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Within the space of a few months, Andros Townsend has gone from being a (dispensable) squad player at Tottenham to the man whose performances helped. It is a remarkable achievement that bears testament not only to his talent but also to his strength of character. Many others in his position might have despaired and asked for a move especially given the rate at which Tottenham were buying midfielders this summer. Yet Townsend didn’t do that but instead opted to stick it out and fight for his place. The rewards of that brave (and risky) decision are there for all to see.
Yet Townsend’s biggest test of character didn’t come over these past few months but, rather when he was still fifteen years old. Having been at Tottenham since the age of eight, he was informed that there would be no professional contract for him as the feeling was that he wasn’t good enough for them.
It is the kind of news that can floor anyone, let alone a teenager. Townsend, however, refused to accept that and kept going back to Spurs’ training ground until, eventually, he was given another opportunity. The rest, as they say, is history.
There have been many other similar stories and not all of them recent. Craig Johnston (here’s a short video if your memory of 80’s football is a bit sketchy) came all the way to Sunderland from Australia – his parents even sold their house to help him fund the trip – only to be told by then manager Jack Charlton that he was “the worst player he had ever seen” a few minutes into his trial.
Johnston knew that too many people had invested their money in his dream and he wasn’t going to give up that easily. So he spent as much of his free time as possible working on his skills, using bins as his make-believe opponents and dribbling round them. His abilities improved and when a new manager came along, he was given a contract. Eventually Liverpool – then the country’s dominant force – came in for Johnston and he went on to win practically all that there was to win.
Both Townsend and Johnston’s story are proof of how strength of character can help make a player even when faced with the toughest challenges or the harshest criticism. Without it, they would have given up. Of all the abilities that a player must have to succeed, that is perhaps the most under-rated.
Yet, by itself character isn’t enough; if all you needed to succeed was determination then many fans – who are willing to do anything for their team – would be able to play in the Premier League. In truth, whilst a story like Townsend highlights an instance where the assessment of a youth sector got it wrong, in most instances they get it right. Only a handful of players who are deemed as not being good enough come back to prove those who passed such a judgement wrong.
The rest have to deal with the reality that the dream of progressing further at the club where they grew up won’t be happening. And that too requires strength of character. Accepting to start again somewhere else, perhaps at a lower or non-professional level, requires courage too. As does deciding to pursue other paths and careers.
Those stories aren’t as glamorous as a player being rejected but then going on to play for his country so they don’t get reported. Yet every ‘rejected’ player who goes back to living his life and enjoying his football – or whatever other passion he chooses to follow – is a success story that merits being told and praised. For these are the stories of men with real strength of character; that is what people should be looking to emulate.