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Switch sports call to footballers


From failed goalie to Winter Olympic hopeful

By Judy Skidmore

James Hoad thought he was stuck on the scrap heap when his dreams of becoming a Premier League footballer were stopped in their tracks at just 18.

The 21-year-old had always wanted to play football and thought he was on the way to making it when, aged 10, he joined Watford's youth academy as a goalkeeper.

But after being dropped and with no qualifications to his name, he drifted. Just three years on, he is a breath away from the chance of Olympic glory.

Accepting that you are not going to be the next David Beckham is never easy and it wasn't for James: "I felt it was a slap in the face.

Football was my world really, it's all I ever wanted to do

James Hoad

"I spent a lot of time sulking and then went to work on a building site for 18 months. Football was my world really, it's all I ever wanted to do."

His lucky break came about a year ago when a letter dropped on his doorstep from Pitch2Podium inviting him to come along to a trial.

The UK Sport and Football Talent Transfer programme had begun looking for hidden talent among the 60% of academy players who do not get professional contracts with their clubs - the idea being that footballers could transfer their dreams of Wembley glory to a chance of stepping on to an Olympic podium.

When the letter arrived James didn't really think much of it, but after a second read he realised it was a real programme aimed at transferring his talents.

He went along and got though to further trials in cycling, hockey, canoeing and bob skeleton.

The squads are due to make a decision on his future soon and he is still in the running for bob skeleton and BMX cycling.

James is joined by seven other former footballers who began the Pitch2Podium programme last year as part of a pilot edition of the scheme.

They hope to follow in the footsteps of the programme's ambassador Olympic gold medallist Darren Campbell, who started playing for Plymouth Argyle before switching to athletics in 1995.

James Hoad
Hoad was on the books at Watford

Other notable ex-footballers who changed tack include David Price who was released by Liverpool and switched his attention to boxing, winning a Bronze medal in Beijing.

This week, Pitch2Podium begins its second search for untapped talent. More than 120 young footballers are being put through their paces with top coaches at Sheffield Arena over two days and invites have also been extended to rugby union academy players.

Many sporting talent programmes achieve an initial take-up rate of just 10%, but Pitch2Podium says it has already surpassed that and is not complacent.

Olympic athlete Peter Elliot - who won a silver medal in the 1500m in the Seoul games - now works for the English Institute of Sport which is delivering the Pitch2Podium scheme. He hopes there is enough of a draw to Pitch2Podium for young hopefuls.

"It's not the Ferraris, it's not the Girls Aloud and it's not all of the trappings which come with it. The Olympic games are the biggest show on earth - hopefully that's the lure we're hoping for," he said.

With people like Hoad well and truly hooked, the future for our Olympic talent has to look brighter.

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see also
'Switch sport for Olympics' plea
26 Mar 09 |  UK News

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