FORMER City winger Mark Ellis has big plans for 2022, with RIASA launching a new female football programme next September.

Ellis co-founded the academy 11 years ago and is its director. The most famous player to be unearthed there since it began operating is Bantams legend Nahki Wells.

But now, in addition to its male undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, women will now be afforded the same opportunities from next year.

Ellis said: "Covid put a stop to the idea for a couple of years, but it's finally going ahead in September 2022.

"The students themselves are registered to Richmond University in London, but we run the programme from Leeds Beckett, as I'm based in Bradford.

"The university (Beckett) have just built new £45m state of the art sporting facilities, which makes the timing even better.

"Because the degree is American accredited at Richmond, it will give the women, like the men, the chance to play in different countries.

"As far as I know, they wouldn't be able to play in the Women's Super League (the top-flight in England) as a direct result of getting a degree with us, only at second-tier level and below.

"But there'd be nothing stopping them from achieving that in the future."

Ellis added: "There'd be women doing undergraduate and Masters programmes with us, so it's not just for those straight out of sixth-form.

"It will be mainly US students but we're looking to get women over to study from other countries too.

"Not everyone can get that coveted scholarship out in the US, so hopefully they can fit in here if not.

"I have a contact out in Finland, so we can have that crossover with the men and women, and maybe get some of our ladies playing in the top-flight over there or in the likes of Norway and Sweden."

Asked if he was looking to bring in female coaches to RIASA to bring on the new cohorts, Ellis said: "It's certainly a possibility.

"I did my UEFA A licence alongside Hope Powell, who used to manage England and is now in charge at WSL side Brighton.

"I was shocked at just how good she was and to be honest, she was better than all the men there.

"Even if we can't get her in, it would be good to have a high-quality women's coach to help our female students come along."

Talking about a typical week in the life of a RIASA student, Ellis said: "They'll usually be in class on a morning and training on the afternoon, though it depends on their age and sometimes it can be vice-versa.

"Games will usually be on a Wednesday evening, but they're sometimes on a Monday or Tuesday instead.

"All that keeps them busy and then we've had our lads go on overseas tours too, to the likes of Holland, Slovakia and Latvia.

"That's a great experience for them and one that's open to all ages.

"We have links to China too, so it's not even just Europe where they might play."