Another of Alex Stephens’s friends in the Watford academy, Aaron Morgan, recalls that he too fell into the fringes of criminality after being released by Queens Park Rangers at 18. He recalls that he found the expected disciplines and routines difficult at Watford and QPR, as a teenager from Shepherd’s Bush with only his mother as his rock of support.
“As a young footballer, everybody is selling the same dream to you: if you work hard, you will make it. But that just isn’t the case,” he says. “You realise now that a lot of boys are kept there just to make up the numbers. Then for it to be taken away in one second, mentally, that was a lot to deal with, especially for somebody with no father figure. I went through a stage of depression, back home, not wanting to leave the house, and I know loads of people in the same position, struggling. Every year there is a new batch, and people do end up in crime and drug dealing; I see it.”
Morgan says that after years of clinging to the dream of being a footballer, his salvation-in-disguise came when he broke a bone in his ankle while playing for non-league Hendon.
“The injury finally opened my eyes to real life,” he says. “I was out of the football bubble. My mind became clearer; I was thinking straight and realistically.”
Having worked part-time in a nursery, Morgan began working as a delivery driver, then qualified as an engineer for washing machines, fridges and other white goods. He is happy with the job and has plans to take his HGV license and start his own business; he has had the same partner for 10 years, plays for Beaconsfield Town in the Evo-Stik South East League, and feels, at 27, his life has come together.
“But I feel I had wasted years; I could have had this life six or seven years ago. I could have done things, gone travelling, but instead all I was thinking about was football. Really, there are hundreds of boys across the country, being set up to fail.”
Aaron Morgan’s son, Kairon, six, has been spotted by a Chelsea scout playing children’s football locally, and asked to go to their development centre. Clubs can run these pre-academy sessions for six-year-olds, before the first formal affiliation can start at eight. Morgan says he rejected three letters from Chelsea before succumbing to the classic parents’ dilemma, that he may be denying his son an opportunity, however remote. Kairon went, and there were 60 little boys there, says Morgan, who can see the disappointment stretching ahead for most of them. He says he will try to guide his son to have realistic expectations, to enjoy it but take it sceptically. But so far, he has never gone along to watch, to actually see his boy taking his first steps into English football’s youth development system.
“I don’t know if I am mentally ready for that,” he says.
Edited by MainStandK at 14:51:48 on 6th October 2017