HOW SET BACKS CAN MAKE YOU STRONGER

Wycombe Wanderers Youth Team class of 2010/11: Where are they now?

Knockbacks are part and parcel of professional sport. I don’t believe for one second that there’s a professional footballer out there that has never been told he/she is not good enough. But it’s how we deal with these knockbacks which moulds us as players and more importantly as human beings. Resilience is key.

Like most footballers, I was scouted by numerous clubs when I was younger. I trialled at Arsenal and Chelsea, both unsuccessful – I was very small and slight. Although technically gifted, there were other attributes scouts and academy directors were looking for; strength, pace and power. It didn’t suit me. But eventually I was scouted by Southampton when I was 10 years old. An incredible schooling for any young player. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played in my age group for a year with the year below me containing a plethora of talent including Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse and Harrison Reed.

Five years later at the age of 14, I was released from Southampton. I remember crying that night uncontrollably and being teased at school a little for my failure. But it wasn’t failure. One club had told me ‘no thanks’ but another could tell me the opposite. Wycombe Wanderers did just that. They took a chance on me. I went along for a trial that following summer and it was clear after the first training session that they were keen to sign me. After half a season with the Under 16s I was offered a Youth Training Scheme (YTS contract) at Christmas with my mother crying with tears of joy in our meeting with the academy director Richard Dobson. It’s a cliché but football really is a game of opinions.

My Southampton days

Perhaps the most devastating time to be told no in football is at 18 years old. “Sorry you’re not one of the ones we are giving a professional contract to.” We were told in the Football League that 90% of academy players won’t make it into the YTS scheme. Of those who do, another 80% will be culled to finally get the players who earn their first professional contract. The odds are incredibly slim.

But having your lifelong dreams be crushed at such a young and important age can truly be devastating at the time. But when looking back now, you realise that it’s just the beginning and the players who were told ‘no’ can be successful in any field they wish. Football seems the be all and end all at the time, but there’s a lot more to life.

I was inspired to write this piece by a former professional footballer Fraser Franks and I urge you to read his ‘Where are they now? Brentford Youth Team Class of 2007’. I hope both pieces of writing can show how knockbacks can make you and not break you.

Wycombe Wanderers Youth Team

Wycombe Wanderers Youth Team 2010/11

With predominantly 2nd year scholars making up our squad, our team was very strong. We finished 3rd in the league, behind much bigger clubs Queens Park Rangers and Millwall and won the Football League Youth Alliance Cup (essentially a cup competition for all the clubs in England below academy level). A great team with an abnormal number of players earning professional contracts. I lived in accommodation with several of these guys for a whole year and in some cases more. I look back now to those days as some of the best days of my life. I want to show you some of the journeys they’ve gone on since that cup final win and what some of them are up to now…

Matt Ingram

Matt Ingram – The best goalkeeper I’ve ever played with, Matt was offered a professional contract which was extended to 3 years such was his ability. He racked up 100 league appearance before he was 21, an incredible achievement for a goalkeeper. In 2016, he moved to QPR on a four-and-a-half-year deal. After a few loan moves, he then moved to Hull City where he’s currently playing. Matt is planning to study sports psychology, a subject that has always interested him.

David Styles

David Styles – A consistent left back with great set-piece delivery. David played for Selsey FC for six months following his release. He then moved to America to play football and study Business Administration. He played for Hartwick College in Oneonta for four years gaining a BA Hons degree in the process. Following two successful internships in New York and Dubai, David began studying for a MBA degree in Sports Management at Franklin Pierce University where he also started coaching the women’s soccer team. Having graduated in 2018, he now teaches Principles of Management in the Business Department.

Oliver Duffy

Oliver Duffy – A ball playing defender and my best friend in the team. Oliver lost his love for football during his apprenticeship and decided to leave Wycombe despite being offered a professional contract. I’ve always admired him for this bravery in doing this. He initially went away and worked with his father, painting and decorating. Football came back into his life again though, with spells at Hanwell Town, Wealdstone and Chertsey Town. Alongside football, Oliver is now a successful groundsman working on many sports sights in and around London including Wealdstone and Chertsey Town’s pitches. He has ambitions to grow in the business and one day ultimately run his own company.

