The dream of becoming a professional football player is one which lies within many young boys.
Whilst most accept early on that it will only ever be only a pipedream and a hobby, others show the determination, grit and most importantly that spark of ability required to make the dream even somewhat plausible.
The long nights waiting to hear back from prospective clubs, the driving up and down the country to trials, dealing with the obsession, constant scrutiny and resulting pressure of all of this on a young person can be challenging to comprehend; these are just some of the challenges faced by the parents of those who dare to dream.
Kettering’s Nick Elmore is one such parent.
He has been watching his son Archie kick a ball since the day he could walk and has been with him on the journey to making it pro ever since.
“Archie was kicking a ball as soon as he could walk, by the time he was two years old he was kicking balls and dribbling everyday.
“My first memories of Archie playing were when he was five when he joined Ise lodge in the Weetabix Youth League, ready to start playing in under-7 league against other teams.
“I knew from day one Archie was a good player, he wanted to win everything and always wanted the ball at his feet and never wanted to pass to anyone which frustrated other parents and coaches. But from my point looking back now it was all part of the progression and confidence he needed to get into academy football which was on a different level.”
Nick wasn’t the only one who saw potential in young Archie. Scouts from Leicester City, Aston Villa and Coventry City were all watching him from the age of seven and the latter eventually offered him a chance into the world of academy football.
“Archie was scouted from numerous clubs at seven years old, FA rules stated you have to live in one-hour distance of the training ground, so we agreed to go to Leicester City, Aston Villa and Coventry City.
“We would travel to Coventry on Monday night, Aston Villa Wednesday night and Leicester on Friday night. The travelling to Aston Villa was too much for an eight-year-old getting home at 10pm, so we decided to pull out of there and concentrate on the other two.
“In the February of the under-8 season Coventry called me for a meeting to offer Archie a place in the academy for two years to start in August for the new under-9 season.
“He could only play for them and would have to leave his Sunday youth team and I had to tell Leicester City we would not be back.”
Archie would stay at Coventry for nine years and play in every category up until the under-16s, so Nick was understandably confident his son would be offered a scholarship and edge closer to fulfilling the dream of playing professionally.
However, this was not to be the case and Nick was informed by the club that his son was not going to be offered the scholarship he had been working towards for the last nine years.
“As a parent I truly believed Archie would get a scholarship at Coventry City from what I had seen and how well he had done in the under-16 season leading up to his release.
“As we left Coventry for the last time after they told Archie he would not be offered it and it was emotional back in the car park at the training ground knowing he would not be back again having been there for nine years, he didn’t know anything different.
“As a parent I kept telling him it was only Coventry’s City opinion and I thought he was a very good player and deserved the chance to play for a scholarship at a professional club.”
This can be the most turbulent time in a young players career, it is almost like starting again having to go to trials and trying to catch the eye of a prying scout; moreover, clubs can often be reluctant to offer chances to players who have been deemed not good enough elsewhere.
However, despite letting Archie go, Coventry offered support and guidance to the Elmores and helped them through the process of finding Archie a new club.
“Coventry were great with trying to get Archie another club, they sent a video of Archie out to other clubs and they contacted me on a regular basis to see how he was getting on.
“Approximately 30 clubs contacted me for trials across the Football League which at the time was exciting but very hard work trying to get to different clubs from all across the country.
“We soon found out that turning up on a Saturday for one game with various different clubs was not working as it was too far to travel to train with them in the week to really get a feel for Archie as a footballer and a person.”
Another option for young players who are let go by academies is to take part in the EFL Exit Trials. They offer players a platform to show what they can do in front of scouts from across the Football League.
Nevertheless, they are often seen as the final chance for a player to be noticed. Many young players have seen their dreams of playing end whilst playing alongside ten complete strangers in the same situation as themselves.
The brutal reality is that very few are seen to have what it takes to make it professionally, although Archie was to be one of the ones who stood out on the day.
“Coventry had asked me if Archie would want to attend the Exit Trials, of course he said yes, they said he could enter in two trials one located in London and another in Loughborough (midlands/southern). He attended both.
“Archie had been looking forward to the trials and as a parent I had to make sure he knew he had to work his socks off to get noticed, even though he’d already had a lot of interest from other clubs.
“Archie attended the Exit Trials the next week and had a lot of interest from eight different clubs, he was even chosen to do an interview with the EFL after the games had finished!”
Fortunately, and somewhat expectantly considering the sheer number of interested clubs, Archie was to be offered a chance back into the game in the form of a two-year scholarship with Shrewsbury Town.
“Shrewsbury had contacted me about a week before the trials, they were great and told me they wanted to take a look at him and have him stay with them for a few days and live in digs, which they provided.
“The day after the trials Shrewsbury contacted me again to see if Archie would train and live in digs for a few days again.
“When I picked Archie up after he had finished, they called us in for a meeting and explained how well Archie had done playing with the under-18s and first-year pros and were looking for a centre forward like him and to offer him a two-year scholarship at the club.”
For the Elmores this was what the last 10 years of Archie playing football had been all about.
Despite being doubted by those at Coventry, he had done enough to secure himself a two-year scholarship and had given himself another chance.
“It was one of the best days of my life for someone to give your boy another chance of a journey into professional football after all the years of hard work he had put in,” his dad said.
“He accepted their offer; something felt right at Shrewsbury.
“Archie was over the moon and couldn’t wait to tell his mum on the way home in the car, it was a very special moment that we will never forget.”
Archie, now 17, has gone from strength-to-strength at Shrewsbury and despite watching his son play for over a decade, Nick insists his favourite moment watching Archie has come with the Shrews.
“Looking back on Archie’s 10 years playing football he has scored hundreds of memorable goals, there have been a lot of highs and even more lows; but my personal favourite moment would have to be the first game on trial for Shrewsbury.
“He scored a hat-trick against Wolves in a 3-0 win, it was probably the only time I drove home with nothing to say about his performance but praise!
“He made a big statement of what he wanted from Shrewsbury and he got it.”
As the trials for this year rapidly approach, Nick insists the most important thing for those attending is to enjoy the experience and believe in your ability.
“My advice would be to stick to how you play and enjoy it.
“Just because your style didn’t suit your previous club, new clubs might see something in you that they like, that is why the trials are a great opportunity to showcase yourself."