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I Always Wanted To Be A Professional Footballer; What’s Your Story?

Photo by KimManleyOrt

From my earliest memories, I always wanted to be a professional footballer. When I woke up this past Saturday, a smile crept on my face as I looked forward to a full menu of football matches to watch on television. But as I drove to Starbucks to get a morning tea before the early match kicked off, I had a thought that I hadn’t had in years. What must it feel like to wake up on a Saturday morning as a professional footballer knowing that in several hours you’d be putting your boots on to play the game you love in front of a TV audience of millions and tens of thousands of people crammed into a football ground.

As a young child until a teenager, I played football practically every day either in the local park, on the grass hockey pitch, with my friends in the street or with one of my best friends growing up, any brick wall in site where I could bang the ball off the ball and practice my control and passing skills.

Growing up in Wales in the 70’s and early 80’s, I read the required material such as Billy’s Boots, Roy Of The Rovers, Match Weekly and Shoot Magazine, played for my local town team and on my school side. But at age 14, I was plucked away and moved to the United States where I went straight into high school and, as a Freshman, got a starting spot on the varsity team. I played during the week with a travel team coached by Hermann winner and US international Steve Ralbovsky. My high point of my soccer “career” was my Sophomore year where I scored nine goals and the high school team was going places. But then I was yanked away and put into a public school but didn’t make my new high school team because of an injury. And when I hit my senior year, I didn’t bother trying out. In hindsight, I wish I had.

Other than playing intra-mural soccer in college and indoor soccer, as well as the occasional kick-about, that was the end of my soccer dream. Playing on the indoor soccer field made of basically a green carpet on concrete ended up rupturing both of my achilles tendons, which still hurt like hell to this day. So in my mid-30’s I ended up “retiring” from the game and ever since then, I’ve been pouring my energy into being a spectator and journalist of the sport.

Obviously my dream didn’t come true, but I still wonder what would have happened if it had. Making it to professional status is a long haul. Where I grew up in Wales, we had no coaching or facilities, so I was self-taught until the age of 14 when my high school teacher essentially became my first coach. If I grew up in a different part of the United Kingdom, I may have had access to local leagues, coaching and clinics, but being stranded in the remote valleys of Wales as a young boy definitely had some disadvantages.

Still, it makes me wonder what it must feel like to wake up on a Saturday morning and know that you’re playing a Premier League match that day. What an incredible feeling it must be of pure adrenalin coursing through your body. I’m sure after a while it can become like any job, where the fun dissolves away. But how I envy professional footballers who make their living playing the sport.

What about you? Was it your dream to be a professional footballer? If so, how close did you get and when did you realize your dream was over? Share your stories in the comments section below. I look forward to reading your personal experiences.

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  1. rkujay

    September 29, 2017 at 3:19 am

    Daddy came home from WWII with a subscription to the Manchester Evening News and the edict that we were United fans. I learned to speak Spanish while playing pick up with the only people who played the beautiful game in New Orleans. Played in high school…intra mural, it was not organised. Played in college the same way as it was not ncaa sanctioned. Coached a high school select team to an undefeated season. I still play at 68 two nights a week. I won’t admit I’ve lost anything, but who else do I have to lie to? Son went to University of Virginia on a footy scholarship. He was fairly good, but chose a career in government. Grandson did things at age 8 that my son didn’t do well until early teens. Grandson is a central defender in a select travel squad and has been invited to train at IMG development. I fear I’ve pushed him too hard. He prefers to dominate his select league to being beaten up by older boys. No regrets. I had and enjoy a life of the beautiful game.

  2. Jack S.

    September 28, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Played in high school. Played for my university in Texas. Played in various adult leagues throughout my 20s (outdoor and indoor). Didn’t play for the next 20 years, then came back and began playing in an Over-50 league. Highlight was scoring from a bicycle kick with a ball that rebounded off the crossbar when I was 53 years old, much to the amusement of my teammates. Looking fwd to taking the pitch in O-60 in another few years if the knees are still working.

