Making The Grade: The Untold Story Of Life In A Football Academy

If you're still searching for a sporting stocking filler this Christmas, then rush to a shop and buy Stan Osborne's new book about the ups and downs of life in a top footballing academy....
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If you're still searching for a sporting stocking filler this Christmas, then rush to a shop and buy Stan Osborne's new book about the ups and downs of life in a top footballing academy....

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We’ve all wondered what it would be like to pull on the shirt of our boyhood team. For most of us it never gets beyond the realms of daydreaming. Stan Osborne, howeve,r realised this dream and played for his beloved Everton at youth level. This prompted Stan to write about the time he spent at the club he loved and the highs and lows that an apprentice faced at one of the top clubs in Europe in the late sixties and early seventies.  I am lucky enough to have known Stan for over ten years and having heard some of the stories it’s fantastic to see them finally in print.

The book recounts Stan’s journey from Kirkby Boys striker to Everton apprentice at a time when Everton were able to field some of their truly legendary players. Fans of Everton will be interested to hear Stan’s memories of some legendary names like Harry Catterick, Howard Kendall, Alan Ball and Gordon West, as well as his day to day work with youth coaches like Stewart Imlach.  What sets this book apart from most other football biographies and autobiographies is that this is the untold story of the majority of footballers who are taken on by professional football clubs.

The most refreshing aspect of the book is the openness with which Stan recounts his time and doesn’t gloss over the less flattering moments during his time at Everton and several incidents in the book will make you laugh out loud whilst other moments will have you sympathising with Stan.  Whilst the book is about Everton and aimed at Everton fans, it is a compelling read for fans of all football clubs as the situations Stan experienced would have been the same as most young footballers at most clubs. This is the story of a young player who almost made the grade and in this day and age of players being multi millionaires before they reach twenty, it’s a nice contrast to be reminded that the game, and players, were different back then. Younger fans will find it hard to believe that as well as playing football young apprentices were also extra ground staff and were often put to work painting goalposts, cleaning boots and cleaning dressing rooms.

With Christmas coming up this is a book that I would recommend to any like minded football fans  and would make an excellent stocking filler for fans of all teams not just Everton. Without a doubt this is one of the best sporting autobiographies I have read in a long time.

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At what age did you first realise you might have what it takes it to become a footballer?

I suppose it was at the age of 14, when I started playing for Kirkby Boys in competitive schoolboy games in the English Schools Trophy and Lancashire Schools Cup, then being selected to play for Lancashire Schools. It was then that it became evident that the scouts from the top clubs were interested in some of the Kirkby lads and started speaking to their parents about trials and signing forms. Burnley invited me and two of my Kirkby schoolboy team mates, Eddie Avis and Mick Quinn for a week’s trial and several of us went to evening sessions at Bellefield with Everton.

Who was your first footballing hero?

Alex Young. Everton’s Golden Vision. At the age of ten, I instinctively knew that everything he did on the football pitch oozed class. I idolised him, wanted to be like him, play football like him. I think he still is my ultimate footballing hero.

One of the main themes of the book is how difficult it is to make it at a football club, what would you say to any youngster who finds themselves in your shoes – starting out at a football club nowadays?

Today’s youngsters are going into an entirely different environment to that which I entered 40 years ago. They will have been associated with clubs often from a much earlier age and will have benefitted from far more counselling and support than in earlier days. Some fundamentals, however, remain the same. Players must remain absolutely focused on their performance, fitness, technique, tactical awareness and be ruthlessly determined to be the best. They also need to develop a good relationship with their coaches and be lucky with injuries. (Easier said than done).

Who were the biggest influences on your career?

That’s difficult to establish when my ‘career’ in professional football only consisted of a failed apprenticeship at a top club. A coach called Ian Crawford came halfway through my time at Everton and I really responded well to his approach to training and coaching because it was thoughtful, challenging and demanding. Ian used a lot of psychology to get the best out of his players and took the trouble to talk to us more on an individual level, which I found motivated me to try that much harder. Maybe if I had been under Ian’s influence earlier, things might have been different for me. Also, being around legends of the game like Alan Ball, Howard Kendall, Brian Labone and Harry Catterick on a daily basis and observing how they conducted themselves was a fabulous example to have for all the youngsters at the club and gave us all something to aspire to.

