Unfortunately, when it comes to youth football in England, one mantra is often still common for some: size matters.
Many talented young players are let go each year for the simple reason that they’re deemed to be not big enough. This can be devastating. They can feel forced to make a decision about whether or not they want to stay in the game, with sometimes only parents or guardians for support.
Marvin Grubb knows this only too well. In late 2019 his son, Evander, was shown the door by Bristol Rovers, a club he’d been part of for more than seven years. The reason? He wasn’t deemed to be big enough for the club at that moment in time.
“Bristol Rovers was like his family, ”Marvin, who works as a secondary school teacher, tells FourFourTwo. “They knew he was small and were nurturing him; he was one of the most technically gifted players on their books. But then, suddenly, they told us he had no place at the club. Evander was absolutely traumatised.”
To make matters worse, Evander, who was 15-years-old and 5ft 2 inches at the time, was told the exact same thing by another five trial clubs, including two from the Championship.
“The phone didn’t stop ringing when he got released as he is so technical,” explains Marvin. “But when we went to trials, it was evident something was putting people off. He looked as if he could have played three years down.”
Perhaps the most upsetting thing from Marvin’s point of view was that these heartbreaking rejections could have been avoided.
“The five trial clubs already knew about his size before he got there, which is frustrating,” says Marvin.
Fortunately, Evander's luck was about to change. After he attended an “exit trial” - a shop window-type game which gives released football players an opportunity to meet and impress scouts - the youngster caught the eye of ProChance’s Liam Sutcliffe.
ProChance helps players who have been released from professional clubs find a way back into the game. Whether they are deemed to be too small, lacking confidence or perhaps have suffered a serious injury, ProChance helps get them back on their feet, before setting them up with the right opportunity.
“I didn't really know what ProChance was,” admits Marvin. “But it gave me hope.”
Lockdown hit before Evander was able to make the most of this opportunity, but he was soon invited to play for local semi-professional club Bristol Manor Farm, working his way up from the U18s to the first team by the time the season resumed.
In the summer of 2020, Evander also started taking part in ProChance showcase games against top academy clubs. The matches are shown live on YouTube, with scouts invited to watch.
That August, Evander became the youngest FA Cup scorer in history when he struck for Bristol Farm Manor against Cadbury Heath. This was when ProChance’s expertise then proved to be invaluable.
“A lot of clubs were interested after that FA Cup match,” explains Marvin. “But parents aren't football industry people, so I didn't know what to do. If your child signs for the wrong club, you could end up back where you started 18 months later.
“So we worked with ProChance and they oversaw all of that. Liam said he wanted to get Evander the right club and recommended Huddersfield Town. Evander went up there and had a great time, overseen by Liam all the way. He signed a couple of weeks later.”
Evander is now flourishing for Huddersfield Town. Still just 16-years-old, he’s been playing up an age group against academy teams such as Liverpool and Manchester City. He’s trained with the first team. All this, a year after he was told he was too small to make it in professional football. Marvin has no doubt about the influence of Liam Sutcliffe and the ProChance team.
“None of this could have happened without ProChance,” explains Marvin. “Liam and his team made this possible. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
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