This week I’ve been speaking with a player I recently met and worked with on my return from Toronto last October. Callum Smith; another young aspiring player who has now moved into the coaching world with the hopes of a happier, more stable life. Let’s get into it.

Callum entered Newcastle United academy at the age of twelve. As a Gateshead lad, this was a dream come true from across the river. He began as a centre forward for Newcastle but then drifted out wide. Now in the modern game being referred to as a wide forward. Callum moved through the academy system and at sixteen was offered his full-time scholarship with Newcastle United. A great honour for him and his family. He was making the step into full-time football for a huge club with a rich history. The stage was set.

Callum Smith (Newcastle United 2016)

Callum went on to receive his first professional contract at eighteen with Newcastle United and achieve a goal that every young boy in the toon would dream of doing. Callum was now in the professional game. A landmark that no one can take away and one very few have achieved for all their love and hard work in the game. However, todays story is a great insight into the potential problems with academies and how your love of the game can swiftly disappear. Are English academies killing football for young players?

Cullum’s professional career was short lived at Newcastle and he was released the following season. A new opportunity was presented at Hull City, giving Callum another year in the professional game. Unfortunately, Callum was released again the following season. Take a moment to think about what back to back releases may do to a 20-year olds confidence and mentality.

Callum spoke of the shock and disappointment of being released from Newcastle, his boyhood club, and how this affects your mental wellness and confidence as a player. He mentioned that he never really settled or felt valued at Hull City during his year with the club. Describing that when he heard the familiar words that he was being released he was already at peace with it. It was then that Callum understood that his professional career was coming to an early end.

Callum was then given a big decision to make, being offered a one-year contract by Burnley FC. Any young player reading will think he jumped at the offer. However, what todays article is all about is how you can lose your love and drive for the game. After what seemed like a lifetime in the system, after so many setbacks, bad experiences and being brought up in a high pressure, low enjoyment environment, Callum chose to decline the one-year contract and begin his coaching journey while playing semi-professional football.

Some may see this as an absurd decision to decline a professional playing contract, but what people don’t see from the outside is the many pressures that come with elite level football. Callum described that he had already made the decision in his head during his time at Hull City that he wasn’t going to be a professional footballer. Explaining that he didn’t have the want nor the desire to be involved in the professional game anymore.

He went on to say that it wasn’t an easy process and it had started with accepting that he was no longer a Newcastle United player. After being within the academy set up for such a long period of time, it can be a difficult realisation to accept. It became easier for Cullum to deal with the words “you’re being released,” when he joined Hull City. Mentioning that he never really felt like he was in the picture at Hull, making the decision himself that he wouldn’t last long at the club. Sounds like a 19-year-old who potentially needed some support and an arm around the shoulder.

You now start to see the pieces come together and why so many young players fall out of love with the game. Football isn’t pretty and it’s a difficult industry to excel within but as an industry we are failing so many young men and women who pour their heart and soul into the game, only to be chewed up and spat out the other side with no thoughts of what to do without playing on the pitch. Football has so much more to offer these young players.

Callum went on to give me context on his situation, saying he felt his attitude and commitment was first rate but struggled with going the extra yard after training. “I never had that drive to put in the extra work, stay out after training, come in on my day off to do more when people aren’t watching” Callum explained. He did enough to get by and didn’t opt to go the extra mile. “I accepted that and take full responsibility for it, I thought that was enough” he admitted.

I asked Callum if he thought he was given enough time and support to find other clubs. He felt that more could have been done. Mentioning that majority of his support, trials and assistance in securing another club was done externally. Callum believes this is why most young players end up out of the game, due to a lack of support from their current club.

He spoke more about professional clubs and academies stating “players are taken into a professional environment from such a young age, it takes the fun part of football away. By the time players are getting to the age of 15, 16 they aren’t enjoying playing football anymore. It almost becomes too much football too quickly”.

Callum feels he was fortunate to have a great support network from his family and friends. Explaining that he couldn’t fault anyone’s efforts to help him stay in the professional game. There was no pressure and only support for all the decisions he made as a young man. “You need a strong support network to pick you up when you’re down and build your confidence back up after setbacks,” says Callum.

Callum speaks passionately about his new career in coaching. Stating that he still loves football and regained his enjoyment when returning to play semi-professional in the North-East. Now playing for North Shields in the Northern Premier league, alongside his new chapter coaching young players for Andrew Cartwright Football Coaching. Callum is currently completing his Level 3 UEFA B to further his qualifications and experience as a coach. Mentioning that it’s been difficult due to the current climate with all his learning moving online.

Callum Smith (Coaching ACFC 2020)

“Football is all I know and I want to stay involved in the game, just now I’m a coach” Callum says.  He explained he wants to help develop the next generation of young players to achieve what he did and more.

He insisted he still has good memories of playing which he wants to use to help young players learn and develop. However, to also help young players understand the reality of professional football and how tough it really is. I asked Callum if he believed he was given enough evidence and information on the harshness of the football world. He recalled minimal evidence being provided to him as a young player at Newcastle United. Having said that, he did go on to say in his own mind he knew it was unlikely he was going to have a very fruitful professional playing career.

Something lots of players will experience is one-year contracts which mounts pressure on to perform and improve rapidly or be shown the door. Rather than give a player a two-year contract which gives them more stability and security in their life. A longer contract could improve a player’s mental health by allowing them to be more relaxed when training and playing. They could go out and improve their game and perform on a match day without thinking that they could possibly be out of contract in 6 months.

Callum has one regret and wished he had done more to better himself as a player. He went on to say “I was a professional player for Newcastle United at one point and that will be with me forever, but I wish I had done the extra.” A phrase that plenty of players will utter to themselves. He said if he was going to give advice to

young scholars now he would say be the one that makes the best impression. Do everything you can to get in the u23 team, then do everything you can to get in the first team. Don’t just settle to be part of the u18 squad. Stating his biggest piece of advice would be “always do more than everyone else.”

I asked Callum the common question of what more can be done to help young players come through this traumatic time? He insisted it’s difficult to change as your life is football, football, football. He did however, recommend all young players to do their coaching badges as soon as possible. Going on to say that moving from full time professional football to nothing is a drastic turn of events and not much can be done to really prepare you for that. Callum mentioned that football has to be fun and enjoyable, saying that playing at North shields has been the most enjoyable football he can remember.

Callum hopes to continue his progression within the coaching community. He feels as though he has key information and experiences to pass along to young players that could change their perspective. Stepping into coaching at a young age is the best thing he’s ever done and loves working with young players in the North-East. Making football enjoyment key to his coaching philosophy.

He left us with these final words. “I had a huge number of high points at Newcastle and when things are going well, there's no feeling like it, it's unbelievable. However, when things take a turn for the worst, it’s never too long before they pick back up again. Get your head down, work harder and smarter than everyone else.”

Thank you, Callum Smith, for your honest account of your career. A great example of another young player investing in his future and starting a career that he is fully invested in.

A little bit different today hearing a player say that he should have done more, as well as the hugely important understanding of the mental implications on young players.  Are we putting too much pressure on players from a young age and taking the game away from them? Are academies potentially ruining football for so many players by the age of 18? Food for thought.

Thanks for reading.

Tom McNamee