A Football Journey - with Alex Grant

In the first part of a series of articles, the English-born defender relives his roller-coaster ride with 2008 FA Cup winners, Portsmouth.

Having built on his fine form for ECU Joondalup by impressing scouts at the Coffs Harbour State Championships with his performances for WA, Grant's agent at the time, Garry Williams, informed the youngster that there was an opportunity for him to trial with then-Premier League side, Portsmouth.

It was a chance of a lifetime. The Mancunian was set to take his football to the next level and attempt to launch his career by earning a spot in the south-coast club's youth academy.

After impressing on trial, he duly signed a two-year scholarship with Pompey and it seemed as though the dream was fast becoming a reality. But it wasn't the usual glitz and glamour so synonymous with football in the UK, with the club instead experiencing serious financial turmoil just months after the likes of England international Sol Campbell and former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra were galavanting gleefully around Wembley holding the FA Cup aloft.

"There were days where we'd be getting texts from staff telling us to keep our 'phones close as we might not have a football club tomorrow," Grant revealed.

Overseas owners spending cash they evidently didn't have eventually prompted a bizarre period for the proud club, with no training ground base meaning the youth players were forced to travel half-an-hour behind enemy lines through Southampton.

"As we were all too young to drive, we had to take the mini-bus to training for a period of time as a group," the defender explained.

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"Obviously no problem with that, but when you had to drive through Southampton, home to our biggest rivals, with Portsmouth Football Club plastered on the side of the car, it provoked some banter with the locals!"

"We'd constantly have stones thrown at us and the usual expletives hurled towards us."

Despite only being 17-years-old and playing for the academy and reserve sides for a club that faced an embattled and uncertain future, Grant insists it was a period that played a crucial role in helping not only his career, but his perspective on football and life as a whole.

"I loved it there," he proclaimed. "It was a real learning experience within the English system that isn't as well known by the public.

"It helped build character for sure, especially as a youth team player where you had weekly jobs. When I was in the youth team, I had to pick up the footballs and clean them for one week, then the next week I’d have to clean the first team boots. And then after every first-team game, I’d have to go and help clean the changing rooms, pick up kit, wash the kit and things like that."

It was traditions such as these that Grant believes are an integral part of the culture certain football clubs provide; one where you have to truly earn your place and stand out from the hundreds of other hopefuls by showing the work ethic, resilience and attitude required to make it in a professional context.

Grant thrived in these conditions, with the then-teenager working his way up through the ranks to the reserve team and eventually earning a place on the first-team bench for the English Championship clash with two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, before making his full professional debut in the League Cup against Plymouth Argyle.

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Despite his impressive rise and assurances from the club that he'd be offered a new deal to stay at Fratton Park, while waiting at the airport to board a flight to Egypt for his off-season holiday, Grant received a call from his agent informing him that he was in fact being released.

"It came as a real shock, especially after the talks I'd had with the coach," he explained.

"One minute I was thinking I'm going to go on holiday, not have to worry about a contract and enjoy myself, then the next minute I was unemployed.

This is the harsh reality of football. The reality that you don't get told about when growing up playing as a junior for your local club. But it's one that Grant refused to be defeated by.

"Some players don’t want to know about that side of football and then there are others who are willing to graft and get stuck-in," he said.

"After not receiving a contract, I honestly still believed in myself. I had the confidence that I'd done well and that it wasn't the end of the line for me.

"Despite the deduction of points, the relegation and the crippling debts, it was an amazing experience and I'm glad to see Pompey on the mend again having won League Two last season and earned promotion back into League One."

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