Anthony Stewart

Anthony Stewart – Our captain. Anthony signed professional papers in 2011 and made his debut against Preston North End in 2012. After leaving Wycombe for a season to Crewe Alexander, he re-joined the Chairboys a year later. With well over 200 professional appearances and a League 2 promotion to his name, Anthony is having a great footballing career.

Charles Dunne

Charles Dunne – A talented and incredibly physical defender. Charles joined the apprentice scheme at Wycombe quite late but improved rapidly with full-time football. After breaking into the first team at Wycombe, he signed for Blackpool in 2013 whilst being loaned back to Wycombe for the season. Such were his performances; Charles was called up for the Republic of Ireland at under 21s level. After brief loan spells with Oldham Athletic and Crawley Town, Charles signed for Scottish Premiership side Motherwell where he has been a constant fixture in their backline.

Jesse Kewley-Graham

Jesse Kewley-Graham – A technically gifted holding midfielder. Jesse was a mainstay in the midfield of our team. He left Wycombe in 2014 after making over 20 appearances for the club. He went on to play football in non-league with Staines Town, Havant & Waterlooville and Hampton & Richmond among others. Jesse works in recruitment and has gained five years experience in the industry which has allowed him to move to Melbourne, Australia as a skilled worker. He’s currently working on a exciting project setting up a division ‘down under’ within software development.

Josh Scowen

Josh Scowen – A fantastic, aggressive midfielder. Josh didn’t immediately break into the first team but when he did get his opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands. After a few seasons with Wycombe, he moved to Barnsley. After achieving promotion and winning the Johnston’s Paint Trophy, he moved to Queen’s Park Rangers in the Championship. He’s currently focussing on his footballing career at Sunderland now as well as looking after his young family.

Kadeem Harris

Kadeem Harris – Our best player and winner of the Football League 2 Apprentice of the Year Award. Kadeem was the first to break though at Wycombe  (16 years old) such was his talent and moved to Championship side Cardiff City after only a handful of appearances. After loan spells with Brentford and Barnsley, he began to feature more regularly at Cardiff. He’s now currently playing in the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday and is enjoying family life with two children.

Nathan Olukanmi

Nathan Olukanmi – A lightning quick winger. Nathan studied psychology at Siena College in New York where he graduated with a BA Hons degree. Having graduated, Nathan returned to England and played for numerous non-league clubs including Worcester City, Dunstable and Cambridge City. He continues to play in non-league and currently works in business systems support at Network Rail alongside his football.

Jordon Ibe

Jordon Ibe – The best young player I’ve ever seen. Jordon was playing under 18 football when he was just 14 years old and was often the best player on the pitch. Scouts from all over the country were coming to our games to watch him every week. He became the youngest ever player to appear in the Football League for Wycombe Wanderers at the tender age of 15 years and 244 days and scored on his first start against Sheffield Wednesday weeks later. In 2011, Jordon signed for Liverpool and scored his first goal in 2015 against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League . He later moved to Bournemouth for a record transfer fee of £15 million and has represented England at all youth levels.

Rob Desport

Rob Desport – A quick striker. Rob was unfortunately injured for the back end of his scholarship and spent a lot of time in the gym. This allowed his transition away from football to be smoother than most. After spells at Hayes & Yeading, and Havant & Waterlooville, it was no surprise that Rob became a successful personal trainer. He has over 50, 000 followers on Instagram @rob.desport and has numerous sponsors. In addition, Rob is happily married with two children.

Oliver Taylor

Oliver Taylor – 

A tall, powerful striker. Oliver was my roommate for a year. Scored plenty of goals over his scholarship with Wycombe and later made his professional debut in 2012 against Chesterfield in League 2. After making a handful of appearances in the Football League, he played in non-league for Woking, Frome Town and Chippenham Town. Away from football, Oliver has worked hard to become a Principle Consultant at Ranstad – a huge recruitment agency. He also boxes and hopes to have his first amateur fight after lockdown.

Lee Weemes

Lee Weemes – A clinical number 9. Lee was our top goalscorer in the 2010/11 season with 20+ goals. After leaving Wycombe, Lee continued to score goals across Steps 1, 2 and 3 in non- league for clubs including Tamworth, Eastwood Town and Farnborough. Lee was in the match day squad for Tamworth in 2012 when they were defeated by Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park in the FA Cup Third Round. Lee currently works for a successful company fitting windows and panels on new buildings in London such as Hilton Hotel’s. After an absence of three years thanks to a couple of serious knee injuries, Lee is looking to return to football next season.

