Jack Folan – My Football Story

I can’t begin Club Kick without telling you a bit about my football story and the career I’ve had thus far. In order for me to do this, I’m going to have to take you on a little trip down memory lane and tell you about how I first got into football to where I am today. So ladies and gentlemen, players and coaches, welcome to the Jack Folan show!


I can still recall the day I attended my first ever training session. With my England kit on and overwhelmed with excitement, I took part in my first training session and the beginning of my football career. The team I trained with was Ferns, and I would go on to play for them from the age of six up until the age of 10. From the brief memory I have playing for Ferns, is that I wasn’t very good whatsoever. I mean technically, I was mediocre and even that would be putting it nicely. However throughout my time at Ferns, I was fortunate enough to play in a very good side and I had some amazing opportunities to play against West Ham and Charlton Athletic. Despite not being a very good player, this period of my football career was amazing. I absolutely loved everything about football at this age, although these opportunities to play against elite competition only made me realise how far off I was to playing for an academy. Being a professional footballer was the furthest thing off my mind and something that I didn’t think was achievable.


As I transitioned from playing 7-a-side into 11-a-side football at the age of 11, I would go on to join Colebrook Royals. Looking back I had a successful couple of years at Colebrook and even had the opportunity to go on trial at Leyton Orient, although I was unsuccessful with the trial. In hindsight, being rejected from Leyton Orient was arguably one of the best things to ever happen to me as a child. It was my first experience of a playing for a professional club and it taught me about other aspects of the game, such as strength of character and mentality. It gave me a good insight into how cruel football can be at times, but taught me a few things about myself which would go on to help me further down the line. Unfortunately due to a few misunderstandings, I departed from Colebrook and ended up joining our local rivals, Romford Royals. At this moment in my career, I met a coach called Warren Fenton, who other than my dad has had the biggest impact in my football career thus far. Warren completely transformed as a player and a person, he used his experience and authority to teach me that as you go through the football pyramid that minor improvements can result in major changes. Throughout the under 13 season, it was the season when I transitioned from a good Sunday league player into a potential academy player. I was captain of the school team, captain of my district side and at the end of that season I was offered a trial at Colchester United.


I initially took part in an open trial at Colchester which consisted of multiple games across two days. If I was successful, I would be selected to go on a six-week trial with the academy team. Fortunate enough for me, after the two days I had played well enough to be selected to go on trial. Without being arrogant or overconfident, I knew that I was ready for this opportunity. I had competed against academy players in district games and never felt that I looked out-of-place. Two weeks in to my six-week trial, my dad and I were called into the changing room by a few of the coaches. I did it! I officially signed for a professional club. What started out as a hobby with friends has now turned into a potential career. My first season at Colchester United was like a rollercoaster, one week I would be playing up a year and receiving praise from coaches, to the next week going back down to play with my own age group. The whole season was a test of my character and it constantly got me second guessing whether a career as a footballer would actually be for me. Towards the end of my first season, I remember one particular evening after training, everyone in the team minus two players was called into one of the changing rooms. I initially thought that there is so many of us in here it must be about the game at the weekend. Instead we had been pulled in the changing room to discuss our futures. After an explanation about Colchester United, in league one, was exploring the possibility of bringing in Irish and Spanish youngsters at 14 years of age, the club let us all go. I was distraught; everything I worked so hard for was taken from me in a few short sentences. I felt embarrassed, how was I going to look my dad in the eye and tell him what had just happened? What will my friends and family think? But most importantly, what was going to happen to my football career? Questions I still wouldn’t want to ask myself at 24 years old, let alone only being 14 at the time. A few weeks passed and I was all called in for my end of season review. This was a chance for the coaches, parents and players to get together and discuss why I was perhaps not offered a contract along with any other questions my dad and I may have. As we began discussing the reasons why, the manager made it clear to me that he would strongly recommended me out of everyone to come back and take part in the open trial. I literally only took part in this year before, was I really going to come back and do the same thing all over again? Of course I was! I had a huge chip on my shoulder about the fact the club had just released me and I was going to use that summer to prove them that they was wrong for letting me go.