    Never wanted to play semi-pro or anything like that. That looked like too much work and I was in it to have fun with my mates. I don’t know how the kids do it today with all that driving (flying???) to tournaments with their club teams starting when they’re 10 years old or younger. That’s nuts. I have a niece that went through that sort of thing and she spent more time in a car driving to train with her “select” club team than on the pitch. I could never do that.

  3. Sahil joshi

    September 28, 2017 at 5:52 am

    I have been playing for 5 years old. I know I started a too late, but whenever I see football my mind gonna out of control I just want to football around me. but here no scope for me!

  4. Igor

    July 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I loved the game even before I could remember.My first memory of soccer is playing with my father at the age of around 4,the second memory is playing with other kids from the neighbourhood,they said I was a good player and that was the first time I was praised for my soccer skill and that`s probably the reason I remember the event.At around the age of 6 I joined the junior soccer team in the area but that is just a small team of kids from the area(the ones I talked about before).Since there aren`t that many kids in this village the team had members from the age of 6 to the age of 12.I was the youngest member at the time.Now I`m 15 and my skills are starting to get a lot better,since I didn`t grow much in size(currently 167 cm),the coach of the senior team(17+)let`s me play friendly games,and some league games if we lack players.Since it isn`t a professional league things like that are allowed.When I become 16 and get a special permit from the doctor I would be able to start playing soccer again.I can hardly wait for that day and that`s why I train almost all the time.I decided to live and breath for soccer,to become the best.Well I get injured every once in a while but that`s all part of the sport.

  5. jamie

    February 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I am 30 now playing for Rochester Rhinos in the USA. I only took up football in Scotland when I was 16 playing just to make up spare time in an adults indoor league for ‘United Power’. I played for Rangers after a trial but upon graduation when i was 18 i moved to play for Cove Rangers shortly followed by HeriotWatt Uni. Aged 21 I played again for Cove. I left aged 27 and joined amateur in Switzerland FC Aesch. At 29 I had a brief trial Eschen/Mauren in Liechtenstein but I joined The Rhinos

  6. Danny_7

    January 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I am so mad at myself for not pursuing being a pro. I was a stellar player as a kid, absolutely great. I had a lot of attention but like every american kid I got really interested in baseball and football and kinda forgot about soccer. I didn’t pick it up again until college and I almost made my college team with no practice. If i stayed with it and took it seriously who knows where I coudlve been. But then again asking a little kid to take a sport seriously is asking quite a lot. I feel that if you don’t have a whole structure around a kid its impossible to keep him into one thing only, especially in the USA where we have a million distractions for kids

  7. loganXI

    January 28, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Played all growing up and was my favorite of the sports I played. I wasn’t super passionate and not very gifted technically. Too small to make it on my high school team, I played until 17 on 2nd division club teams. [We did win a bronze medal in the Utah Summer games for our age.] After playing only pick up here and there for the next few years, after spending two in Portugal I became a huge fan and followed them closely for the ’06 World Cup. I’ve started to like the US team about as much as my adopted Portugal. I’m a huge West Ham and RSL fan but my main passion is the amateur men’s team I started here in Boston.

    So, though as a kid I didn’t dream much of being a pro, I now have delusional aspirations of one day seeing my BCS XI in the US Open Cup [even if I’m not playing with the team at that point]. We just had a solid season, gaining promotion to the next division up in the Bay State Soccer League and are gearing up for the 2011 season. We may even be adding some coaching credentials to the team from a local college coach, who turned down a contract from the USL Sounders to continue coaching but wants to keep playing on the amateur level. The future looks bright for my club, and so I guess I’ll be content with having my pro affiliation be former and future pros playing on my team one day.

  8. Dave C

    January 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Despite playing since I was 7, I’ve never really dreamt of being a professional. Maybe this is kind of pessimistic of me, but even at that age, I was perhaps too rational – I realized that only a tiny percentage of boys can ever be pros, and that if I wasn’t even the best in my school class, then I probably wasn’t a part of that lucky tiny percentage. So I’ve been happy enough just playing at a fairly competetive amateur level ever since.

  9. john

    January 27, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I want to be a professional footballer. I’m only 16 so my dream isn’t over just yet.

