Liam Palmer: Giving Back, Grassroots and Racism
One-club players are a rarity in football, whatever level you’re playing at. Other than a loan spell at Tranmere Rovers, Scotland international defender has spent his entire career at Sheffield Wednesday. The boyhood Owls fan subverts the classic (some might say outdated) footballer trope in other ways, too - opening his own Palmer School of Excellence (PSOE) at Goals Sheffield, which programmes weekly sessions and holiday camps for five to twelve year olds. The Grassroots Post caught up with Liam on his way back from their half-term holiday camp to chat pushy parents and educating kids beyond the pitch.
What inspired you to start the Palmer School of Excellence?
I got picked up at a summer holiday Sheffield Wednesday football camp in Worksop when I was six or seven years old. I didn’t expect to get scouted, but the guy running the camp eventually took me to the academy. I was keen to give that opportunity back to other kids.
How did the Goals partnership come about?
Well they’ve got the ideal set-up, with all weather pitches and indoor facilities. They look after the admin side which is perfect for me as I’m still working as a professional footballer.
What does the PSOE currently provide and what are the ambitions?
At the moment, it’s the school holiday training camps and weekly sessions for five-to-twelve year olds. We also organised a grass roots tournament for over twenty-five teams. But the plan is to eventually expand into older age groups, maybe work with players that have dropped out of academies, retraining them or giving them a pathway to other things.
What separates you from the other grassroots football schools and academies?
The one difference I wanted to make was the education side. At the holiday camps we have kids between 09:00 and 15:00 and we’ve also introduced workshops, from first aid or a workshop from Kick It Out. Hopefully they can go away with a bit more confidence or knowledge.
You have worked in the past with Show Racism the Red Card at Sheffield Wednesday, haven’t you?
Yeah, we’ve had a number of workshops with hundreds of kids from ethnic backgrounds and schools. So many people don’t feel comfortable reporting or talking about racism and it’s opening up the lines of communication. Racism is still massive in today’s game but the statistic I look at is the increasing number of cases being reported. That’s really positive.
What challenges do you think face grassroots football (barring COVID-19)?
We’d like to see greater numbers of girls playing, and refereeing is always a challenge: they have to contend with a lot and they need more encouragement. Also, the parents involvement, sometimes they need to learn not to take is so seriously. Everyone develops at a different time. It’s important for the kids to have freedom of expression and not to have people on their back if they don’t have the best game.
We couldn’t agree more! Are you still involved with grassroots football outside of the School of Excellence?
Yeah, I’ve got lots of family and friends who play and I’m always down at my local pitches in Worksop watching them. You get some real characters who have given their lives to it. It helps me see the game from a different perspective and it’s almost a relief to watch some real football after being in the professional game for so long.
My son is now playing, he’s six years old. That was the other reason behind the school - he was starting his football journey and I wanted him to go to an environment where he’d get the right education. I’m at his games every weekend and love watching how he develops. He learns so many life skills. I have my desk-chair on the side with a flask, big hat and get to just be a parent.