The Courting Period
The Pro Game | Rory Ginty | Dublin, Ireland | Blog 001 | 21 February, 2014
“There was a scout from Melchester Rovers looking at you” my Under-14 Team Manager said to me whilst competing at an underage tournament in the UK. For the purpose of this article, I am using the fictional team ‘Melchester Rovers’ as the alias name of the Professional club I played for some time ago. I don’t expect you to have an inkling of who Melchester were, but like any kid in my generation, we were enthusiastic readers of comic book legend – ‘Roy of the Rovers’ who plied his trade for Melchester..An absolute legend!
Having a club approach you at 14 feels like the dream ticket. You have been preparing for this moment years in advance on the school playground whilst pretending to be one of your boyhood heroes like Kenny Dalglish or any of the great Liverpool team. It’s a pretty crucial age for professional clubs with regard to youth player acquisition and preparation for the awarding of apprenticeship contracts at 16 years of age upwards.
The Trial Game
The scout approached me, with my manager’s permission of course. He told me how I had impressed him with my performances at this particular tournament and enquired whether I would be interested in travelling over on a trial. However, the real power of persuasion came from the fact that he handed me a signed jersey of Melchester Rovers..I was hooked.
Several phone calls later from the club to my parents where the conversation went something akin to “we will look after your boy…our club is this, that and the other”, my folks seemed suitably impressed and endorsed the proposed trial across the water. Going to the UK at 14 is an exciting but daunting prospect. In fairness to the club, I was put in a decent ‘digs’ with an elderly couple who were great people and very fond of playing music from the band ‘Level 42’ every morning. Great band but this might be before your time…
On your first day of preseason…you learn to become a man very quickly
The day of the official trial game commences. I remember being extremely nervous. You arrive at the club feeling pretty dapper in your nice new shiny track suit only to have your thunder completely stolen by other 14 year olds wearing club blazers, shirts, ties and shiny shoes. ‘Never mind’ I said, I will let my feet do the talking. Indeed, I played very well and got decent vibes back off the management. I travelled back to Ireland grinning like a Cheshire Cat and optimistic about my future in football. A couple of weeks later, an official letter from Melchester arrived in the post stating their intention to bring me back on a more regular basis. This is like gold dust for a kid and the point when the distraction of football can take over from your day-to-day life.
Next on their agenda is to fly my parents over with the intention of pulling out all the stops so that ultimately I sign a contract with the club. Again, Melchester were good hosts and very courteous towards my parents. My parents were introduced to the right people and also guests at one of the home games. A meeting was setup with the high profile Manager of the club at the time and halfway through that get together, wait for it…..a bunch of flowers come in for my mother. Classic stuff. It’s the little things like this that on the whole leave a good impression on parents and give them some security regarding their son’s future. Most parents will only experience this type of situation once in their life and may not be given the full depiction of what the football world is really like. It is rare that you get two lads from the same family departing to a professional club therefore the whole schmoozing of parents generally works. On a more sinister note, there are stories of money changing hands to entice parents for permission to sign their son.
Education? What Education?
Does this new-found prominence affect a young kid? Yes, I believe so in the majority of cases. However, there are parents out there with their heads screwed on who will not entertain any unscrupulous approach from clubs without safeguarding their sons’ education. I was fortunate in that I was decent at school but quite honestly from the age of 14, my head had started to turn. I would go into class dreaming of bending free kicks into the top corner of the net instead of listening to my history teacher define the age of Cro-Magnon man. In my opinion and in my experience, there was no real emphasis by clubs on the importance of education and having a backup plan just in case your career was short-lived. I was spotted when I was 14; there are kids on the books of these professional clubs from the age of 8! So you can imagine what the effect would be on schooling even at that age. Some parents are also affected by the whole thing and naively push their kids into this environment without considering what other challenges outside football will ensue in the years ahead. The fact of the matter is this; a very low single digit percentage will have a sustained career in football….But as the clubs would sell it to you and your parents like the lottery advert – “it could be you”..!
It’s great at that age from 14 to 16 when you are travelling over to play with the Professional club every so often. You pick up a jersey here and there, couple of pairs of boots, tickets to the home match and a bit of recognition back home. As I say, this is the courting period or for all intents and purposes, ‘the seduction’. You play well and you get rewarded with your YTS Contract (Apprenticeship). It is a parent’s dilemma when a club is attempting to lure the player over to the UK and in most cases before they have completed their Leaving Cert. There is also emotional blackmail in existence today when threats come from the club like “this is his only chance…etc”. Assuming the ‘courting’ has gone well and everybody is happy, it is genuinely a great feeling to sign a football contract. Then on your first day of preseason…you learn to become a man very quickly.
Next Week: The Apprenticeship.