As a young boy, I would dream of being a first-team regular in the Premier League and appearing on Match of The Day every week, just like millions up and down the country and around the world.
Fast forward 20 years and I now find myself in the fifth tier of English football, where I have spent the last five seasons. Growing up I didn’t once contemplate playing lower than the Premier League but as I entered the world of full-time football, I quickly realised how difficult the journey would be.
I joined the Crystal Palace academy aged 9. From 14, I was playing in the age groups above. At 15, I was playing week in, week out for the youth team, keeping scholars out of the team. I was missing large chunks of a Tuesday and Thursday at school because I was on day release at the club, training with the youth team, reserves, or the first team.
At 16, I made my first-team debut away to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup third round, becoming the second youngest debutant for Crystal Palace. I signed a three-year professional contract on my 17th birthday.
As you can see, my journey through the early part of my career was full of highs and thoroughly enjoyable.
However, at 21 I was terminating my contract at Crystal Palace, after 12 years of being at the club. After signing my first professional contract at 17, I made my full debut at 19, had a couple of loans to non-League, a successful loan to League One with Colchester United, and an unsuccessful one at Portsmouth in League Two. Combine those experiences with other factors that arise and it was clear that those early highs were becoming less frequent and the journey less enjoyable.
I had gone from constant highs to some tough lows, and I wasn’t equipped to deal with them because I hadn’t experienced them before.
That is why I have started my blog, Fly on the Ball. The aim is to show aspiring players the realities of a career in professional football, whilst also providing insight. I want to equip and prepare the next generation and those already on the journey, for the turbulent ride of highs and lows that they will face as they pursue their dreams.
I’ve always wanted to work with young people and I thought what better way than to share my experiences and knowledge from my career so far. Before I started the blog, I began to consider my post-career path after a couple of frustrating years with injuries. I had also enjoyed writing a blog for the LFE (League Football Education) when I was in the youth team.
The name is a playful spin on the well-known phrase because this is a fly-on-the-wall experience in the world of professional football. It’s a place where players will gain an understanding of what is required to have a career in the game, from the perspective of someone who has lived and breathed it, as if you were that fly on the wall.
I have dedicated my life to football and all of the things that I write about are from my experiences over 20+ years. From the sacrifices players have to make, to dealing with the emotions of long-term injuries, to what to expect when signing a contract, and plenty more.
Nowadays, the career of a footballer looks straightforward to most, with the lifestyle and the riches that come with ‘kicking a ball around’.
I want people to see the truth behind the glitz and glam; the challenges, the constant pressures to perform, long periods away from family, missed birthdays of children, and Christmas days spent in a hotel room.
Although this is aimed at helping players directly, it is vitally important that the support network surrounding the players are aware of and understand the journey too. Parents, partners, and friends are all present in the lives of players and invested in their careers. Through the blog posts, they will be able to support their loved ones when needed.
I don’t claim to have had the career that those reading my blog will hopefully go on to achieve, but I have been on the same journey they will be going through and faced the many things they will too.
My dream of playing in the Premier League didn’t come true, but perhaps everything I have been through in my football career is so that I can use my experiences to guide those following behind me towards achieving their dreams.
You can find my blog at www.flyontheball.co.uk/blog/