A North East football youth league, which spawned stars such as Paul Gascoigne, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carol, has unveiled ambitious new expansion plans.
The Russell Foster Tyne and Wear Youth Leagues were set up by one of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs and currently comprise around 23,000 young players at five venues throughout the North East, which are presently headquartered at a purpose-built £2m site at Newbottle.
But now the league’s parent charity, The Russell Foster Sports Foundation, which owns and operates the site, is planning an ambitious move, to a 35-acre former equestrian centre at nearby Leamside.
Along with far greater on-site parking than is currently available at Newbottle, the new site includes an undercover facility, spacious enough to house three youth football pitches.
A planning application, which has been supported by Sport England has now been lodged with Durham County Council and Mr Foster said, if passed, the move would give even more young players the chance to follow in the footsteps of footballing greats.
“Ours are the biggest football leagues in the country,” he said, “and while I would be sad to leave Newbottle, which has been fantastic, the Leamside site will enable us to expand what we do even further.
“Leamside is only 10 minutes away from the existing HQ and as the participating teams come from all over the North East it will make no difference to travelling,” he added.
One of the North East’s best-known entrepreneurs, Russell Foster now divides his time between the UK – where his business interests include an engineering factory in Bradford, several restaurants in the North East and a land development company – and South Africa.
He is involved with many charitable organisations on the country’s West Coast, including a soup kitchen and animal welfare centre and also owns the local English speaking church at Velddrif.
He has built a Church Hall, which is used by the community, an entire retirement village and is in the final stages of completing a 38-bed medical centre.
Scheduled to open in October, it is fitted with all the latest equipment and will provide emergency facilities including 24/7 ambulances and paramedics.
His business interests in South Africa include two large restaurants, a boutique hotel, a craft brewery and a distillery and his latest project is the provision of a sanctuary for homeless and abused people.
“That will definitely be my last project, though,” said the 73-year-old. “I only went out to South Africa to retire.