After spending a few years at St.Pauls FC working through the junior set up there, football training after Micky Porter was a bit strange.
The top age of Under 16’s, Charlie Daze, the famous comedian and scout for Leeds United came in to manage us as Micky moved down a level to completely take over the U14 set up.
Training for the U16 team was at St.Saviours Hospital. Throughout the winter it was a bit of a challenge as the only lighting we had was the car headlights of the coaches (and some parents) beaming across the field in order to provide us with light to have a training session. Not ideal, or a great learning environment as you can imagine.
Luckily however, this season we had a decent enough squad with some talented players. We challenged on all fronts to pick up some silverware, but none came about.
Personally I had decent season in terms of playing almost every game, creating and scoring several of goals. I was playing in a team once again with a lot of my mates, and I was content enough to start off with.
However, as the season progressed, I felt that I did not learn much at all.
The phrase I heard more than any other throughout the season from the coaching staff was “get it up to the big man up front” – the football possession game that had been instilled into me the years previous by Micky Porter seemed to be taking a backwards step as teammates hit long ball towards me or over the top to run on to.
Not my game at all, and a lot of energy expended pointlessly in what appeared to be a bit of “kick and rush” football.
The best part for me about this U16 season was that our Team Manager Charlie gained us entry to play in the Famous Northern Ireland worldwide tournament the Milk Cup in County Tyrone.
The squad, and in particularly myself, were extremely excited about this, as County Tyrone is where half of my family live. And a big well-known family in Omagh it is.
Travelling to the tournament with St.Pauls FC drew all sorts of interest from home and in Northern Ireland.
Through my family roots in Omagh, a newspaper wanted to know a little bit more about the “local boy” from Jersey coming to play in in his mums home county.
A nice article was written up, (I have a copy somewhere and will provide it when I find it!) my family was happy; I was happy; and couldn’t wait to play in the tournament with the support of my family whom I hadn’t seen in about six years.
If I remember correctly, we had four teams in our Group including ourselves. Local Northern Irish Fermanagh, Scottish professional outfit Motherwell and one other which eludes me. Also another local side if I recall.
Having seen the teams in our group and having started and played in almost every game throughout the season, my expectations of playing against the local teams and Motherwell were high. I couldn’t wait!
Also, as we only had two strikers in our team, a lad called James B and myself who forged a decent partnership scoring 30 plus goals between us that season. I had big dreams of scoring a goal or two and enjoying a fantastic tournament against new teams and different players!
Our first game against Fermanagh, and for reasons totally unknown to me, and still to this day, I was dropped and a centre back took my place playing up front.
This hit me hard. Although I kept my emotions in check, I was absolutely fuming. I got on for the last 15 minutes where game was pretty much over already as we were 5-2 down, the team’s energy tanks were almost empty, and I hardly got a touch of the ball and we went on to lose 6-2.
The game against Motherwell, I was allowed to start. However, we hardly got the ball out of our half, let alone having a chance to score, and I was pulled off at half time. We lost that game 14-0.
The other game I can’t even remember to be honest. I’m not even sure I played in it, but I don know that we lost each game in our group.
What I do remember though, is that feeling of being kicked to the side without any explanation. I gave 100% to the team and coaches all season long, I never missed a training session, was at every game, even when injured and given the fact we used long ball tactics, I had a fairly decent session. I felt betrayed and embarrassed that my family spent money to come over from Jersey to support me; I was upset that my family in Northern Ireland travelled to watch me play and hardly saw me on the pitch.
My parents always thought that I was dropped due to the article in the newspaper. They believed that I stole some of the limelight from our Famous Manager who was also returning to his homeland (Northern Ireland), and maybe he thought he would teach me a lesson. I would like to think this is not the case, as a coaching team punishing a 16-year-old boy due to circumstances outside of his own control would be very low indeed. To this day though, I still don’t understand the reason for not getting much match time after playing most of the season, and probably never will.
Once the tournament was over, my parents took me to visit the rest of the family the following week whilst the St.Paul’s FC squad returned home to Jersey.
The disappointed subdued, but has always stuck with me.
Although I don’t remember the specific details of this season, or the results etc, the feelings I do.
The feeling of being exciting about playing and having the chance to score; the anticipation of playing the game; the feeling of when the ball hits the back of the net… then the feelings of anger and betrayal; being made to feel worthless and pushed to one side; feeling a bit lost and wondering why has this happened to me?
Football is an emotional game, and affects us all differently. The understanding of coaching junior players (in any sport) almost twenty years ago back in 1995 is night and day compared to the education on offer and the understanding we have now.
And I’m not just talking about improving players technical ability, I talking about the bigger picture – the way in which up to date and knowledgeable coaches try to develop an holistic outlook to young players development by putting the actual young person first, and the football player second.
As coaches we draw on our experiences as a player, who we learned from, and in certain areas, we think about how would we do things differently?
As I continue to write articles for this Blog, I hope that you will recognize key moments in my life as a player and a coach. These moments may have similarities to what is happening in your life. Possibly you could draw on my experiences and think about how you would manage the situation differently, what you might change? What outcome is best for you? What did the experience teach you? And have you learnt from it?
The beauty of being in the position I am now is that I have evaluate different situations, discuss various subjects with like minded people and come up with the relevant solution.
As I write this blog, I guess I am putting into words the path I have been down. I am now thinking more deeply, and evaluating the experiences I have had in my own life, and how these experiences can positively affect that of the players under my guidance.
I hope that, and I will do my best to ensure I never make a young person playing the game feel the way I did back in Northern Ireland in 1995.
With these ongoing experiences I write about, I hope they may give other coaches, parents, teachers etc, a moment to pause for thought and think about how they may manage certain situations if they found themselves in a similar predicament.
As I finish the post, let me just say that Charlie and I have no issues whatsoever. We see each other now and again in and around the town and at various functions. We get on great and enjoy each other’s company. He is a fantastic bloke and has a wonderful family. Some of his boys I actually taught Kenpo karate many years ago.
In fact as I sit here and type this blog, I’m now questioning myself as to why I have never quizzed Charlie over what actually happened in County Tyrone. What happened for me to be dropped so unceremoniously?
In fact, next time the opportunity presents itself; maybe that’s just what I’ll do.
P.S Speaking of influencing Junior Players... whose got the best caption for the message I'm trying to get across in the photo above? LOL