“Football has given me a wealth of opportunities and skills in my five years in the system.”
After joining Bristol Rovers aged 14, Josh Bailey’s rapid progress saw him become a permanent member of the club’s development team as a first-year scholarship holder, while securing several career opportunities. training with the first team.
However, his momentum was brought to a screeching halt when the promising defender suffered a serious knee injury during a work experience loan spell at Dorchester Town which ultimately ended his playing career.
“In a split second, I went from cloud nine to bottom,” Bailey reveals. “I ruptured my ACL, tore my MCL and my meniscus. Then I had a very difficult recovery process, with more injuries and setbacks.
“I was offered a professional contract after my injury, which was good to know that the club had confidence in me. About 10 or 11 months after my initial surgery I went back to training and was about a week away from playing my first game, but my knee started hurting again and I had to take some more time.
“It got worse and worse and finally, after a few months of consultation with consultants and specialists, they recommended that I stop playing.
“At 18, my life was built around football. When I got injured, I was still in the squad, but I was barely with my teammates because I was in the gym and in rehabilitation and I didn’t didn’t want to watch them train or play games because I missed everything.
“I was injured in total for about two and a half years – a year and a half with Rovers and then another year after that. It’s really tough physically and mentally.
Fortunately, the 21-year-old has remained committed to his studies, achieving the highest possible grade profile of triple star of distinction at BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma – equivalent to three A grades at A level – as well as studying an extra A in math. -Level in his spare time.
Two and a half years after being forced to step away from acting, Bailey is pursuing a whole new career path, using the qualifications he gained as a researcher to secure a place on the undergraduate masters course. in Adult Nursing and Mental Health at Exeter. University.
“I realized that if there was a time when football wasn’t working or I stopped enjoying it or I got injured, then I wanted something I could fall back on,” he explains. -he.
“Football is very physically and socially demanding and I enjoyed being able to go home, open a textbook and immerse myself in something completely unrelated to football.
“I had done a lot of training with the pre-academy age groups at Bristol Rovers and I think the club assumed I would do my coaching badges, but it was not something I saw myself do as a career.
“Football is great, but it can consume your life and I wanted to do something different.”
Inspired by his own journey through adversity, Bailey wanted to learn more about emotional and physical well-being so he could help others.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been depressed, but I was definitely in a tough spot,” he admits. “A few months after my injury, my girlfriend of almost four years broke up with me, suddenly everything that was stable in my life was turned upside down.
“Fortunately, I had good friends, a wonderful family, and a faith that kept me safe while I was also able to embark on my bachelor’s degree in math. Some of my teammates who were away for a few months suffered a lot more than me because they had nothing without football.
“Now I’m learning the connections between physical and mental health and how to break the mental health stigma. I learned about the privilege I had in football – I was very naïve to a lot of what happens in the world outside of the football bubble.
“My course is split between adult nursing and mental health nursing, so at the end of it I will have a double qualification. Eventually, I think I want to end up working in the mental health field, perhaps with adolescents and young adults, although I’m also considering the possibility of studying medicine and working in psychiatry. I’m only two years away from a four-year course, so I have plenty of time to sort this out.
Bailey believes that while his mindset and interests may seem unique, his success in stepping away from football is something that can be replicated by anyone who has come through the Academy system.
“I was more of a B/C student all through school,” he recalls. “When I joined Rovers my parents said if my grades went down they would take me away from football. It meant I had it in my head that I really needed to work hard.
“I decided to surround myself with the smart people in my class and I learned a lot from them. In fact, I ended up loving learning, whether it was reading books, solving math puzzles, or by studying science.
“I don’t think I’m any different from a lot of other Academy players, I just chose to spend more time learning and found it interesting. From there I became a student A level, which was not at all the result my mother thought I would achieve!
“It certainly didn’t affect my football either. On the contrary, that mindset of learning and improving translated directly into my approach to football. I had confidence in myself to be a bit different from the rest of the group, and that meant I could be more of a leader on the pitch because I didn’t worry about what other people would think.
For many Academy players, the thought of furthering their education and returning to the classroom can be daunting enough, but Bailey insists traits learned in a football environment transfer directly to life at the club. university.
“Obviously, in an Academy, you develop your footballing skills and that’s very good, but it’s only part of the overall experience and what I acquired from my time at the Club”, says- he.
“I think a lot of players don’t know how they will adapt to college but, in my opinion, footballers are well prepared for that. A lot of young people haven’t necessarily been pushed and challenged in the same way. way as Academy players.
“To pursue an education and then in the real world, you need to be able to handle criticism and be introspective, to work individually and in a team, to be motivated and competitive, and you learn all of these skills in an academy.
“Some people struggle with that and that’s why the Academy system isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy the challenge and have that drive to be better, you will thrive and the skills that you learn will help you massively as you move on to the next stage of your life.
“I am grateful for my time at Bristol Rovers; the skills I developed and the experiences I had there have guided me towards a new career path that I am passionate about.