NEIL BONNAR: Club academies are shattering the dreams of our young footballers

The Bolton News: Neil Bonnar Neil Bonnar

YOUR eight or nine-year-old child may be called up into a professional football club academy shortly, if he hasn’t already been.

Most youngsters and their families see it as a dream moment. In reality it is more like a nightmare.

If I had a son who was asked to join an academy I would chase the club representative out of the house and strongly advise my boy against it.

To put it clearly: the academy system in this country ruins childhoods and young adulthoods.

Last month around 400 18 and 19-year-olds were told their dreams were over and they would not be given a professional contract after giving 10 years of their lives trying.

There are exit routes in place in the form of trials set up with other clubs to try to salvage a career.

Most of the them don’t bother because, as one coach described it, it’s like they have had the life sucked out of them, and some require pastoral care.

It takes up to two years in some cases to get their minds and lives together and shake off the disappointment. By then it is often too late to realise their potential in another career.

The figures are stark.

There are around 10,000 youngsters attending professional club academies at any one time.

Around 9,800 of those will not be playing professionally at 21.

They are taken on as young as eight years old.

For the next four years they will train two or three times a week and play on Sundays.

They will travel long distances for games, maybe only playing 10 or 20 minutes in them.

From 12 to 16 years old they are gradually shredded until the remaining few are offered scholarships.

From 16 to 19 they attend an academy full time.

At 19 around half are rejected.

Many of those are not still playing football at 21 due to further rejection or injury.

Around 200 out of the 10,000 who were called up into an academy aged eight will make a living out of playing football, often a modest and short one.

There is no real support system for the losers in this dreadful system, certainly no lasting one, and it has a great many more life victims than beneficiaries.

So, when your family is celebrating little Johnny getting called up to the local professional club academy, buckle up, it’s almost certainly going to be a rocky ride.

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