In the latest of our Sussex born & bred series we spoke to former Portsmouth, Coventry, Barnsley and current Ipswich forward, Conor Chaplin.
“It was a horrible period mentally, I just sat in the shower crying I didn’t think this was meant for me, every time I tried to come back I was just breaking down.” It’s an eye-opening conversation into the life of a footballer and the mental struggles that come with injuries. Conor spent months on the side-lines in a crucial part of his career but was one of the lucky ones to come out of it stronger.
The versatile forward, born in Worthing, was almost destined for some sort of life in football with it instilled in him from a young age in a footballing family.
“I come from a very football-orientated family. My dad, Mark, played for Horsham and I think is one of their highest appearance holders. My grandad, Michael played, my old brother played and my younger brother, Alfie, plays for Lancing Colts currently.
“My grandad has always been inspiring for me, he’s definitely my biggest fan! I’m pretty sure all of his mates and everyone he plays golf with know everything about me. He’s amazing, he watches every interview, every game, he’ll have all the newspaper cuttings, it’s something that makes me really proud, it means a lot.
“Then football all started for me when I went for an open day at Worthing Dynamos when I was six, and that was the first organisation I joined and participated with in terms of football.”
It’s tough for any young, talented, players to get noticed when playing. For Conor, it happened instantly.
“After the opening day for them (Worthing Dynamos) I remember coming home and there was a voicemail on the phone at home, but my dad wouldn’t tell me who it was from. My dad did later to tell me it was someone calling inviting me to the Portsmouth Training Centre.
“It was quite funny actually because my brother thought it was about him! I was obviously very happy; I was just a young lad that loved football and anything to do with it. It was a big deal because Portsmouth were in the Premier League at the time.
“I was still able to play for Worthing Dynamos, through under-6s, under-7s, under-8s, but once I got to under-9s and properly signed with Portsmouth, I had games with them on a Sunday so I could only play with them.
“I still carried on playing summer tournaments for Dynamos and a few other clubs that my friends from school played for. When you’re in an academy you don’t have those summer tournaments and when you’re a kid, they’re the best things in the world!
“I loved football wherever I played, and I was never pressured by my dad or my grandad or anything. My mum used to take me to training but I don’t think she knew as much as they did!
“They just told me to enjoy it really, until I got a bit older anyway and they expected a bit more from me! But when I look back, that was probably a good thing and it instilled the mentality in me I have today.”
For someone as highly rated as Conor was from a young age, we were curious to know his mindset during his key years at school. Getting into an academy is one thing, but making it as a professional, you’re part of a very small minority.
“School was very football-orientated as well and I loved it there; probably because I was scoring four or five goals a game! My first memories were with Orchards Junior School when I was in Year 4. I played for the school all the way up until Year 11; it’s funny because we trained inside at Portsmouth and I’d always be turning up with muddy knees, legs, elbows because of my school football where I’d then be rushing up the A27 to play for Portsmouth!
“I was always rushing around to fit everything in with school games and Portsmouth to the point where I was being subbed off with 10 minutes to go so I could make training. Unless we were losing or drawing then I wouldn’t!
“In Year 6 at Orchards we actually won the national cup at Wembley. We won all the prelim rounds then the final was at Wembley which, when you’re that age, is an unbelievable experience. Our school team was really good, we had no one else who was part of an academy but just a good standard.
“High school was no different it was the same routine of play school games and rush to Portsmouth. In Year 10 we also got to the quarter-finals of the national cup and I missed a penalty in that game! Jimmy Punter was part of those teams, he’s assistant coach at Horsham now. He played centre-back for us, but I think went on to be a goalkeeper for Sussex and I’m still good friends with him now.
“I never wanted to do anything other than play for Portsmouth. We were always told though to make sure our schoolwork was good because such a small percentage make it as a professional footballer.
“I was quite lucky though as I didn’t need to revise too much I was B-grade student throughout the board really except for science and geography which I was horrendous at!”