My Second Contract, 3rd SeasonDalton Harris
At the start of my 3rd season, I had spent the off season training harder than ever to ensure my sharpness and quality improved. I had a real desire and determination this season to kick on and be selected for the Wales squad for their tournaments and to show my quality and have a great season, injury free. However, it was also the first year of my GCSE’s, year 10.
I started well and was called up to the Wales squad, playing against Belgium and Switzerland, travelling as a squad to Switzerland. Before this, I had to attend a pre-tournament training camp and in total I had a week and a half off of school due to the commitment. However, I did take school work to do with me on the trip. It was an amazing experience and one I’ll remember forever, representing your country for the first time. Click here to read about my international call up.
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This was followed by a good start to the season, playing well and scoring goals, several times throughout the season I was called up into the U17 team at club level to play with them and was now playing 2 years above on these occasions. I found this was the most difficult to adapt to so far, as not only had I to compete with age groups above me, but these players were full time and were significantly stronger and fitter than me and more advanced in their football intelligence and technical ability. Although, I didn’t perform as well as my recent form suggested I could’ve, I tried not to be too disappointed, remembering I was playing 2 years above my age.
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This assessment was my best one yet as it reflected my recent form, taking into account my performances for the U17 team and being called up to international duty. Although it was my best one yet, there were several improvements to be made and therefore gave me plenty of feedback on the areas of improvement I needed to work on.
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Midway throughout the season, and playing regularly in all the wales teams, I was selected to represent Wales U17’s in the UEFA European Championships. I felt huge pride as, a 15 year old playing with players that were not only from the same club, but were from many other clubs and a lot of them were 2.5 years older than me. Click here to read more.
Pressure on my School Work
The rest of the season at club level I performed well. However, this had taken a huge dent out of my schooling as the first 12 weeks of term, I was out of school for 6 weeks and having to self-teach myself my GCSE’s. This was a huge burden and one that I felt my school work suffered significantly because of. This resulted in when I was in school, having extra 1:1 lessons with the teachers at lunch times and after school. I realised that, it was all very possible for me to not make it as a professional footballer and to counteract that, I wanted a backup plan, which was to make sure I had an education to fall back on.
Moreover, the sacrifice of not playing with mates during lunch time did have an effect on me as I became known around school as ‘the professional footballer’ but it also meant that socially I couldn’t mix and join in with my mates. I had to grow up fast.
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The following pre-season, was the fittest and strongest I’d felt with the off season plan I’d been given combined with plans from Wales, I came back stronger and fitter than I had previously with my body fat being recorded at 11%. In early pre-season games I had played well and was competing against 3 other strikers vying to impress, when I was moved to left wing as I am left footed and able to cross the ball exceptionally well. I found this very frustrating as I was having to learn another position in the final year of my contract and vying for a scholarship.
This meant that my performances became less impressive and I was having less playing time due to being substituted because of poor performances. Whilst, this was happening I had also been called up for Wales to participate in the Sky Victory Shield at U16 level.
Juggling education and football
Meanwhile, Nottingham Forest had decided to implement a day release system whereby every Monday I would train full time with the Youth Team and in the afternoons do school work. This was exceptionally challenging due to the pressure on my academic work and it also meant that I had a meeting with the headmaster of my school, with the result to drop a GCSE subject, so that I had slightly more time during the week to play football and achieve well in my GCSE’s.
A crushing end of an Era and big tears
Unfortunately early in the year, this position change meant that my performances were poor and also meant that I was released from my contract. Whilst I was greatly upset with the decision as I had thought I’d performed admirably over the past 4 years and developed well, it was the final decision. As a gesture of courtesy, the club sent my football CV around the rest of the football league clubs, where I was contacted by 23 clubs ranging from non-league to top level championship clubs.
Marking a new era in my football career, I had to trial at several different clubs; Cardiff, Watford, Barnet, Peterborough, Leeds and Scunthorpe and more. I chose Scunthorpe due to their recent success in promoting youth team players to the first team and successfully signed a 2 year contract with them.