03 Apr Celebrating 10 years of ACES
Pitchero ACES Nationals has always been about bringing together the best of the best in junior grassroots football – and that vision has seen the tournament’s rapid growth.
It began with 20 teams in 2009 for one age group and by this year, that has expanded to 360 teams across 14 age groups over three weekends at Nottingham’s Riverside Sports Complex.
That first tournament, held in Leicester, got its name by being called the All Cities Elite Shield (ACES). It was created by Andy Panayiotou who was the manager of a very successful U15 Boys team at Aylestone Park FC.
Andy wanted his team to play against strong opposition from around the country and he managed to bring together 20 teams, all champions themselves, and the competition was born.
REPRESENTING TOWNS AND CITIES
Each team that entered represented their city or town for the day. The ACES contest proved to be such a success that the following year a second age group was added and the tournament moved to the home of Harborough Town FC in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
As Pitchero ACES Nationals celebrates its ten-year landmark, it’s rewarding to see the popularity of the competition reflected in the numbers of players, managers and spectators who attend.
The inaugural event started by Andy a decade ago attracted 750 attendees and that became 15,000 players, managers and spectators by 2017!
Though qualifying for – and perhaps winning – the Pitchero ACES Nationals is achievement enough, some footballers can go on to play professionally. Over the years, we know that 18 football clubs have signed players who played at ACES tournaments:
Leicester City, Hull City, Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Huddersfield, QPR, Derby County, Burton Albion, Coventry City, Yeovil Town, Nottingham Forest, Notts County, Bristol City, Bristol Rovers and Walsall.
Of the ACES conveyor belt of talent joining these clubs, four footballers have gone on to make their first-team appearances.
THE NEXT TEN YEARS?
A decade of running ACES has now established its reputation nationally and according to Co-Founder David Cooper:
“The tournament is now the top junior event in boys and girls grassroots football. Entry to the Pitchero ACES Nationals and the chance to become national champions has become the highlight of the season for the country’s top teams.”
The exciting prospect is that there is still scope to grow further and it will do so. There could even be overseas teams again for 2018 after last year, when a squad of U11 boys jetted in from South Korea and made the quarter-finals!