From the football pitch to the Love Island villa: life without a mobile phone

Finn Tapp was a semi-professional football player for non-league club Oxford City, having previously played as a professional for Milton Keynes Dons. He won the 2020 edition of Love Island, the first to be set in South Africa, with his partner Paige Turley. You can follow Finn on Instagram and Twitter

Now, I’m asked more about Love Island than about my football career; but the highs and lows I had through football are what made me who I am today so that’s the bit I love talking about.

I went through the academy at MK Dons, captained the youth team, had a very successful season in the youth team and at the end of that I was offered my professional contract. I had a year as a professional at Dons, then decisions were made that I was going to be let go. For several months I was very stuck in the mud, not knowing what I was going to do, because all I ever knew was football. Then my agent suggested to go in at semi-professional level, to get game time and build my enjoyment back up.

I went to Oxford City FC and started to fall back in love with it. I really enjoyed my time there, then the opportunity came up to go on Love Island.

Love Island was a lot of fun – it was the best thing I’ve ever done. It was amazing and both Paige and I had a great time. When you’re in there you very soon forget you’re in Love Island, and on a TV show. It feels like you’re on holiday with a group of people. You’re with 10 other people, in South Africa, the sun’s shining and you’re just having a laugh.

It was actually really refreshing not having a phone, in the villa. The world that we live in today, you can’t walk past two people in the street without one of them being on their phone. It was nice just to be in the moment, and not have any external factors which might sway your judgement.

Doing football was far harder than going through Love Island. Elite sport is tough because you’re always trying to please a lot of people. When you’re working your way through the academy you’ve got to please the coach, so he tells the coach of the age group above you, then it goes up the tree and maybe to the academy manager. In Love Island it was a case of: send in your application, go to interview with one of the producers, then one of the executive producers, try to please them and then it’s done. You are just you. You’re not being judged on how good you are, you’re just being judged on whether they want you or not.

Also, I’d dreamed about being a footballer since I was a kid, so the pressure was on.

I didn’t even tell anyone about Love Island beforehand except my closest mates and family. If I didn’t get in, no-one knew anyway. Whereas with football everyone knew me because I was playing for Dons, and would ask me if I was going to become a professional footballer or not – the pressure was there.

I go into a lot of clubs and talk to the academy footballers, and I try to be honest about the mistakes I made. Looking back on it, I wasn’t very good at that – rejections, not getting picked for the team, having a bad game then missing the next one – I wasn’t very good at dealing with that. The mental side of football is something I’m trying to promote, but it’s a hard part of the game that isn’t spoken about or trained enough. I go in and talk about the transition from academy football to the first team environment, tried to be relatable and give them lots to think about. I try to be really positive.

The one big message I’m trying to get across is: prepare yourself mentally. Prepare for sacrifice and challenges, and don’t just rely on your ability on the field.

I remind them of the importance of camaraderie in the dressing room, get friendly with the experienced pros because you’ll learn a lot from them, which is what I didn’t do. My attitude was more, I’ll turn up late so I can have breakfast on my own. I’ll go and train then I’ll be the first away because I wanted to come home. Whereas it’s very important to build that relationship in the dressing room because you can learn a lot from them and gain respect from the senior players, rather than just put your head down and work.

If I could go back and give advice to my younger self, I’ll tell him to constantly work harder, and don’t ever feel like you’ve made it. I trained really hard to get my scholarship, then I got my scholarship; then I thought now it’s for my professional contract, so I kept working hard. When I got my pro contract, I thought, great. I’m now a professional footballer, that’s what I’ve been working towards for 10 years, and I’ve got it now. It might take me a few years to get into the starting line-up but right now I don’t have to try too hard.

In the youth team you are only competing against the people in the changing room, whereas going into the first team you’re not just competing against people in the club, you’re competing against – are you better than the people they’re scouting, and trying to buy in to the club. It enlarges the pool of fish you’re competing against.

It’s a tough environment but the rewards are enormous. But nevertheless, I had a fantastic time in the Love Island villa and I felt so lucky to have been crowned the winner!