Football Dreams or Nightmares: The Academy

Authors: Hunter, A. and Gennings, E.

Conference: The International Research Network on Violence and Integrity in Sport (IRNOVIS) Research Symposium Safe sport research today: Where are we at?


The rise of reality television has led to an increased interest in exploring various aspects of human life on the small screen. In August 2022, the British public broadcasting channel, Channel 4, released a documentary series titled “Football Dreams: The Academy” which follows the Crystal Palace football academy. Children's professional football academies are pathways for talented athletes, providing them with structured training, development, and opportunities to pursue a career in the sport (Raya-Castellano, & Uriondo, 2015; Ong, McGregor, & Daley, 2018). However, the involvement of these academies in television documentaries raises a series of ethical concerns. This study examines the Channel 4 documentary “Football Dreams: The Academy” through two key dimensions: the impact of academies on children's wellbeing and issues of informed consent for children’s participation in such documentaries.

Research into the environment created within professional football academies has demonstrated issues in player wellbeing (e.g., Ong, McGregor, & Daley, 2018; Cooper, 2021). As such, the competitive nature of the academy, coupled with the added pressure of public exposure, could lead to elevated stress levels in an environment that is already suggested to be pressured and have negative impacts on children’s lives. Participation in a televised documentary can further disrupt the normal development and upbringing of these young athletes as it may expose them to excessive media attention, affecting their social interactions, education, and emotional stability. Given the players ages and limited understanding of the consequences, it is essential to ensure that children and their legal guardians fully comprehend the nature and potential consequences of participating in a TV documentary.

The entire documentary series, “Football Dreams: The Academy”, will be watched and analysed (282 minutes). Box of Broadcasts, a television service that records and transcribes televised programs, will be used to gather the data for analysis. Documentary transcripts will be checked for accuracy by comparison to the televised documentary and then an independent analysed by the two researchers. Initially, researchers will engage in reflexivity through bracketing interviews. The purpose of this is to mitigate the potential for researcher assumptions to influence the analysis (Tufford & Newman, 2012). Then, researchers will analyse the transcripts following Braun and Clarke’s 6-phase framework (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Upon completion of the independent analyses, the two researchers will compare and discuss themes. This presentation will share the preliminary findings from the analysis with a focus on the narrative and experiences of children within the football academy

Source: Manual