    • john

      January 27, 2011 at 4:48 pm

      I got 26 goals in 19 games last season. So I’m on track to at least play college.

      • Dave C

        January 28, 2011 at 9:39 am

        Depends on what kind of level you’re scoring those goal at.

  10. Jason

    January 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I became a fan of the beautiful game during the 2010 World Cup. Since then I’ve followed as much football as possible from across the globe, but primarily EPL. My small town in Enid, Oklahoma has a thriving youth soccer program and, as it turns out, a rather clandestine adult league which plays in an indoor facility. I’ve been thinking about playing. The main catch is that I played one season in a youth league at an air force base where my Dad was stationed. That was 32 years ago, and it wasn’t that fun. The coach was young and clueless. Didn’t teach us a thing. Now that I’ve discovered this new found passion, I think I’d like to give it a go. I’m now 38 years old and I guarantee you I’m not in any kind of football shape, but I would love to play.

  11. Cricketlover

    January 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    Well said. I think almost all of us who played the sport at a young age had similar visions of one day making it into the big leagues.

    The closest I’ve come to realising my dream is imagining what I would have done in a certain situation while watching my favourite team play. Sometimes I get the feeling I’m more passionate about the match and putting in more effort than some of the players 🙂 .

  12. R2Dad

    January 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Nice article.
    Only played a couple of years in school, never got very good. Now that I’m a grownup I’ve discovered refereeing as a great way to enjoy the game while giving the kids a good match. At least I’m doing something to improve the quality of the game here in the states–our kids deserve better officiating than I got as a kid.

  13. Jordan

    January 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Great motivational read, Gaffer. I enjoyed it a lot.

  14. Martin

    January 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    Like many young boys, I was good at many sports but not great at one. When I played soccer in grade school during gym class or intramurals, I was mostly a midfielder who’s sole purpose was to chuck the ball to the “star” Mexican players on whatever team I was on.

    One day in 6th grade, I got tossed into being Goalkeeper while playing indoor. I faced off against a team full of the “star” Mexican players. These guys played on traveling squads, played numerous tournaments, destined to be regulars in the state championships once we got to high school and probably play in the Primera Division. They were great players even at the grade school level. Now I had to stop their shots on goal.

    After getting pelted like I was a target dummy, one guy named Nolberto Damian rifled a shot that hit me directly in the face above my nose. Play stopped after I fell to the ground. I got up on my own a few seconds later and sat on the side of the gym trying not to “look” hurt as my face stung. My soccer ambitions ended that day lol.

  15. Braedyn

    January 27, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Played a couple years in the Yankees minor league system. Only guy in the locker room with his nose in a FourFourTwo mag and the only guy to be at the pub (watching football) BEFORE our games as well. A bit glad I never played football professionally as it remained my one love while baseball became a job.

    • Red20

      January 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

      That almost describes my situation 100%.

      • Braedyn

        January 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

        Especially if the Red in your pseudonym refers to that half of Merseyside.

        • Red20

          January 28, 2011 at 3:14 pm

          you a liverpool fan too? Baseball’s been very good to me in that regard…lots of great Pool connections.

          • Braedyn

            January 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm

            I’m a massive LFC supporter. Been fortunate, 2 of my 3 playing destinations had proper supporters clubs: LFCTampa & LFCNY.

          • Red20

            January 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

            Nice. Liverpool’s former owners were my boss so it was tough to beat that connection for awhile.

  16. Jon

    January 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Hey Gaffer,

    I never dreamt about being a professional, but I did play all the way up to the collegiate level in Canada and I still play to this day. I always wished I could have taken the field just once when there were more than 10,000 fans present – I’ve played in college stadiums but I’ve never heard the real roar of a big crowd.

    I was born in the United States but moved to Canada when I was two when my parents split up. Canada is a bit of a hockey mad country, but, seeing as my mother was a single parent, she hired a live-in nanny who came from Southampton in the UK, who helped raise me and my sister. As a result, I adopted her love of ‘football’ rather than hockey (though I played that too). I started in house leagues as a 4 year-old in suburban Vancouver. I was lucky, because my best friend and neighbour was a boy from Scotland, and his father took us to the park to play after school and on weekends. It was not long before I moved up out of the house leagues to “rep” level.

