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Max Noble: "Football academies are toxic environments"

Max Noble, once a promising young footballer, has revealed the mistreatment of academy prospects within the sport.


Having been discovered at the age of eight-years-old by Wimbledon FC scouts, Noble would go on to be considered one of the most talented youngsters around when he eventually trained with Fulham FC's first team, at a time when they were in the Premier League.


Not only was he impressing at club level but on the international stage too for Wales, alongside the likes of Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale and Juventus' Aaron Ramsey.


However, what seemed to be an exciting period in Noble's career, was actually a time of exploitation, which he likened to a form of child abuse.


Max Noble told Sky News his story and his experiences of being a player within an elite academy.


His career kicked off with Wimbledon FC, now known as MK Dons, where he was scouted at the age of just eight and upon the team's relocation to Milton Keynes, Noble joined Fulham at 15-years-old.


"I'd love to say that I have happy memories of Fulham; that even though I didn't make it, I had lots of good experiences and transferable skills," Max started.


"But sadly, I don't look back on my time there with any fondness. Football academies are really toxic environments. They're young boys looked after by grown men who have no care for them."


The club suggested to Noble that he quit school not long after his arrival, at a time when many others in his age group would be preparing for their all-important GCSE's.


"You're told that is what you have to do to make it," he explained.


"But to take a child out of school with no qualifications and then to leave him in the lurch three years later, when those qualifications might have come in handy, is completely wrong."


Having dreamt of making it as a football player, Noble received the news that no aspiring athlete wants to hear having been diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease - a severe pain caused by an under-developed kneecap placed under too much pressure.


"At 16, I'm getting injections in my knees - so many, maybe 10 or 15 over the course of two years," he said.


"I was given painkillers daily. I've got friends who were sent out with four or five strappings on their legs just to train. You're bent over a barrel because if you don't play or train you're out of the team. I had tendonitis in both of my knees and my Achilles.


"They told me 'the more you play, the easier it will get and the better you will feel'. But it didn't. I couldn't drive, sit still or go to the cinema because my knees were on fire. And I could see the way they were looking at me, I was damaged goods."


Noble also delved into the discrimination that existed amongst the ranks at the club.


"There was racism at Fulham. The adults would make racist jokes in the changing rooms and that would make children feel it was ok.


"There were seven or eight black boys in the team and we were told that because we had such bad attitudes we couldn't eat in the canteen and would have to eat in changing rooms, so we were given sandwiches on a tray on the floor of the changing rooms, dirty after everyone had showered."


At the age of 19, Max was released by Fulham and was required to have double knee surgery, with a specialist claiming that his tendons "were the worst he'd ever seen for a 19-year-old." Fulham refused to pay for his surgery and so he had to pay for it himself out of the little money he had saved up.


Following his release, he turned to the Job Centre to apply for a job working night shifts at a supermarket.


"They almost laughed me out the door because my knees were so bad I couldn't stand or sit for prolonged periods," he said.


"To go from where I was, on brink of a Premier League career, and then not being able to get night shift work on minimum wage at Asda, it was heart-breaking."


Mental health problems ensued, with Noble barely able to leave his room having become swelled in depression and anxiety.


"There's no aftercare in football for young boys who have given and dedicated whole lives to one or couple of clubs.


"For you to then feel like you're a failure because you didn't make it is why we see boys committing suicide. I've got two friends who have tried to kill themselves, I've got another two who have actually hung themselves.


Fortunately, Noble has not fallen victim to the same fate as some of his friends and he has been able to turn his life around after getting an internship at a fashion house and later creating his own clothing brand, Certified Sports, which donates £1 of every sale to charities supporting ex-athletes with mental health problems.


"I want things to change for the next generation," he says, adding: "This is an abuse scandal and it's probably in every academy in the country. There's no aftercare system in place and that has to come from the FA.


"If a club takes a kid out of school and promises them a dream, they can't just chuck them on the rubbish heap and say, 'we'll bring in 15 or 20 more boys'.


"You have to look after them. That should be a law."




Author: Jake Wilkin

Image by Frédéric Perez

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