Last month, James Ducker published an in-depth study on young footballers in The Times. The series, entitled ‘From superstars to scrapheap’, examined the emotional damage that can be caused to young players who are released, especially those who fail to earn a scholarship or professional contract. A rather bleak study conducted by the charity XPRO revealed that “96% of scholars signed by clubs in England and Wales at 16 will not play again from the age of 18 and of those who do earn professional contracts, only 2% will still be professionals past 21”. Furthermore, over half of 15-18 year olds who were released suffered from depression or anxiety, and were turning to alcohol or substance abuse.
While these figures may not be altogether surprising given the unpredictability of most careers in football, it is worrying that a support network doesn’t exist for these young men. One day they are the club’s latest prospects, the next they could be released and unemployed. The players know full well that football is a life choice that requires more hard work than most, but if and when that plan falls through, they are left with very few qualifications and sacrificed full time education in order to give it a shot.
One institution who are trying to combat this is South London’s ASPIRE Academy. The Academy, founded by Dulwich Hamlet manager Gavin Rose, began in 2002 and its mission statement is to provide a football and educational programme for 16 – 18 year old males, to pursue their dream of playing professional football whilst also furthering their education. Dulwich play in the Ryman Premier Division, the seventh tier of English football, but the academy setup is the envy of many professional clubs.