Can you describe the feeling you got when you first pulled on that famous blue jersey?

It was only a ‘B’ Team match but I don’t think it’s overstating it to say for an Everton-mad kid, it was a surreal, almost spiritual moment in my life. After supporting the club all your life to then go pull the shirt on in a competitive match, albeit in the junior ranks, filled me with a sense of awe and wonder that lives with me still.

What were the main challenges that you came across when writing the book?

I think the main challenge was finding the time. I was working full time and had lots of other outside commitments and only really had enough time to do the whole project justice over a two year period once I had retired. I found writing the book a huge pleasure and had had one or two of the anecdotes in the book published in the Everton Fanzine ‘When Skies Are Grey’ and they seemed to be quite well received. I was then lucky enough to find a good publisher in David Lane at Legends Publishing who could see the potential in the story and quickly got it into print.

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It was refreshing to read a sporting autobiography that was honest and candid. Were you worried that this could lead to upsetting the people involved in the book or their families?

If anything, I think Everton as a club and the vast majority of people I came into contact with in my time there as a player have their already significant reputations enhanced. I don’t think anything in the book would be upsetting for anyone involved. We were in a tough, competitive environment with no quarter asked or given. Harsh, life-changing decisions about youngsters had to be made and the book merely records and reflects on how this impacted on me personally as a teenager 40 years ago.

What motivated you to write the book?

I had read many biographies and autobiographies of the great and good at the pinnacle of The Beautiful Game, but the story that had been rattling round in my head for so long was the story no one ever got to read about. The story of failure and how it happens. And yet that was and still is the story of 99.9% of all fledgling footballers whose star burns brightly but all too briefly and they fade away into obscurity, never to be heard of again. Like the bloke at work who was a kid at United but broke his leg, or world beater at school who we never heard of again once he’d signed for his local club. I wanted my book to be the untold story of the also rans and the unheard voice of the nearly man.

You were present at the famous West Bromwich Albion game in April 1970 when Everton clinched the title, what are you memories of that historic night?

If you know your history of Everton Football Club, you will know that it was an iconic evening for everyone associated with the club. I write in the book about how I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be at the ground for a couple of hours before the kick-off and was able to soak in the Goodison atmosphere prior to the game and be in the home dressing room before and after to experience to whole occasion in detail and first hand. I also describe how captain of the club Brian Labone took the trouble to ensure all the apprentices were acknowledged for all our unglamorous behind the scenes work in what was a touching act of kindness.

You went from football to teaching, what lessons did you take from dealing with youngsters?

In nearly 40 years of teaching the one thing that remained a constant was the need for youngsters to be recognised as individuals. The best teachers recognise this and tailor their teaching to cater for all their pupils resulting in engaged, motivated and high achieving students.

What are your favourite sporting biographies/autobiographies?

Stanley Matthews Autobiography.  If my book is a window into football’s pre-Premiership past, the Matthews story is an education about how footballers lived and worked in the post war period. A stunning study of how Stanley Matthews developed his thinking on such diverse aspects in football as diet, training, fitness, boots and foreign football. At the same time, a light is shone onto the often derisory treatment of top international players of the time by the FA. Essential reading for current Premiership players in my opinion.

Apart from the memories what is your most treasured souvenir from your time at Everton?

My contract. It may be old and the ink might be a bit faded but it records indelibly that I once played for the club I’ve supported all my life. I might not ultimately have been good enough to make the grade, but I will always be incredibly proud to be able to say that I was good enough to be an Everton player.

Making The Grade by Stan Osborne is out now published by Legends Publishing and can be bought here http://www.legendspublishing.net/efc/     Price £9.99 plus p&p.

Also stocked at Everton Club Shops Everton1 & Everton2 and Pritchards Bookshop, Crosby, Liverpool (0151 931 1642) and also available on iTunes.