Graduation 18.07.24

Industry experience leads Salford graduate to dream role with his boyhood club

Alex Johnson was born and raised in Darlington, where he remembers playing and watching as much football as he possibly could from an early age. As he graduates this week, we spoke to him about how this passion led to him now working for the club he supported as a child.

“My first real role within football was coaching at my local Sunday league club when I was 16 before I went to university. This started my interest, and I went on to study Sports Coaching and Science at Undergraduate level at Northumbria University. 

“During my studies there, I had an opportunity to work as an intern in the Performance Analysis department of my boyhood club, Middlesbrough FC. My main roles were to film academy games and give objective feedback to the coaches, which helped me to understand the basics of analysis and improved my football knowledge even further. 

“During the summer break I was able to use the connections I made at Middlesbrough to help me to get an interview with Newcastle United FC, where I undertook my next placement. This saw me solely focused on one age group (under 14s) working with individuals and groups to look at the positives and negatives from the previous game. Focusing on one team developed my confidence in my work and helped me develop some good working relationships with those players.”

After completing his first degree, Alex was keen to continue his studies. In looking for somewhere to undertake his master’s, he found himself drawn to Salford’s MSc Performance Analysis in Sport course.

“The initial attraction was the location itself in Manchester – there are so many football clubs in the area, and I knew the University of Salford had some good contacts with them! Using these connections helped me to gain a placement with Rochdale AFC within a first team environment. 

“The biggest challenge with my master’s was fitting everything in! I was doing roughly 65-70 hour working weeks (45-50 hours at Rochdale and another 20 hours at a part time hospitality job) with my university studies on top of that. I overcame this by being as organised as possible and planning in advance. They were long days, but looking at the position I am in now I am so glad I did it. It really is true that hard work pays off!

“I do wish I had made more of my university experience and maybe spent a bit more time socialising with mates. Now that I’m working in a full-time role in football (which includes weekends working) I rarely get time to socialise with friends and family!”

This hard work has certainly helped Alex land a dream role – working for the club he followed so passionately as a boy. 

“Currently I am the academy analyst (under 9s – under 16s) at Middlesbrough FC. I didn’t realise when I applied for the job, but the Assistant Manager at Rochdale, Jimmy Shan, had previously worked with the Lead Academy Analyst at Middlesbrough. This shows how important internship placements are and the connections you make along the way. 

“It’s amazing to be working for my boyhood club, and the coach I work alongside with allows me to analyse from my own perspective of the team. This means I can showcase my knowledge of football and to show my own initiative develop relationship with the players and staff. In the next 10 years I’d love to be working within a Premier League Club within a first team environment.”