* I was unable to get in touch with Archie Lloyd, Ryan Ware, Miles Smith and Lee Wright who all contributed to a the fantastic 2010/11 season.

Richard Dobson (Youth Team Manager) and David Wates (Youth Team Sports Scientist) – Having managed our youth team brilliantly, ‘Dobbo’ became assistant manager to Gary Waddock at Wycombe Wanderers in 2011 and continued in the role under new manager Gareth Ainsworth. He was at the heart of the youth produce and moulded for the first team over the next nine years. In May 2017, ‘Dobbo’ received the ‘Outstanding Contribution Award’ from the club celebrating his previous ten years work. In 2018, he achieved promotion from League 2.

David Wates left Wycombe when the academy was closed down. He spent a brief spell at Oxford United before returning to the Chairboys as Head of Sports Science for the first team. He has been a big part of the coaching team enjoying success in the form of League 2 promotion too.

Here’s some highlights of mine from my two years as an apprentice at Wycombe Wanderers:

COVID-19: HOW I’M STAYING FIT IN ISOLATION

Following the disappointment of our National League season being suspended, I enjoyed the first couple of weeks recuperating and reflecting on what a season we had at Woking. But after that initial period wore off, I was desperate to get back into football as I was missing the dressing room and adrenaline of match days. In these tough and uncertain times, our mental and physical welfare have never been more important. Stuck in doors day after day is tough for everyone so I feel it’s very important to get outside every day. 

From a professional point of view, I do feel it’s impossible to maintain ‘match fitness’. Personally, I feel match fit after five or six full matches in a row. I can sprint easily and readily in matches and recover quickly. As a midfielder, I’m able to close players down with intensity and when we win the ball back burst into the opposition’s box late (to hopefully score goals). This is what match fitness means to me.

So, with us all in isolation, this kind of fitness is just simply not possible. The limited facilities in non-league makes keeping fit hard without matches taking place but with the addition of having to isolate, things have been made harder.

We have seen a huge surge in people running on the roads which has been fantastic to see. 5 km runs have been very popular on social media with everyone showing their times. At Woking, we were set a few challenges to compete with each other over. The first, a 3-mile sprint and the next a much longer 10km run. The competition was good for us players and gave us motivation to build our fitness back up.

However, I don’t feel these long runs are actually successful in preparing players to hit the ground running whenever we go back. I’m sure old school coaches swear by bleep tests, hill runs and trying to mentally test their players, but the game has moved on. Football is a game of repeated, short, sharp sprints. Breaking, turning and stopping and the highest intensity. How can long runs at a constant speed prepare players fully? The simple answer, they don’t.

This isn’t to say long runs are useless. They can build a good base for fitness and a give an individual an idea as where their fitness is at. Small sided games and sharp 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3 drills are what I find the most useful in getting my fitness up when training with Woking. The competitive nature of players will always demand that you run that extra yard. 

Of course, right now we are unable to train with others due to isolation. But, a lot of the fitness I’m doing now is with a ball. There’s two reason for this; firstly, it is very tiring and hard on the legs when you are doing fitness with a ball. The concentration on your touches and the smaller stride lengths ensure that your legs work harder than normal. Second of all and more crucially, I find it mentally easier to motivate myself to do fitness when a ball is involved. It’s the joy of the game, the excitement to put on new football boots. It feels easier. Here’s some drills I’ve been doing. Let’s see if you can give them a go: 

For strength training, I’ve changed my normal routine as I’m unable to use my gym. Woking striker and personal trainer Jake Hyde showed me how he trains in circuits this season. I’ve been aware of circuit training for years, but I’ve never really tried it. The idea is to complete exercises with high repetitions but with minimum rest. Franky, I’m terrible at it. Put me on a football pitch and I can run for hours, but circuit training has been knackered with minutes. 

However, one of my coaching philosophies is to encourage players, children, whoever to not be scared to make mistakes or try things you’re not good at. No one is born a genius at any sport. They work hard, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It’s a constant process which ensures improvement. So, I’m giving this circuit training a real go. Here’s my last workout if you want to try it:

Find more isolation workouts on Jake Hyde’s Instagram account: @pryde_training

Stay safe everyone!