Sam Mercer: The Trials and Tribulations of Academy Football

Ever played football as a child, seen other players around being scouted by professional clubs and thought, “I wonder what that must feel like?” Well for Sam Mercer, this was something seen first hand and the experiences may just shock you.

Mercer played football from the age of four and always had an eye for football and athletics, however the latter was never the priority.

Up until the 2010/11 season of football, Mercer had never really been involved in academy football. However it was during this season that Mercer blossomed as a footballer and where a scout from Stoke City spotted him.

“At the time my dad was doing a lot of surveying work for grassroots football, and one of his colleagues who was a scout at Stoke at the time saw me play and asked me to come down for a trial game.’ Mercer said.

It was during this season where Sam captained his school team to the Independent Schools final (ISFA Cup). Having been the backbone at the heart of the defence that conceded only three goals until this point, it was clear to see why the scouts were looking at him.

ISFA Cup Final footage, which Mercer played in.

When asked about what it was like to go for the first set of trials, he was quick to say that nerves were apparent.

“It was probably one of the first times I’ve really felt under pressure to perform in a football game.’
‘My dad drove me there on a Friday evening, I had no idea what to bring with me so just brought the essentials, shin pads, boots.”

When talking about the overall mood of the trial before the game, Mercer made it clear that the atmosphere was not an open one.

“When I arrived into the changing room it was completely silent and excruciatingly awkward, nobody said a word until the coach came in. I don’t remember him being overly friendly, but he wasn’t terrifying either, he just encouraged us to have fun. “ The young man recalled about his experience at Stoke.
‘After he left, just before we headed out things relaxed slightly, but I wouldn’t describe any part of it as particularly welcoming.”

Mercer felt completely out of his depth at this point, which goes to show just how the cream of the crop at one level can feel the pressure when put in a room of highly talented hopefuls like him.

When trialling for Stoke, Mercer made a good impression on the coaches. So much so that they offered him deals to go study whilst playing football for the Potters. But he admitted he took the safer option of university solely, rather than doing both.

“I didn’t believe that I would be good enough to play football for a career, which I think in itself is a good indicator that I made the right decision, I didn’t have the self-confidence and belief required to make it as a professional footballer.’ Mercer said.
‘I do think about what might have happened if I had chosen to continue playing football, and where I would have ended up today. But I don’t really have any regrets.
‘Not choosing to play football meant that I ended up at college, and then university where I can hopefully achieve a good degree and have a safety net.”

Sam is still playing intramural football at the University of Leicester, where he studies Mathematics. However he admitted that he does miss playing club football with friends, but after his experience in the academy limelight, has no desire to go back there.