From part one of the ‘Premier League to Non-League’ feature series on ElWriteBack you will have seen the shocking stats that only 0.5 percent of under-nines at top clubs are likely to make it into the first team according to a BBC report.
This was then followed by another report, published by The Independent, which states that ‘11.7 percent of top-flight players graduated from their club’s academy and 59.9 percent of Premier League footballers are from overseas.’
Former Arsenal youngster, Josh Rees was the first player to speak about his time in a Premier League academy before finding his feet in Non-League.
This time round Non-League reporter, Charlie Russell spoke to former Tottenham Hotspur youth graduate, Sam Cox who has been on a massive journey through the leagues and is now the captain of his country.
The 27-year-old joined Spurs in 2007 before signing professional terms in 2009, during his time at White Hart Lane he was sent out on loan to Cheltenham Town, Histon and Torquay United.
After leaving Spurs in 2010, the Edgware-born midfielder joined Barnet before going on loan to Boreham Wood for the 2011/12 season.
In July 2012, Cox signed for Hayes & Yeading United, becoming captain of the side. A three-year spell with Boreham Wood followed where he captained the side to promotion to the National League before the midfielder joined his current side, Wealdstone.
Cox got his first call-up to the Guyana national team, who play in the CONCACAF confederation, in May 2015 and he is now captain of the side
Looking back on his career the former Spurs man said: “My first memories of academy football go back to when I was around nine-years-old and on trial with Watford. It was a daunting experience as a nine-year-old going into an environment where people knew each other. This grounded me for future experiences I had at academies.
“I remember going to Tottenham and thinking this is where I want to be. I got on with all the boys straight away and the facilities were second to none. The coaches were outstanding and I loved the kit, I felt at home there.
“We were told to have a never give up attitude and a warrior’s spirit. We pushed each other to the limits in order to carve out a career.”
The Tottenham academy has changed massively over the last ten years since Cox came through. The 27-year-old is now a coach within the youth setup at the club and can offer advice to the youngsters having experience what they are going through himself.
He told ElWriteBack exclusively: “If I could change anything from my time in an academy, I would be more confident and believe in my ability a lot more as well as having a voice.
“Back then if I didn’t agree with something I would just go along with it, however, as I’ve got older I have become more confident and grown into my voice. If you have that attitude as a youngster and ask more questions it makes you a better player.
“I remember Steve Perryman telling me if someone has a voice in football then you can have a career for just having a voice alone.”
With Cox now impressing for Non-League side, Wealdstone who have made the FA Trophy Semi-Final, the club captain spoke about his experienced both in Non-League and in the Premier League: “Everybody has their own experience and opinion and I’m sure some Non-League players believe that starting with a Non-League club would be more beneficial to work your way up the ladder instead of being at a Premier League side.
“However, being a Premier League academy player can give you access to the best facilities.
“In my personal opinion, I got the best coaching available and that made me the best player possible during my time at Tottenham.”
In 2010, Cox faced what all professional footballers dread, he was released from Spurs and a free agent looking for a new club. He quickly signed for Barnet where he spent two years with the side.
“When it came to my release it was a strange one because the club were under a transition,” said Cox.
“The development team had been taken out of the reserve league and we had no real place for young pros to be. Most of my age group had been sent on loan to League One clubs, I had been on loan at Cheltenham Town and Torquay United.
“Ultimately at the time you were judged on how you did away from the club on loan. I probably wasn’t ready for that and needed much more time in the system.
“I had no real coach to tell me anything, Clive Allen was the reserve manager but he had gone up to the first team with Harry Redknapp. I felt a bit lost and didn’t have anyone to look after me. I wasn’t good enough for the first team but I was too old for the youth team, it was a tough situation for me being on just a one-year deal.
“I wish I had pushed for more years as I needed more time for development.
“I was on the bench for a reserve game and I went into the office to find out what was going on. That was when John McDermott told me it wouldn’t be good news and I wouldn’t be kept on for the next season. I could see it coming, Tim Sherwood wasn’t my biggest fan and it was a tough situation however, I do wish I had longer at the club.
“I don’t think there is enough support for those who slipped through the system, after going into Non-League it was a massive shock in terms of training in the evening and the style of play.
“I was programmed to be a professional footballer at Spurs, although we did BTEC’s we didn’t expect to go back into education. More education needs to be given to players and their parents to help manage their careers. Unfortunately, the reality is that some won’t make it and more needs to be done to prevent this outcome.
“Non-league football has helped my career, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it despite wanting to play more league football.
“At the end of the day, the older I’ve got the more I’ve realised I want to play football. I have experienced some great things, I captained my country, Guyana and Non-League has allowed me to build a career outside of playing football with coaching.
“I am training for my A License and I am coaching back at the club who took me in as a kid. So, dropping down to Non-League shouldn’t be seen as a failure as it can help a player build their career both inside and outside of the game.”
Spurs now have an established youth setup with a number of coaches including former players Rob Burch and Scott Parker.
Cox, who also works for the club spoke about how he views the current youth setup: “With the new Under 23’s squads at the club, I believe this gives young players more time to develop, physically and mentally.
“Ultimately, what these young talented players need to do is go out and experience men’s football and get as much game time as possible as nothing beats playing first team competitive football.
“Players must use their time wisely and be constantly working on the game, every day they have at Spurs is precious and they need to make the most of every moment.”