I started playing football at the age of eight for a local team, Whickham Fellside Yellows. I was a late starter in football compared to all of my friends who had already been playing for much longer than me, but I was still extremely keen to start playing! In my first season of football I hardly got any game time and I wasn’t very good at all. At times it was so difficult when the coach would only give me 5 minutes in a game and sometimes I didn’t get on at all.
At the age of 9 I found Soccer 20 and I was one of the first kids to join, I wanted to try and develop myself into a better player. As soon as I joined, Anth Cole and the coaching team made me feel welcome and comfortable from the first training session. They gave me confidence in my ability and engaged me into learning a wide range of new skills and techniques. We would practice these skills every time I went on a Thursday night by joining a number up to the skill. For example, number one was to drop the shoulder and go the other way with the ball. With every new skill I learned I would go out on to the street and practice them for hours on end, and then try and take them on the football pitch with me!
Soccer 20 was the opportunity for kids like me to play football and express themselves without fear. I was encouraged to be positive and not to worry about losing the ball. The sessions were fun and at the end of the night no one wanted the session to end.
Being taught these skills (especially at such a young age) had a major impact on me as a player. It opened a whole host of opportunities for me as a young kid. I joined Middlesbrough development centre at the age of 10, and by the age of eleven I was playing for their academy! If it wasn’t for Soccer 20 I would have never been in the position that I was.
Unfortunately, I was later released by Middlesbrough, and it was fair to say I was gutted. I thought it was the end of everything and I lost a lot of confidence in myself. However, with the confidence-boosting support of Anth, Kevin Bolam, Hodga, Sam Charlton and the rest of the coaching staff, I was soon back on two feet at Soccer 20 trying Cruyff turns, step-overs, you name it! I was enjoying my football once again.
By the age of 13 I had developed into a better player than I ever had been before. I had improved a massive amount physically and had went through a massive growth spurt, making me go from one of the smallest kids on my team (I always was used to being called ‘little Jack’) to actually being accepted as at least, average size. I was playing at Newcastle City Juniors in the season of u14’s, prior to being signed up by Newcastle United’s academy. This was one of the proudest moments in my life, signing for the team I loved and supported from a very young age.
However, with many good things come bad things. I was injured for the whole of u15’s season with continuous growing pains in my knees, commonly known as Osgood Schlatters. It was a big blow for me and I felt down and upset a lot of the time. I would try go out and train on it, but it didn’t help at all, so that’s when I had to start resting it. Then, my knees would feel alright so I would train for at the most two weeks and then they would start aggravating me again. It was a horrible feeling seeing all the lads outside having fun on the pitch while I was stuck in the physio room.
With every cloud comes a silver lining, and I started an upper body program to help improve me physically to prepare me for when I would be back playing. As soon as I got back fit I felt a massive difference in my strength, and this was an aspect of my game that needed improvement. I suppose this was the only positive thing I could have gotten out of being injured for so long.
A player who plays like I do needs confidence. I like driving at my opponents with the ball, beating players by the dribble and using skill and most of all scoring goals as well as assisting them. I was sharp back up to pace again in u16’s, and I felt quicker and stronger than I ever had before! I had a few injuries here and there which knocked me back but I never lost the determination and belief to keep going, even when things were not going great for me.
Just recently I have signed a 2 year scholarship with Newcastle, which I was absolutely buzzing about! Words could not describe the feeling when I was told, and I’m still over the moon today!
The hard work continues and what I do know is that whatever happens I have loved the journey. I wouldn't change a thing and I am going to give this my best shot.
Finally, to any young kids reading this, I have to say I cannot recommend soccer 20 highly enough. I am absolutely certain that if It hadn't of been for the coaching and influence of Soccer20, I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. Many thanks Anth, I really appreciate it!