By Tony Dewhurst
‘Without the support of the PFA and the incredible efforts of Jeff Whitley I dread to think where Marcus would be,’ Southport manager Liam Watson.
IT is one of football’s biggest issues: The struggle facing young players rejected by Academies.
Marcus Wood, capped twice by England, was tipped for stardom with Manchester City.
Now the former youth international is facing a desperate fight to rescue his career in the foothills of non-league with Southport.
But with the support of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Marcus has taken the first steps towards recovery.
MARCUS Wood was aged thirteen in 2011 and dreaming of FA Cup glory with his boyhood team.
Manchester City had won the FA Cup that season, and young hopeful Wood emerged bursting with raw potential, spoken about as a future Premier League midfielder.
“Every kid at school who loved football wanted to play for City or United,” said Wood.
‘I had a trial at Manchester United, but I signed a scholarship contract with City.
“I scored in a Premier League youth tournament, when Manchester City defeated United 3-1.
“I got one of the goals which was the best feeling I ever had in football.
“I felt anything was possible that day.”
He added: “Most boys dream about something like that as a kid.
“To play for the club you supported at school and train on the same pitch as the first team was a dream come true.”
Unfortunately, the dream faded, and injury and illness tempered his graduation to senior football after the agony of rejection at Manchester City and Bolton.
Wood was released by Pep Guardiola with Yaya Toure, whose winning goal in the 2011 FA Cup final had secured Manchester City’s first trophy in 35 years.
At the beginning of this year, Wood was downed by a knee injury during an FA Trophy tie at AFC Fylde - and he has not kicked a football since.
And what followed would have tested any young man’s resolve and resilience as Wood was plunged into despair.
“I developed cataracts on both eyes and then suffered a very bad bout of eczema,” he said.
“It was a heck of a lot to deal with and it also impacted in other ways, with my mental health.
“I struggled financially because I wasn’t playing, and I did feel a bit like I had reached the end of the road.”
Wood then turned to the Professional Footballers’ Association in his hour of need.
“The PFA couldn’t do enough for me,” he said.
“First, they sent me for a consultation with a dermatologist to try and help me with the skin condition.
“I’ve just had the first cataract operation and I’m waiting for the other eye to be done.
“They funded pretty much everything and I’m in a much better place thankfully.
“I will never forget their kindness and support. It has kept me going during a very dark time and although I’ve got a long road ahead, I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
His manager at Southport Liam Watson, who himself was assisted by the PFA when injury forced him to quit the professional game with Preston North End, praised the vital aid given to Wood by the union’s welfare department.
“The support that Marcus has received from the PFA and Southport has given him a chance to get his life and career back on track,” said Watson.
“Without it, I dread to think where Marcus would be.
“Jeff Whitley (PFA welfare officer) has been unbelievably supportive in aiding Marcus’s recovery and should receive massive acknowledgement in the role he has played helping a member of the union.
“Indeed, nothing was too much trouble for Jeff, taking telephone calls during the evening and at weekends.
“It also should not be underestimated how much he has encouraged the support given from the PFA.”
Watson continued: “Marcus has the ability to play league football but has a lot of hard work ahead of him if he is going to get himself physically and mentally in the right place.
“He has support of the PFA, Southport and his family, and if Marcus is prepared to put the hard work in then hopefully it will happen.”
Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, says that of the boys who make it into the elite scholarship programme at 16, past PFA research has found that five out of six are not playing professional football at 21.
Taylor described this as a matter of major concern.
Watson added: “I see this a lot and I do feel for the Academy lads, especially the ones at the Premier League clubs who do struggle if they don’t make the grade.
“Once they drop a few levels, many coming to play in non-league, the style of football is totally different, and it can cause problems not only on the pitch but also in attitude and enthusiasm.”
If you are struggling with any wellbeing issues, the PFA Charity is here to support you. You can call our 24/7 helpline on 07500 000 777 or contact our Wellbeing department here.