The mother of a former academy footballer who had severe depression and considered suicide after being released has called for more transparency from Premier League and English Football League clubs about the minuscule chances of becoming a professional player.
After obtaining official figures, i revealed the statistically stark reality for Premier League hopefuls, even those who play at football’s elite group of academies.

Ninety-seven per cent of the former elite academy players now aged 21 to 26 failed to make a single appearance in the Premier League, 70 per cent did not even earn a contract at a professional club and only one in 10 went on to make 20 or more appearances in the top four tiers of English football. Less than half were given scholarship contracts at 16.

The statistics were compiled from players born between 1 September 1995 and 31 August 2000 and included 4,109 players registered with Category One academies.

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Lynda Dennis’s son, Ashley Thompson, did land a scholarship contract at Fulham but was let go two years later and his life went into a downward spiral. Thompson, now in his early 30s, said he did not receive any support from the club after being released and Lynda remembers taking days off work because she feared she would return home to find her son had taken his own life.

Commenting on the figures uncovered by i, Lynda said: “My heart goes out to kids that are being sold a dream that is so unlikely to happen. In this day and age we have a huge problem with mental health, why are we setting kids up to fail in this way?

“We were never made aware of those kinds of numbers. It’s still not being published and kids entering into the academy system are not being told.”

Lynda has no problem with the fact academies are so competitive, but believes the harsh reality should be impressed upon parents and their children from the beginning to make clear how unlikely it is even players at the country’s leading academies will have a career as a footballer. Category One academies are considered the best in the country. Almost every Premier League club has a Category One academy — including the Big Six of Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United — and several clubs in the Championship.

“They should be clearer on these numbers from day one,” Lynda said. “I look at the amount of kids especially from deprived backgrounds, council estates, both parents out working, they come to home to an empty house, they don’t necessarily have the direction other kids have or haven’t got money, who are using their talent to try to get their family out of poverty. What about teaching them about if this dream doesn’t work out?

“I think we can do so much more. That’s where my heart breaks. My grandson is going through academies now. Because of what happened with Ashley we’ll make sure he has something else: education, a trade. If he makes it as a footballer it’ll be fantastic, but he’ll be a clever one. I don’t want to see football become his life, because it almost took my son’s.”

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Nowadays, many of the thousands of footballers who do not make it will have joined a club from eight years old and could spend more than a decade devoting their life to a team — neglecting family, schooling and friends — before being discarded.

Lynda adds: “I’m not saying we should change it all but let’s be transparent about what’s happening. At the end of the day it’s not just the kids being sold the dream, I was a single parent bringing my son through an academy, I knew nothing about it. I learnt it through my son.

“We’re not told [the figures]. It’s obvious now, but that’s not what we’re sold. All we were ever told was as long as he keeps training and keeps the right attitude, he’d make it. We had yearly meetings with the academy about his progress to make sure he was on track. Every year he was excelling. At what stage was there such a slim chance of him making it? Then he was released, and the door closed.”