Wednesday 21 February 2018

Young Irish players are victims of 'bullying' at English soccer clubs

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

YOUNG Irish football players hoping to win contracts with English Premier League clubs are suffering from bullying and homesickness.

A report on players' welfare, released under the Freedom of Information Act, provides stark details of the reality of trying to win a professional football contract with an English club for Irish teenagers.

It reveals that many of the young Irish players experience problems such as homesickness, bullying, rejection and disciplinary issues.

Around 50 Irish 16-year-olds leave their homes and families every year to play in England. But according to the experts, a good crop will produce only seven professionals.

It is a far cry from what one of the Football Association of Ireland's experts describe as the dreams of young players about obtaining "money, glamour, big cars and a celebrity lifestyle" with a professional contract.

The FAI's player welfare officer Terry Conroy, a former Republic of Ireland international, said he had helped inform clubs about problems with bullying, personality clashes, homesickness, and players with family issues that clubs were unaware of.

He dealt with 17 separate welfare cases between December 2008 and March 2010, which accounted for one in five of the 80 young Irish players he met during this period.

Mr Conroy revealed in his report that 85pc of those who sign professional contracts with a club at the age of 16 will no longer be there three years later.

"At 18, 19 or 20 years of age, they are still inexperienced in most matters of life and the stigma of failure lies heavily on their young shoulders.

"It's a terrible burden to bear," he said.


Mr Conroy, a former Stoke player, described how there had been numerous cases where young Irish players would not return home from Britain because they felt they would be seen as failures.

Mr Conroy's annual salary of around €25,000 is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs. As part of his work, he has explained to the parents and guardians of Irish players what lies ahead before they travel to England to join clubs.

But the player welfare programme is facing a challenge due to his forthcoming retirement at the end of this month.

The FAI said it was discussing a number of options with the department and highlighted the value of the player welfare officer position in helping young players.

"With nearly 90pc of young players who go over to England and Scotland not making it, it can be a cruel and difficult environment for these children," a spokesman said.

The spokesman said the department had approved its application to fund the player welfare scheme next year.

But although the department said it was satisfied with the progress being achieved under the scheme, it not did guarantee that funding for a new player welfare officer would be provided.

"If an application for a grant in 2012 is received it will be considered on its merits and in the context of the overall Emigrant Support Programme allocation," a spokesman said.

There are currently 390 Irish players playing abroad.

Mr Conroy made a speedy recovery after undergoing life-saving surgery for an abdominal aortic aneurysm last March.

Irish Independent

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