'I wouldn't let my kids join an Academy until 13. It's wrong': Portsmouth record-holder's damning takedown of football's youth system

Ex-Pompey player Joe Hancott has blasted football’s ‘crazy’ Academy system and the pressures piled onto youngsters.
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And the 22-year-old believes parents shouldn't allow their children to enter a professional club’s youth set-up until the age of 13.

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He would commute four times a week from his Ryde home in the Isle of Wight to attend Pompey training and matches until handed a scholarship at 16.

And he believes the exhaustive routine not only took away his childhood, but contributed towards recurring injury problems later in life.

Hancott, who featured three times for Pompey, told The News: ‘Should I have children in a few years and if they’re ever in a position to join a football academy, I would probably encourage them not to join until the age of 13-14.

‘Your childhood gets taken away, you miss out on times with your friends, your body’s constantly under pressure, you are in a heavily pressured environment where you’re being scrutinised – all that from the age of eight.

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‘There’s no need for it, it’s wrong, it doesn’t do people any good. Enjoy yourself, play with your mates, play Sunday League, have fun, absolutely love the game, and then – if you are any good at 13-14 – you’ll get picked up.

Joe Hancott spent 12 years at Pompey after rising through the Academy to make three first-team appearances. Picture: Joe PeplerJoe Hancott spent 12 years at Pompey after rising through the Academy to make three first-team appearances. Picture: Joe Pepler
Joe Hancott spent 12 years at Pompey after rising through the Academy to make three first-team appearances. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘There's no need to join from the age of eight and be pressurised, constantly doing this and that and having your childhood taken away. I don’t see the point of it, I don’t see why Academies are a thing from that age. Well I do, it’s because it’s all a business.

‘My first year in Pompey’s Academy was 2009, when they were a Premier League club. I was an eight-year-old commuting from the island four times a week. It’s crazy.

‘I genuinely think all that Academy football and travelling from a young age batters your body – and that might be the reason why I now struggle with injury so much.’

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During his Academy days, Hancott was among a number of Isle of Wight-based youngsters on those 20-minute Wightlink FastCat journeys for Pompey duty.

Joe Hancott in action for Pompey's Academy against Exeter at Langstone, Furze Lane, in September 2017. Picture : Habibur RahmanJoe Hancott in action for Pompey's Academy against Exeter at Langstone, Furze Lane, in September 2017. Picture : Habibur Rahman
Joe Hancott in action for Pompey's Academy against Exeter at Langstone, Furze Lane, in September 2017. Picture : Habibur Rahman

Among the regulars was Leon Maloney, who made five first-team appearances and is now with AFC Totton.

Hancott added: ‘It was ridiculous what we were doing, crazy dedication and commitment. The amount of times we missed a boat by two minutes, then waited an hour for the next one.

‘Saturday games would kick-off at 11 or 12pm. If you’re travelling to Cheltenham, Plymouth or Exeter, can you imagine the time we’re leaving the island? I can remember getting up at 4am to start the journey to some places, so how are you meant to perform?

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‘But you also get so many fantastic experiences, which I am grateful for.’