The Last Word: Learning to deal with failure

Thirteen members of the Liverpool Schoolboys squad in which Michael Kinsella played were recruited by clubs; two became pros, while six went to jail

The money was too easy, the temptation too great and the power all too real. Once the dream died, as rejection by Liverpool as a schoolboy footballer was followed by failure at Bury and Tranmere Rovers, Michael Kinsella descended into the heart of darkness.

The would-be goalkeeper joined an armed gang which planned to flood Merseyside with drugs worth in excess of £4 million. As their influence expanded, to Scotland, Ireland and mainland Europe, his life veered from excess to incarceration.

He had a Premier League player’s income, but it had to be paid for. He served four separate jail sentences, in Spain, Holland and the UK, over a total of 12 years. Prison could have defined him, destroyed him, but it ultimately saved him.

He completed 17 different vocational courses while preparing for his release and for the past 18 months has pursued the vision which took shape in his cell. OnSIDE Academy is the first of its kind, a project which provides adult education and work opportunities for those who fall out of the game.

The numbers are frightening. Of the 10,000 or so boys involved in professional football’s broader Academy system at any one time, only one per cent will make a living from the game.

 

The Professional Football Association’s official transfer list featured 583 players seeking new clubs at the last count. The true figure is in the thousands, since many do not register their plight with the union.

With pre-season programmes taking shape, time is running out for them. The future is bleak and associated problems – of addiction, depression and criminality – are profound.

The PFA provide a nationwide network of 36 counsellors for current and former players and spend up to £8 million on personal-development programmes. But crime appears to be a seductively simple way to maintain a certain lifestyle. Kinsella admits that on the streets of our major cities drug dealing is an aspirational alternative to football.

He estimates nearly 150 ex-players are in prison, the vast majority for drug offences. Thirteen members of the Liverpool Schoolboys squad in which he played were recruited by clubs; two became pros, while six went to jail.

OnSIDE offers hope and recalibration. It has forged links with a range of clubs including Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers and is supported by Jamie Carragher, a Sunday League team-mate of Kinsella when they were in their early teens. Carragher admits it is difficult for senior pros to offer neo-pros advice “because you don’t want them to think that you think they’re not going to make it”.

OnSIDE’s work, in conjunction with former players’ charity XPro, meets a need that will grow exponentially as the current system, which allows clubs to uproot youngsters from the communities that nurtured them, becomes ever more elitist and driven by expedience. Boys as young as 15 are released and return to friends and families stigmatised as failures.

Education is supposed to be enshrined in the system but it lacks the rigour of the French model, where Academy rankings take into account academic results in addition to the number of professional contracts offered and the quality of coaching delivered. Few, if any, Premier League clubs could match the record of AS Monaco’s youth players, who had a 100 per cent pass rate in the high-school baccalaureate.

Individually, the situation challenges the conscience. I spent some time this week with a manager who recalled “one of the worst things I’ve seen in football”, a single tear running down the cheek of a youngster he had just released. “He was trying to hold it together. The strength that took haunted me, to be honest.”

He has no idea what happened to that young man. He has a club to run and a team to build. The game moves on, oblivious to those crushed beneath the wheels of a commercial juggernaut.

Genuine support for strugglers

The myth that football fans cannot be entrusted to run a bath is usually propagated by those with a vested interest in spreading false impressions.

You will know the type. Hedge fund operators who force clubs away from their communities. Quotable foreign owners with opaque CVs. Incompetent administrators who make a virtue of their impotence.

Well, supporter-run clubs do work. Portsmouth, once pushed to the verge of extinction by assorted charlatans, are the poster boys for a new model army.

There is a sense of unity and initiative coming into the new season. Supporters have already raised £150,000 for the Academy. Players mingle happily with them and identify with their commitment.

Hereford fans hope to follow their example, provided they can rid themselves of an uncommunicative owner who has overseen expulsion from the Conference.

This week’s farcical friendly, a secretive 6-0 defeat by Besiktas on the outskirts of Leeds, will harden plans to boycott official matches. While that charade was enacted in Yorkshire, a crowd of 653 watched a Supporters Trust team instead.

The people have spoken. But will the football authorities listen?

Usain Bolt performs his trademark celebration with the Commonwealth Games mascot and children Usain Bolt performs his trademark celebration with the Commonwealth Games mascot and children Now Bolt goes nuts in Brazil

For his next trick, Usain Bolt will be racing “mano a mano” in a 100-metre sprint along Copacabana Beach. It will be a brilliantly marketed stunt – and justify his warm-up event, the sprint relay in Glasgow.

Whether we like it or not, in this age of short attention spans and instant gratification the Commonwealth Games are becoming increasingly peripheral.

Dyke will fail the test of time

Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, could give Alastair Cook lessons in self-destructive stubbornness. His refusal to accept the weakness of his B team proposal ensures history will judge him as a dilettante who played to the gallery instead of making a difference by highlighting the shortcomings of the organisation he represents.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all