Bacon’s Bites: ‘No Hunger In Paradise’ - now you know the odds, will you take the risk?
Mike Bacon takes a look at ‘No Hunger In Paradise’, the book and TV programme about youth academy football..
I don’t know if you watched BT Sport’s ‘No Hunger In Paradise’?
Based on the book by award-winning author Michael Calvin, the programme explored the academy system and the pressures and pitfalls that prevent young players from making it as a professional footballer.
It’s a excellent programme, it’s an excellent book.
Did you know only 180 of the 1.5 million boys who currently play organised youth football in England will become a Premier League pro? That’s a success rate of 0.012 per cent.
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A sobering thought, not just for the youngsters but, far more importantly, for their parents.
As someone who coached youngsters from 8-16 years-old for almost 10 years, as well as being a sports journalist and a parent with two football-playing boys, I probably have insight – albeit small – into the hopes and aspirations of children becoming pro footballers.
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There were players who I coached at eight and nine years old who were taken into the professional academy system. I know of even more who were taken into the system slightly later. I know of only a couple who are still there today.
Let me say first and foremost that, as a parent, when Ipswich Town came and asked one of my sons to train on a regular basis with the club’s Development/Elite teams when he was nine-years-old, I was delighted for him.
He stayed at Portman Road for three years before, by his own admission, he was ‘getting bored’ and wanted to do other sports. I never stopped him.
He still plays football today, he’s 16. In fact he’s a good player.
What I’m trying to say is that parents have every right to be proud/excited/hopeful when a pro club comes calling for their child to go on trial.
Your little lad, training with a professional football club. The riches that might come with it – note, might come with it.
When it comes to their children becoming professional footballers, parents need to be very level-headed – and realistic.
When my boy was at Ipswich Town, it never once occurred to be he would ever be a professional footballer.
1. Because I could not see, among the many there, how you could tell a professional footballer at such a young age.
2. Because my son had so much more growing to do - he grew six inches in height from 15-16!
3. Because he was then just a child and his education was key, not his football.
And yet, ‘No Hunger In Paradise, tells stories of youngsters at pro clubs that will make you scream.
The six-year-old rejected for ‘picking up bad habits’, the nine-year-old being paid £24,000 per year through his parents.
Parents who sacrificed everything for their children tell of missing out on family occasions, holidays, you name it, so their son didn’t miss a game, or upset a coach – only to be eventually told his dreams were no more.
It’s absolutely heart-breaking and it has simply become a race to the bottom for many clubs.
Some clubs take players as young as four-years-old! Academy coaches will be in the delivery suites soon! Can you blame parents for having their heads turned when they hear of players’ wages?
In a strange way, because of it, non-league football is thriving.
The amount of talented players cast aside by academies means the non-league game is on the up. It’s where a huge amount of ex-academy players end up.
Non-league is and always has been full of players who could play in the pro game. I could take you to youth games this week and show you youngsters I would be trialling if I were an academy coach.
But then again, it’s all about opinions.
And that’s the key to much of football... opinions. Your child’s dream in someone else’s hands. Not for me, thanks!
In ‘No Hunger In Paradise’, Frank Lampard speaks eloquently about the subject of academy football, how children should play other sports. He reserves a mention about parents and their poor attitudes.
I saw a tweet on the subject of ‘No Hunger In Paradise’ where one parent was saying his lad was, ‘enjoying himself at a pro club, in the under-six elites’.
A reply came back asking him to define ‘under-six elite’. The parent couldn’t. That pretty well sums it up.
Education has always been my number one priority for my children, however good at sport they have been.
My youngest – the footballer who got bored! - has gone on to become British U16 cycle speedway champion, as well as enjoying three years playing rugby for Colchester. He’s still a good footballer.
But ask my boys what my priority in life for them has been, and they will tell you.. their education.
I understand not all children can go to university, or get a Masters in maths. But we live in a country where all children can be educated and have the opportunity to be the very best they can if given the right backing.
It’s such a short spell of their young growing-up lives – distractions like football can be fatal.
Of course for the 0.012 per cent – well, they will be able to look back at their education and scoff, as they drive away in their £200,000 sports cars.
But I ask. As a parent, are you willing to take the risk – know you now the odds?