John Megicks: Too much too young for prodigy

West Ham and Spurs battled for John Megicks' signature when he was six. Two years later, he starred in 'Football's Dream Factory'. A decade on, he plays for Wingate and Finchley in the Ryman Premier League. Sam Wallace tracks him down

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When John Megicks was eight years old, Alan Hansen met him from school with a film crew that was making a documentary about the best schoolboy footballers in the country. A child prodigy, Megicks was interviewed in his parents' front room about his ambitions by the BBC's most famous football pundit.

The documentary "Football's Dream Factory" was broadcast in April 2001 with Hansen as its frontman and a stellar range of interviewees including a 19-year-old Joe Cole, soon-to-be European footballer of the year Michael Owen, and Sol Campbell. On the topic of young footballers, Harry Redknapp, then West Ham manager, told Hansen "You've got to grab 'em young". The agent Jon Smith correctly predicted that "the next battleground will be for the signature of the kid".

At the centre of it was the angelic-faced Megicks. He was filmed going from school to his parents' home in Enfield and on to training at Tottenham Hotspur's academy at White Hart Lane. In between he found time to show Hansen his collection of schoolboy trophies in a bedroom. He asked Hansen, with the solemn curiosity of the young fan, which club he supported.

Ten years on, The Independent tracked down Megicks, now 19, to see if his football dream had worked out. That eight-year-old boy now has stubble and a steady girlfriend but he never got a professional contract with Spurs. In fact there has been no professional contract at any club and Megicks can joke that his peak as a footballer may have come when he was eight years old.

The Megicks I met last week was a polite, pleasant, bright young man. He still lives with his mum, Carol, who adores him as much as she did in that documentary 10 years ago, and he has a healthy sense of perspective. He still plays football, but for Wingate and Finchley in the Ryman Premier League, rather than at White Hart Lane.

Back in 2001, his starring role in Hansen's documentary was not his first brush with fame. He had first come to prominence when, two years earlier, The Sun devoted two pages of its sports pages to the battle between West Ham and Spurs for Megicks' signature with the headline "Meet West Ham's latest target – he's John Megicks, age 6".

Before Hansen's documentary, Megicks had already been on daytime TV shows and taken penalties on air with Michael Barrymore. "It felt like he was famous," Carol says. "This is what happened to him. Too much too young. He had all this publicity. He had all these promises. Everyone said he was this and he was better than Michael Owen. He was playing against Jack Wilshere. He outshone them all, but that's life isn't it?"

The Hansen documentary turned out to be a high point but as a child Megicks did not recognise the enormity of it until he found himself approached in his local park, by families who told him that they were looking forward to watching him on television.

On the day of filming itself, he remembers other children in the school coming into his class to tell him Hansen was outside in the playground. "I knew about it but when he was standing in the playground waiting for me it was... it all got so much," he says. "Later a Swedish TV crew came to film me. They gave me a Sweden kit. It felt unreal.

"I was there at eight and seeing myself on telly. I was thinking 'Wow' and people were saying I was worth £100,000 at the age of eight... I was not big-headed but it was nice. People paying attention and saying how good I was. Obviously, I peaked way too early."

For at least six years after that documentary, he continued to flourish. Megicks is as enthusiastic about football as he was 10 years ago talking to Hansen. He can remember games, opponents and goals he scored. He loved playing for Spurs but his happy life at the club came to a sudden and unexpected end when he was just 14.

He still does not know why John McDermott, Spurs' academy manager, released him five years ago. "That day he [McDermott] said: 'There is not a contract for you next year'," Megicks recalls. "I was devastated. As soon as he said that my dad jumped and took me out the room in 30 seconds so I never actually sat there and heard what their reasons are. To this day it has bugged me. I have always wanted to know why he got rid of me.

"I had so many thoughts. I really wanted to ask but I just never did. I tried moving on with it. It did have a really bad effect on me and knocked me back massively. My confidence completely went. It was so out the blue. I went in there thinking that having played the whole season, I was going on to under-15s to 16s. I got released and I didn't ever want to play football again. I thought 'I don't want to do this if it is going to hurt me so much'."

While he had been at Spurs, he had turned down offers from Manchester United and Arsenal to visit their academies. But by the time Spurs released him, these clubs had filled their quotas for the year and felt differently about a player with the stigma of rejection.

His dad, also John, got him a trial at West Ham. "I didn't enjoy it," Megicks says. "There were kids there who I had played against before. I bottled it, if anything. I just didn't fancy it. I was so down. My dad didn't want to see me hurt and out of football, so he pushed me along to it. My head was still getting over the fact I had been released by Tottenham. I went to West Ham and it was 'Oh, you got released'. It was horrible."

From there he went to Northampton Town where he played for two years and, at 16, was offered a scholar's contract that is the final stepping stone to a professional deal. To his eternal regret he rejected Northampton. He did not like the travelling and did not want to move into digs.

"I was getting on with it but I had this status that I had been at Tottenham for eight years," he says. "I had been on the telly and in the newspapers. I was this quite big thing. As much as I was still playing football and enjoying it, it really did hit me. I started to go off it a little bit more. I got older and like any teenager you want to go out. If I had been at Tottenham I am sure things would have been different. I would have stuck at it a lot more."

He spent the 2009-2010 season with Barnet, by which time he was 17, had captained their youth team and was hopeful of getting a professional deal at the League Two club. "It was the same thing at Barnet," he says. "It took me back to Tottenham when I had that interview with John McDermott and they looked me in the eye and shook their head. I just looked at the ground and thought 'I have had this all before'. This is three years on and I still feel the same. I went away devastated and that was really when I thought 'I have got to look at my options now, I have to get into the real world and look for a living'."

Since then he has been at Ware Town and a couple of stints at Cambridge City before alighting at Wingate this season. "They have a few fans so it is nice to play in front of people, even though it is not 40,000, which would have been my dream," he says.

"But there have been a lot of players recently who came from non-league. There is always that thing in the back of my mind – if you get your fitness, you get strong, you can build your way up the ladder. I have slowly come down it, what's to say I can't go back up it?"

Realistically he knows that it will be tough to catch up with the boys he once played against like Wilshere, Jonjo Shelvey and his former Spurs team-mate Tom Carroll, who has made his first-team debut. He did get to play for Barnet against Arsenal, the team he supports, in a friendly and nutmegged Johan Djourou but he also has a day-job coaching in primary schools.

"I would say to an eight-year-old: 'Don't get ahead of yourself, don't think that just because you are at one of these big clubs you have made it already because you are a long, long way off.' Obviously I know better than anyone, no matter how good you think you are you have to keep your feet on the ground and look straight ahead.

"There were times at Tottenham when I was wearing the training kit and I was thinking 'Yeah, I am this big thing', It happens to a lot of players, having that status, but you always have to work hard. There could always be a player who comes in from a local team and is better than you. To work hard is the main thing. Who knows how long it is going to last?"