From lawyers to Love Island stars, the ex-EFL academy stars thriving away from football
WHAT do a lawyer, rapper and reality TV star all have in common? Answer: They all came through an EFL academy.
Legal eagle Jack MacFarlane, 27, was a right-back who played alongside Calum Chambers, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and James Ward-Prowse at Southampton before becoming an apprentice with Brighton.
Rapper Graft (Jovanni Sterling), 21, did a two-year apprenticeship with Leeds before moving to Rotherham but shot to fame as winner of the BBC Three series The Rap Game.
And Love Island winner Finn Tapp, 21, came through at MK Dons – even playing in the first team – before getting loved up with singer Paige Turley on the hit TV show.
So it is not just England internationals that the EFL has produced.
And this gives hope to the majority of young footballers who each year have their dreams of following the footsteps of John Stones, Kalvin Phillips, Dele Alli and Nick Pope ruthlessly dashed.
Tapp, released by the Dons two years ago, is now living a celebrity-couple lifestyle in Manchester with Turley,
But for much of his time as a teen he wanted to be “the next Dele Alli”.
And he told me: “Dele was there until I was almost 16 and the star player. He was the one everyone looked up to and wanted to follow.
“Even long after he left for Tottenham when I was playing for the under-18s, the phrase used by all the coaches and staff was, ‘You can be the next Dele Alli.’
“I played with him once. One of the coaches invited me to play in the under-18s team in an in-house training game against the under-17s. Dele was in my team.
“It’s sensational to see where he has ended up.”
MacFarlane turned down a trial with rugby club London Irish to pursue a football career.
And he was coached at Southampton by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dad – former England, Portsmouth, Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke ace Mark Chamberlain.
He said: “Ward-Prowse and Chambers were a year below me but often played up in my age group.
“James in particular never looked out of place. His ability was clear and his attitude was fantastic as well. You could tell he would make it – while the other lads developed a bit later.
“Alex, for example, played down an age group for a while.
“The reason some of them developed a bit later was because they hadn’t hit their growth spurts yet. They had all the technical ability but not yet the physical part of it. They’ve all gone on to have great careers.”
The former right-back said: “He joined us in the second year and I remember there was a bit of animosity towards him at the start.
“We saw online that there was this player who was being catapulted in suddenly on a two-year contract.
“But within a week of him coming to training, you could see what a top player he was going to become.
Graft was on Bradford’s books at the age of 14 but got released after a series of injuries and his growth spurt.
But he got picked up by Leeds where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Jamie Shackleton and Tyler Robers.
However, he decided to QUIT Elland Road and join Rotherham as an apprentice instead.
And – despite being the Millers captain in their academy – he failed to win a professional contract.
He said: “I left Leeds because I felt I had more chance of making it at Rotherham – but despite working hard, doing well on the pitch, being captain and given every indication that they wanted to give me a contract it didn’t work out.
“But it’s all worked out in my favour as I am a musician now.”
Graft, luckily, always had a passion for music and was influenced by his parents who played a lot of Caribbean-influenced tune, reggae, soul music, R&B and lovers’ rock.
He said: “As I got to about 14, I started to write my own lyrics to get my feeling of my chest. It was a good release away from football because the sport is intense, fast paced and competitive.
“I then started putting freestyles on YouTube and it went from there.
“Football gives you a false sense of security. A lot is promised to footballers, people saying how amazingly well you’re doing and how you’re going to get a pro contract. It’s false and when it doesn’t happen it moves young people to a cliff edge. They don’t know what to do next.
“When Rotherham told me I wasn’t getting on, I was shocked because they’d been telling me I would.
“But thankfully I was already making music and it’s steadily grown. Now I’m making a good living out of it.”
So what made him come up with his stage name?
He said: “I needed a name that resonated with me. Whatever I’ve done in life whether it be at school or football, I’ve worked hard and never given up. My mum also has always worked hard to support me.
“So I thought my mum works hard, I worked hard and my family do. What word defines that? Graft.”
McFarlane sobbed all the way on the train from Brighton to his home-town Portsmouth when he was released – but went on to a do a law degree and played non-league for Bognor Regis, Selsey and Godalming as well as working for Tesco as a delivery driver.
He said: “I now work as a health and safety manager for TJ Transport and TJ Waste – which is a haulage and skip hire company based on the south coast. I don’t play football anymore but go to watch Portsmouth with my dad.”
Tapp got on to Love Island after dropping into non-league to play for Oxford City – and literally the first his club knew about it was when he was appearing on the show.
He said: “I fell out of love with football when MK released me and Oxford City I found it again because I was playing week in, week out.
“I got a job in recruitment because Oxford were semi-pro.
“After work one night, I had a few beers and started an application form for Love Island because I thought I’d be good on the show.
“I didn’t expect it to come off but all of a sudden I got accepted on to the show – but I was under contract at Oxford City and thought: ‘What do I do now?’ I couldn’t tell them because there were all kinds of confidentiality clauses to get on the show so left it with my agent.
“I was worrying because I left them blindsided but they were supportive of it all and the gamble did pay off well.
“We won the show and I found love in Paige, living an amazing life.”
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