The cruel world of professional football – how Kieran Bywater rebuilt his life as one of the UK’s youngest financial advisors after shockingly being put on the scrap heap

“I just got to a breaking point, one day I just walked off in the middle of the game. I’d had enough.”

Many youngsters grow up wanting to be a professional footballer. But the reality is different from the dream.

A study found that out of 1.5 million young footballers in England, only 180 will become a Premier League professional in some capacity.

That is a success rate of 0.012 per cent.

But when you’ve been with a club for the best part of ten years, and are captaining the under 21 side and on the fringes of the first team, you’d like to think you’re not far away from that 0.012 per cent.

That was the picture for Kieran Bywater back in 2015, after rising through the West Ham ranks.

He was at the top of his game, with talks being rumoured of a new contract.

“I was living the dream,” says Bywater, talking from his office in Manchester.

“It feels a long time ago, but I was under 21s captain and I was flying with talks of contract extensions.

“It was like all that hard work was going to come to something, I was around the first team and it was great.

“You think you’ve done enough, but then I’m very driven so until I was in the Premier League or the Championship I hadn’t done anything.

“So I just worked hard every day and had that focus.”

In 2015, Bywater was still one of the top names in the Hammers academy and he was looking like he wasn’t far off the big time.

But out of the blue he was called into the office at the West Ham training ground, and was essentially told, thanks but that’s your lot.

Many people in and around West Ham were sure Bywater was destined for the first team

“There was no leading up to it.

“There had been mentions of this contract beforehand, and it wasn’t like I had been taken out of the squad.

“I played every minute, was captain above more experienced lads, and then I was just called in and told I was not part of the plans going forward.

“It was a shock. There were lads on the bench with a year left on their contract.

“It was a bizarre thing. Looking back now I’ve let it go, but it is still one of those things you try to wrap your head around.

“A lot went on and I know what went on and I don’t get caught up in it anymore.

“There was a change at the academy and you can read between the lines on that one. I could dig a lot deeper, I know things have gone on since I left and went on when I was there.

“I am one of the only ones who spoke out with my Dad writing the article he did, and that is how the attention for Michael Calvin’s book came about.”

The article Bywater mentions is one penned by his father on LinkedIn shortly after the shock release of his son.

Thousands of young professionals are thrown on the scrap heap every year, left to fend for themselves after almost a decade being loyal to clubs.

Their stories aren’t told, but Mr Bywater senior was determined to make sure every other parent in the country whose children had ambitions of being a professional knew what was ahead of them.

In the article, he explained how he had spent £400 a month getting his son to training as they lived 75 miles away from the training complex.

He goes on to explain how his son faced pestering from agents, the death of a former team mate, and highlighted issues over agents which could have led to West Ham tossing him aside.

The story gained attention and was featured in Michael Calvin’s book ‘No Hunger In Paradise’, about the world of youngsters in football.

As Bywater later explains a documentary he subsequently featured in was to impact him further down the line.

After West Ham gave him the elbow months before the season ended, Bywater went on trial at Aston Villa, something the Hammers hierarchy tried to block.

He spent a month with Manchester United under Warren Joyce, before the then manager Louis Van Gaal said he didn’t want anyone signed who didn’t have first team potential.

All this time while trialling with a number of clubs, Bywater was playing non-league football until one day it got too much.

One day he walked off the pitch and had a breakdown. He has never played football in England again.

“Things spiralled at this point. Mentally I struggled and old demons impacted me.

“When I had problems before I dealt with them through football, but now football was the issue.

“I was in the conference and I had a break down, I said I’m done.

“Clubs invite you to games with random players, you go and score and play well and they say, well we need a few more weeks to look at you.

“I had gone from being a captain against these sides to now struggling to get into these sides.

“I just got to a breaking point, one day I just walked off in the middle of the game. I’d had enough.”

“It is hard, hard for your family. You lose your identity and that is the big thing with a lot of players.

“Usually it’s like, oh you’re the footballer, but then you lose that overnight.”

By this time Bywater had a chance to go and study business and play in America, which for some youngsters is a route back into the game.

Bywater wasn’t thinking like that. He wanted to study, and didn’t want to, as he says ‘rattle around’ in non-league waiting to be the next Jamie Vardy.

“Lots said stick it out. You have the Vardy story but these days, count the amount of other players rattling around in non-league who never come up.

“I was a logical thinker and thought I had a lot more to offer in my life and in person and I didn’t need to cling onto that.

Bywater won awards playing in the US

“I decided to go to the States, but then s**t hit the fan there and I had to come home 18 months later with no qualifications.

“Then I was really done with football.”

Months after his release and trialling, at 21 Bywater was off across the atlantic to try and make something else of his life asides from football.

While studying business he played for Chattanooga FC and Golden Eagles, picking up a National Championship.

But for someone who had graced Old Trafford and had been tipped as the next West Ham star, a US university trophy wasn’t scratching his itch.

He wanted one more shot at being a professional.

“I sat down with my coach and said I’m missing something, I want to try and be a professional again.

“To do that I had to go to a top university to finish my degree and then go into the MLS draft, like Jack Harrison at Leeds United did.”

Clemson University in South Carolina was to be the destination for Bywater, and he was all set to go.

But, like there had been issues surrounding his release, the waters were to be muddied as he went for a second bite of the cherry.

When he arrived in the US, he had to sit out a chunk of the season because he had played too many professional games that year.

Now after seeing the documentary that was aired alongside Calvin’s book, the university he had beaten in the National Championship final made an official complaint.

They argued there were discrepancies in the number of professional games Bywater had claimed to have played before his US career.

It went to a tribunal and a panel. Bywater lost. His second chance of being a professional went up in smoke.

“I was in Canada with my ex girlfriend and I was due to go to the new university and when I looked on the system I had been banned.

“The university I was leaving had lawyers involved because they didn’t want to lose the title, and I had to get a sports lawyer involved for my interests.

“All these doors were shutting and this went on for four months. The panel voted against me and I went back to England without finishing my degree, not getting into the MLS draft and with just GCSEs to my name.

“It was ridiculous. Seven or eight years after leaving home I was back with my parents. I had enough, I was done with the game now.”

Bywater returned to the UK in December 2018 and worked lifting steel for a company owned by a friend of his father’s.

In the evening, he studied to become a financial advisor, putting together businesses plans and studying tax law.

This was a far cry from the fringes of professional football. But even amateur or semi professional football was nowhere near Bywater’s mind now.

The former midfielder is now more numbers than footballs

He got his head down on a course, and is now one of the UK’s youngest financial advisors.

“I was working 8am until 5pm, then studying until 1am. I got on a course they only usually take people over 28 for, and I am now one of the youngest financial advisors in the country.

“The drive from football helped me start my own business I think.

“I didn’t want anyone to make a decision on how successful I could be. I would never work for anyone again in my life. No one makes a decision on my future. If I fail, I fail because of me and if I succeed it is because of me.

“That mindset stemmed from what happened with West Ham and what happened in the States.”

Bywater, still only 25, around 15 years younger than the average financial advisor, is now advising his clients, young sports men and women, how to plan for the future.

And since returning from the US in 2018, he hasn’t kicked a ball. Not even in five a side football.

He has no interest in the game that gave him so many highs, but a few big lows.

As he explains, the boots are firmly hung up on the peg and they won’t be coming off.

“Since I called it a day I have not even played five a side, it doesn’t interest me anymore.

“It doesn’t add any benefit to my life. I don’t want to sacrifice my business and seeing my family and socialising for semi professional football.

“If it is not a career for me it is not anything.”

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