Throughout the summer, I worked day and night to get myself back in a place where Colchester United couldn’t turn me down for a second time. Even at 14, I knew that I couldn’t blow this second chance as it could turn out to be my last. I started working with a sprint coach, started lifting weights, practiced every evening, anything I can do to prepare for myself. The open trial was much more intense, the competition level was a lot higher than the previous year. Players that had been released from other professional teams are now in a similar situation as myself and there just as hungry to get signed as myself. Following two days of back to back games against high level competition, I was one of eight that had been selected out of approximately a hundred players. As delighted as I was, I know I had been here before and this time I was going to have to be a lot better than the previous season. After a six week pre-season trial that consisted of multiple games and gruelling training sessions everybody on trial was called into one of the changing rooms, everyone but me. I was told to wait behind in a separate changing room. I had a feeling it was going to be something good, and as much as I was devastated for the other boys and it pains me to say, I was happy it was them and that not me. It was my first realisation into how selfish football could be, and despite the fact the game is played in a team, it is about you and will only ever be about you. After being told I was being re-signed, I was once again overwhelmed (and relieved). I had worked so hard to put myself back in a position to get resigned and I finally had done it. But it wasn’t a time to rest on my laurels; it was time to kick on. There is a very small amount of under 15 games at academy level, so instead what happens is the under 15’s typically play for the under 16’s. Despite the games being more physically demanding that season, I excelled. I had a fantastic season that year; I was receiving praise from the players, my family and most importantly, my coaches. They gave me a second chance and I had taken it, and at one point I was even getting watched by Ireland with the potential to represent them.


As I went into the under 16 season, there was a change in the academy staff and my coaches had all been replaced. It was sad to see them go and could only thank Steve Downey, Marc Tracy, Danny King and Jody Brown for everything they taught me. Going into this season I felt a lot more pressure, this was the year in which I would be told whether I would be offered a scholarship and the chance to play football full-time. This was something I wanted to do from when I first laced up a pair of football boots. Throughout the season I was playing well, maybe not to the level of the previous season but I was still being given the opportunity to play for the youth team, as well as be made captain of my age group. As each day and game passed you know that D (decision) day was coming, and you could sense the nerves and anxiety in the changing room. However much I reassured myself that I would be offered a contract, I had been released before and knew that it could easily happen again. One night after training in March, a few of the team was asked to get our parents together and wait in one of the changing rooms. I believe both the parents and players knew exactly what was coming. As I got called upstairs with my dad, I was so nervous about what the outcome was going to be. I knew that I was playing well but it’s a game of opinions and what I was thinking could have been completely different to what the coaches were thinking. To my relief, I had been offered a scholarship. I was ecstatic, years of hard work and dedication had all built up to this moment.  I had worked so hard to get here and I had given up nights out with friends, travelled hours across the country to play games and dedicated my childhood to perfecting this craft. It wasn’t just me who had worked hard for this; my dad had helped more than any coach could ever have done. A few years ago the club had released me and now they want to come in and play football full-time. But before I left the room I can remember the coach saying to me ‘getting a scholarship is the easy part, the hard work starts now.’ Towards the end of that season, I was constantly involved with the youth team and even played for the reserve team shortly after my 16th birthday. I now felt so comfortable among the youth team, all I could look forward to was going to play football full-time with my friends. I think it’s fair to say, no way can any footballer so they work for a living but can say they worked for their living.


