The Last Word: Harsh reality of destroying boys’ dreams

Teenagers must be handled with care when let go by clubs – their whole world has collapsed

Josh Lyons never recovered from being released by Tottenham Hotspur. His failure to re-establish himself at Fulham and Crawley Town intensified the cycle of rejection and depression. One day last year, after telling his parents he was going jogging, he walked out of the trees and into the path of a train on the line from London Victoria to Portsmouth.

The coroner concluded that leaving Spurs, his childhood club, at the age of 16 was the “pivotal point that crushed a young man’s life and all the dreams that go with it”. She called for football to do more to look after its own.

Reports of the inquest featured a photograph of a young boy with floppy hair and a bashful smile. Josh was wearing the kit of his first professional club, Wimbledon. His team-mates staged a memorial match, where he was remembered as a fast, nimble striker and a caring individual who once couldn’t afford to get home because he had given a beggar his train fare.

Tottenham sent their condo-lences. Their academy programme is one of the best, offering holistic  educational support and advice on alternative careers. The authorities, reshaping youth football through the contentious Elite Player Performance Plan, insist they take their duty of care seriously.

Fabrice Muamba works with emerging players on behalf of the Professional Footballers’ Association. His message – “You never know when the game is going to be taken away from you” – is apposite, poignant because of his brush with death, but diluted by the blind faith of youth.

Too many boys define themselves by their football ability. It is central to their self-esteem and underpins their social networks. Rejection is devastating, especially when they return from distant clubs to the com-munities which nurtured them.

Easter is the time teenagers complete the trudge towards their personal Calvary. At least 400 scholars, young players on essentially two-year apprenticeships, have been told over the past fortnight that they have failed to earn a professional contract.

Many more have been released at 16, when scholarships are normally offered. Of the 10,000 or so boys in the academy system, only one per cent will make a living from the game. Two thirds of those who sign professional forms are out of football by the time they are 21.

Destroying dreams is a dreaded duty, routinely described as the worst job in football. Some clubs write rejection letters containing offers of a voluntary debrief, so that boys can deal with the blow in the bosom of their families.

Others choose to deliver the bad news directly. Some youngsters want the ordeal to be over as quickly as possible; others linger and siphon the pain through staccato bursts of rationality. Coaches’ consciences are stirred by boys who are so distraught they lose any semblance of control; as one reflected: “We are fathers too.”

Many, like Gary Issott, manager of Crystal Palace’s highly regarded academy, recognise the importance of the pastoral care provided by the League Football Education programme, but feel more can be done.

He estimates it takes even the most well-adjusted boy at least two years to recover a sense of equilibrium: “You help as much as you can with exit routes, but the next batch of players needs all your attention.”

More than 200 survivors will submit themselves to the scrutiny of scouts in four separate exit trials, hosted by Bradford City, Staines Town, Port Vale and Walsall from 1 to 8 May. They will have three 50-minute matches in which to salvage a future. “What gets me is how many don’t bother,” said one of the few Premier League managers to be proactive in the process. “They want nothing more to do with football. It is as if the life has been sucked out of them.”

His sentiments were honourable, but their hidden implication was telling.

Bitter rivals give peace a chance

Football is defined and occasionally defiled by its tribalism. The rivalry between West Ham United and Millwall is bitter and bloodstained.

The enmity of clubs forged by similar working-class  principles can be traced to their presence on either side of an ancient divide, as Thameside dockers or shipbuilders.

Matches between the two clubs are a threat to public order. Millwall, in particular, are stigmatised by their association with violence.

Why, then, are Millwall fans making a collection to provide a tribute to Dylan Tombides, the West Ham player who died from testicular cancer, aged 20, on Friday?

Why are West Ham supporters signalling their gratitude and respect for such instinctive humanity across the tribal barricade?

It is principally a reminder of the danger of stereotyping. Stripped to its basics, football still enshrines a common decency. The rest is just noise, meaningless posturing.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy to give peace a chance, but perhaps it is the epitaph Dylan deserves.

Tykes’ Tour takes road to banality

Curses of modern sport (Part 438): The Official Event Song. The start of this year’s Tour de France in Yorkshire will supposedly be enriched by an anthemic dirge entitled “The Road”. At least “On Ilkley Moor Baht’at” would have had cultural credibility.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen