In a sense of unparoled disbelief, after years of sludging through freezing, damp and miserable Sunday mornings reminiscing about the minutes before you alarm went off at 7, you glance towards the man in the puffer jacket on the sideliner with your manager whose pointing your way. Could it be? You ponder. In a moment which seems to been pulled from a movie you’re taken to one side and informed that man in the puffer jacket wants to sign you to his academy. You know it’s the beginning of something great.

The date is December 2018 and Emmerson has laced up for his first game at Halifax Town, eager to prove himself a capable investment in the central midfield, little would he know that two years on instead of marking his anniversary on the pitch, he was spending it in his garden trying to beat keepy-up record, its not his right foot the opponents fear anymore.

Every now and again we see a player rise up from the academy, working tirelessly and diligently to reach the pinnacle of English football to the infamous Premier League. Noticeable faces such as home grown Calvin Philips for Leeds and Phil Foden for Manchester City highlight the success stories of academy footballers who are now representing their country in the 2021 Euros. In spite of this only a staggering 0.5% of academy players earn enough to make a living out of the sport leaving many dreams crushed in an unforgiving industry.

Coming from humble beginnings in Bradford, West Yorkshire, Emmerson Cox or Em has dedicated his life towards the sport he intents to make a living out of. Through playing Sunday leagues as a kid and a brief stint at Bradford City Academy the 18 year old is now playing for Halifax Town where he plays in The North England League U19s touring anywhere north than Nottingham playing a staggering 30 games a season.

“There’s a good sense of comradery in the team, we all get along well there’s no infighting between us.

“We play all over but Guiseley F.C are our local rivals we can’t stand to lose against them.”

The world of academy football is one dictated by uncertainty, where if a players performance begins to waver it could prove disastrous for a young player who is building up to make a career out of ‘the beautiful game’. With a physically demanding sport such as football alongside taking a b-tech in Sports fitness, it can easily be overlooked the sheer commitment required to peruse such an enviable position of that of professional footballer.

“I often trained four times a week after college and would usually play one game a week on top of school work.”

In spite of the stresses of college Em and his team were performing well finishing a respectable 5th out of 12 in the 2018-19 season. However, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national lockdown in March, the virus cared not for the Premier League nor academy football and Emmerson’s season was brought to an abrupt end with 12 matches still to play.

“The momentum of the season was gone after that, at first it was hard to believe the gravity of it.”

Life in lockdown like so many around the country would prove to be a new reality for Em, where training on high quality Astroturf terrain was substituted by a kick about in his garden using the fence as a goalposts. Gleefully awaiting the word that restrictions would be lifted, despite cases continuing to rise throughout the UK.

“I think I missed around 5-6 months of training in lockdown it wasn’t easy you know, I don’t have any equipment aside a ball at my house.”

Although a brief stint in the summer would allow a glimpse of the freedoms we enjoyed prior to March. The highly anticipated return back onto the pitch wouldn’t come for Em until nearly 9 months later when the government announced outdoor sports facilities were once again reintroduced, yet with this restart would also amount for a herculean task to finish the season.

“We found ourselves training four times a week as usual but now we had to cram in 2 games a week, one on Wednesdays and on Sunday along with my [college] work.”

Although school work played heavy on his conscience, he would eventually find the time to finish his course ahead of schedule. And with a season coming to an end, instead of looking back on what could have been Emmerson is optimistic for a brighter season in September, a season which brings him closer to a spot in the lucrative professional leagues. One where an often underappreciated aspect of the game became one in which he appreciated the most.

“It’ll be nice for the fans to be back you sort of take them for granted, but next season will be better, i’m looking forward to be back for good.”

Covid’s impact on the sport would make Em reassess his priorities, understanding the necessity of a fall-back job if the unthinkable, but all too likely prospect occurred where he’s told this is as far as he’ll get.

“If all else fails I’d settle for a personal trainer or physio to go back on which would still involve me in sports.”

Although the path of the coronavirus’s decline seems imminent, Emmerson’s future remains shrouded in uncertainty, an academy player who came through the pandemic with a greater resolve to further his career also woke up to a reality where his place in football is that of the spectator rather than player. Whatever his outcome, Em is willing to propel himself into the next era one kick at a time.