, Rion played in the college’s top team and won the North CEFA Division 1 League. Rion was never late with his assignments, working at Distinction level; punctuality never missed a beat, he always wanted to come to college to learn. On the pitch, he was the most hardworking individual you could meet, you just knew from the get-go he was going to go far in life. His morals couldn’t be better; polite, hardworking and a very talented young individual. Putting Rion in a semi-professional environment was a no brainer for me as I knew he would thrive in the environment and he’s gone to prove this. The sky’s the limit for Rion and I wish him all the very best with it!”

Looking ahead, Rion has aspirations to continue climbing the football ladder and compete at the highest level possible: “I want to be playing football at a high level, maybe somewhere like the National League or hopefully even higher. I want to be in an environment where everyone is just as hungry to improve and win, no matter their age. As long as I’m somewhere where I’m playing football, continuing to learn and in an environment where I will be always improving, I will be happy. Career wise, I have a passion for coaching and find real joy in it; I like to develop people and push them, helping take them to the next level. I find it rewarding when I can see how far they have come along and knowing it has come from my training and drills.”

Rion’s story provides great evidence of the opportunities provided by the college. Whilst he was with us at Sheffield United Community College, Rion not only thrived academically but also found a platform to display his football talents. His experience is motivating for aspiring students and demonstrates a clear pathway that is available to those who apply themselves.