Guest post from Sam Carroll, ex-Everton Academy footballer, now Sports Journalist for Liverpool Echo
“So what was it like, being released?”
A conversation with a friend – who has gone on to make a successful career in professional football, appearing in the Premier League – made me stop in my tracks recently. What was it really like being released? Had I ever truly stopped to consider?
Playing football had been all I wanted to do and all I ever knew. Being a goalkeeper, we had training every day of the week except Friday. My one day off was spent at the snooker club with my nan, or playing football with friends at the park. It was 24 hours of normality in a unique childhood. Because who else, between the ages of seven and 15, went to countries like Qatar, France, Germany, Austria, London, Edinburgh, Spain and Belgium, free of charge, touring the world to play football? Who else was given access to some of the best coaching and facilities in the country, and spent weekends facing Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City, pulling on the jersey of your boyhood club? Looking back, it was magical.
I was let go by Everton when I was 15 as the club doled out two-year scholarship contracts to prospects. I had been part of the academy for eight years, and I was heartbroken. Even at a young age, it was difficult to come to terms with the person I was. For almost a decade, I identified with being an academy goalkeeper, a gifted and talented student through sport. I had enough self-awareness to realise, towards the end of my academy experience, that it was unlikely I would become a professional footballer. Perhaps, if I’d continued, I could have forged a lower-league career, or picked up a wage in non-league.
Sometimes hindsight can be our best friend and best enemy.
But leaving Everton crushed my love of playing football for a while. I stopped almost completely, turning down the chance to play for the school team in the process. Perhaps it was this decision that led me into my career as a journalist.
When I was 16 a teacher at my senior school, Alsop, asked me to cover the Year 11 cup final. I penned a report for the school magazine as Alsop lifted the trophy, and a few days later a letter arrived in the post. The school had included me in the team squad list, and a note was left between the pages in bright red ink: “I think a career as a sports journalist is waiting for you!” It left a mark on me.
I went to the Liverpool ECHO for work experience a few months later, before applying for university to study English. After three years at the University of Liverpool, working part-time in a pub, I was back at the ECHO for another week of experience. I still don’t really know why I asked to go back a second time, six years apart. But it changed my life forever. My love of football had slowly returned, turning out for a local Saturday team, Bernie Mays. I was no longer a goalkeeper, and had reinvented myself as a defender and again looked forward to the weekend again for another chance to pull on my boots.
After another week at the ECHO, I was asked if I could come back the following Monday. There was no money in it, they said, but if I wanted the experience they would be happy to have me. I felt wanted, and it was nice. I jumped at the chance. It was difficult because at the time, I was getting to the ECHO for 8am, leaving at 5, and then heading straight to the pub to earn my own spending money.
But it all paid off when the ECHO told me a part-time position as a non-league reporter had come available, and they wanted me to have it. The wage was small, but I loved being back in football, this time as a reporter. A few months later the ECHO offered me a full-time position. Three years on and I have met friends for life and reported on both Everton and Liverpool across the country, even being sent to the Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley in 2020. I couldn’t make it as a footballer, but I like to think reporting is the next best thing, right? Alongside the help of my parents, family and friends, my experience of being in the academy system, as painful as my release was at the time, it gave me the ideal tools needed to survive in my current career. I wouldn’t change my journey for the world.
I hope anyone else coming out of a professional sporting environment, and searching for their next purpose, can be as lucky as me. But take your time, and enjoy the ride.
When it all comes together it is the best feeling in the world and I’m so proud of my two separate careers.
You can connect with Sam here:
Twitter – @SamCarroll0
LAPS Members can discuss Sam’s post on our Community page.