The footballing world has evolved a lot since my first steps into the professional game. The money keeps going up, the standard keeps going up, the expectation keeps going up, but the number of places available for young players to live their dream stays exactly the same.
I was never a believer in planning for my future. I wanted to be a footballer and that’s what I was going to do. Fast forward nine years and I now have a burning passion for the next batch of aspiring footballers to think past football and understand that they are so much more than a footballer and that football should not define who they are.
I represented England at Under-16, Under-17, Under-19 and Under-20 level and played my academy football at Newcastle United before spells at Carlisle, Hartlepool and Darlington. Now I lead the line at Gateshead in the National League North as well as my work as Partner Support Manager for LAPS.
In this role, I work with players at football academies all over the country running our Play It Forward workshops, in conjunction with the Premier League and LFE (League Football Education). I’m lucky enough to meet these young men from all kinds of backgrounds and situations. I’ve learned a lot from them over the years and the attitude of the guys I come across has certainly altered in that time.
The dreams stay the same, the need to succeed stays the same, but the mindset can, and is, changing.
The work that Head of Education and Player Care officers are now doing is a significant shift from the old ‘footballer or nothing’ mentality that my friends and I grew up with.
Nowadays the players have other things on their mind once the day-to-day business of football, tactics and conditioning is over. They now look to educating themselves further, get into coaching, start their own business or look to get involved in the ever-popular property ladder.
I have worked with a large number of young professionals, from Premier League to National League clubs.
It has been a breath of fresh air that these players know that the world is bigger than football.
The education system is broadening, the exposure to the pressure that these players face as they strive to succeed in a world of unmatched competition is now being shown and the work has started on giving these young people a platform to build their life around, away from football.
The stereotypes are fading and the players are showing interest in a variety of fields.
A lot, naturally, want to stay working in football or sport, but an increasing number of ‘new’ roles are sparking a flame inside young footballers. Some have expressed their desire to become professional gamers or make online content, personal training is another hot topic, and one player has gone as far as wishing to follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a doctor.
The landscape is changing slowly but surely and the work that is going on behind the scenes and away from the pitch is changing the lives of these young professionals season on season. I’d like to think this is the start of tipping the balance into the life of the young person and away from the constant pressure of the football pitch. Long may it continue.