My first experience of full-time football was pre-season training and this very much lived up to the myth. My days would consist of eat, train and sleep for six weeks with the occasional friendly chucked in. I began my scholarship in the form of my life, I was as sharp as I ever had been and I was receiving praise not just from my coaches but also coaches from other professional teams. Three months in and I was still playing really well, although during a sprinting session in training I suddenly felt sharp pain in my lower back. At first I brushed it off and carried on until the end of the session. However, I woke up the next day in excruciating pain and I went to see the physio who initially ruled me out for a few weeks. This injury would actually carry on for the next three months and was not just affecting me physically but also psychologically. I felt distant from the rest of my team mates and I didn’t feel like I was part of the squad. I believe almost every player that has suffered a serious injury can tell you, that unless you’re indispensable to the club they couldn’t care less about you. When I came back from the injury I never felt like the same player. I wasn’t playing nowhere near the level I was before I got injured and I noticed that players I was ahead of at the start of my scholarship was receiving more praise from the coaches than myself. I take full responsibility for this; whilst I was injured I neglected other aspects of the game that I should’ve taken into account before I returned to playing. I was so dedicated to making it as a professional but so naïve into the finer details of the game. I would go on throughout the first year of my scholarship to drift in and out of form, and throughout this period I would also go on to fall a little out of love with football. Favouritism isn’t a word I like to use too often as it can often be misinterpreted as jealously, but this definitely happens in football. Almost every time I would go out to play, the coaches would make me feel so pressurised into playing well that I would start to over think the smallest decisions on the pitch. Times like these would make me question why I play football. I started playing football because I had always enjoyed it, but now it feels more like a job. I was playing football for a living, something I’ve always wanted to do. This shouldn’t be the case; I should really want to play football every day.  As the season ended, I was relieved. I even ended that season injured; I think I may have spent more time on the physio’s table than I did on the pitch.


Going into my second year as a scholar, I was looking forward to going back and I was ready to take on the penultimate year of my scholarship. I got myself physically and mentally ready to take on any challenge that may come up and I was ready to apply myself every day to achieving my dream. As soon as pre-season began, the coaches made it pretty obvious which players they was looking to push on and which ones were just making up the numbers. I had to watch a couple of players in my age group get the opportunity to play in a couple of first team games. As happy as I was for them doing well, I would definitely rather me be out there playing instead of them. I would go on throughout the second year of my scholarship very similar to the previous season. I had a few opportunities to play in the reserve team and done well, but my form throughout the season wasn’t good enough to cement my place in the team. After the Christmas period I felt as though the competition between players had got intense, almost every day we would discuss things like who will get a professional contract? Why did he train with the first team? How did he get called up to the reserves? We were all friends, but it was just that we all wanted this dream and we was just reassuring ourselves that we could potentially make it. Then at the end of February we was all told to wait in the changing room and that we would not train that afternoon. I had been here before and …. well let’s just say I was a little nervous. I was hoping for the best but expecting the worse. As much as I wanted to be offered a professional contract, I deep down knew I hadn’t done enough to get one. I was injury prone, I was drifting in and out of form and at the end of the day, I just simply hadn’t played well enough to prove I deserved a contract. I got called in first out of everyone by my youth team coach. The first team manager sat in front of me with the youth and reserve team coaches either side of him, as they gave me the verdict. They will ‘not’ be offering me a professional contract. I was in and out the room literally within a couple of minutes. I thought it would be a long process into the reasons why they didn’t offer me a contract but they didn’t come. I have to say I totally respected the decision and I couldn’t argue against it. I didn’t think I deserved a professional contract but a piece inside of me was always hoping that they might have seen something to keep me on. I would continue to train every now and then until the end of the season. My head was all over the place, I was not just contemplating the next stage of my football career but also the next stage of my life.

I would go on to attend University and play football on and off throughout. During my time at university, I would initially miss playing football and then as soon as I started playing again I would simply just get bored with everything to do with football. The standard wasn’t as good as Colchester United and I couldn’t believe that University football was more political than professional football!


Football to me is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way, the moment the referee blows the whistle for a game to begin nothing in the world matters. You don’t think about anything, you don’t worry about anything; you simply just react off your instincts. I’ve done it for so many years and invested so much time into it, that when I stop playing it finds a way of coming back into my life. Last season I’ve found myself back playing football with Stansted FC, this time as a central midfielder and I love every minute of it. The competition, the banter, it just all feels right. Hence, I’ve resigned for Stansted FC for the upcoming season. As much as I have aspirations of playing at the highest level as I possibly can, I just want to play week in and week out. At this moment in time I can honestly say that I’m not focused on the destination but rather just enjoying the journey.

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