    By the time I was 18, I was playing in the top, or “premier” level of youth soccer in the Vancouver area. I played for my high school, both on the junior team (grades 8-10) and the senior team (grades 11-12). We never made it out of regionals because our school was primarily a basketball school. I’d never intended to try to play professional, but I had wanted to play at as high a level as I could.

    When I went to university at the University of British Columbia, I tried out for the varsity soccer team. I didn’t make the cut in my first year, and played at the top division of the intramural league instead. I tried again the next year and made the “Junior Varsity” team, which is like the reserves for the senior team. I played there for two years, and then made the senior team in my last two years. I was an “irregular starter”, occasionally playing in the first XI, and spending some games as a substitute or even unused substitute. In the off season I played with the Men’s “Premier” League team (the top division of Men’s soccer in the city). The “height” of my collegiate days came in a 3-1 win over our rivals, the University of Calgary, in a regional CIAU playoff match, where I scored once and made one. I think the crowd might have been as big as 2000.

    When I graduated from UBC I moved across the country to Halifax for law school. Law school took more time than my undergraduate degree and I did not try out for the varsity team. I played intramurals, but I did not return to club level soccer for some time.

    I did my graduate legal studies at Columbia University in New York. I did not try out for the Columbia varsity team, either, but I did play in the intramural league with a group of other international LLM students from all over the world, including two guys who had been recruits in the Ajax youth system and one who had a tryout and spell in the Sheffield United academy. Given that I was turning 30, I was pretty pleased to even make that team and playing with those players demonstrated to me how close I was to almost being good enough for professional (the difference between a college substitute and a professional is smaller than you might think), though I had always planned to pursue an academic career and not a footballing one.

    When I left New York I moved back to Halifax. Now 34, I captain a competitive team in the city. We play once and practice once a week. Outdoors in the summer, indoors in the winter. The level of play is not what I once played, but with a full legal practice, teaching a class at the law school nearby, and an 18 month-old daughter to be with, it is the right level of play and commitment for me. I try to act as a player-coach for our younger guys who come in to the Men’s team after graduating the youth system. As long as I can keep up the pace and stay injury free, I will keep playing at this level. When it finally comes times to hang up the boots, I’ll coach, and maybe referee at the youth level. My goal is to play until I’m 55. If my knees hold up.

    So, while I never dreamed of playing professional, I do sometimes think back to the small roar of 2000 fans on that day in Calgary and wonder what it would be like to charge through the midfield, give and go with a stiker, juke into space at the top of the box, slot one into the corner and feel the rush of 50,000 fans scream as I run to the corner, arms in the air.



  17. tnnelson

    January 27, 2011 at 11:31 am

    i played from about age 4 until high school, where American football was king as it was an old, traditional boarding school, so I chose to play that with all my friends. I always played with friends who were on the soccer team and enjoyed it much more than American football, but for some reason never made the switch. i wish i would have directed my energy towards the real football, as it is by far my favorite sport now

  18. DGS

    January 27, 2011 at 10:49 am

    I played as a youth. Lost interest, played other sports (with moderate success) through school. Re-discovered the sport in recent years: first as a fan, then started playing in an adult’s league.

    • brian

      January 27, 2011 at 11:33 am

      same with me stopped playing of highschool in 2002 and fell in love with the sport again as a fan after the 2005 mexico game in columbus. had to lose some weight before i could start playing again but ive been usually playing at least once a week for the past 15 months

    • ify

      January 10, 2018 at 12:33 pm

      i am a liverpool fan and i play for the under liverpool team i am really good even coutinho says I’m better then some of the team my name is salah i don’t think you believe me but trust me i am

  19. Marc

    January 27, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Going into college I chose to play baseball instead of football. I wish I chose diffrent now since I am a way bigger supporter of football than baseball.

  20. Earl Reed

    January 27, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Lately I’ve been kicking myself everyday because I failed to even consider trying out for my high school team…and we didn’t have an American football program since we were such a small, rural school. Shame on me…

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