Harrogate Town keeper James Belshaw took a different route to many in his journey to becoming a professional footballer.
The former England ‘C’ keeper had knockbacks before opting to study abroad to kick-start his career.
“From a very young age football was the dream.” Belshaw explained.
“I was scouted by Notts County and went through their academy system up to the age of 15 when they shut down the youth set-up.
“Me and my brother were both at the academy and we got a letter saying the academy was to be no more.”
Belshaw then moved onto Nottingham Forest for a short period, only to be told he was too small to be a keeper.
At this point, Belshaw had just come out of his GCSE’s with 10 A*s and two A’s. With strong grades, the Town shot stopper thought his career might be more academically focused, playing non-league football on the side.
The situation changed after he was scouted for Walsall in upper sixth form.
Youth team coach at Walsall, Mick Halsall, told Belshaw that a career in football was a possibility. That was the moment he started to believe.
“At the end of that season I had the option of a one-year professional contract with Walsall or go to America to study. I think it was important to get my degree behind me, football is not forever and you need something to fall back on.” He explained.
Belshaw jetted to North Carolina at the age of 18 to study a major in history and a minor in business studies. The four years away was something he’ll never forget.
“It was an unbelievable experience. In terms of the lifestyle out there, I trained every morning like a professional footballer and played two games a week most weeks.
“Once training was done, I’d sprint off quickly to lectures for the rest of the day and then fit in the work as well.
Town’s number one admits that studying wasn’t easy as the university set very high standards, but he got a lot support from within the athletic department.
“One of the best bits of advice I got was to work out what I had to do quickly and then make a plan otherwise your head would just explode.”
“At the same time, there was a university social life to live which is fantastic. Managing those things and trying to stay sane was tough initially but I got used to it.”
Through his experiences, Belshaw sees education as solid foundation to build from, whether you want to be a professional footballer or not.
“I truly believe that going and getting an education and completing your studies is the best thing to do.
“If you have the desire to stay in education, then get as much as you can behind you as you never know when you’re going to need it,” he added.
“Before turning professional, I played part-time, had another job and started my own business and I still run my own coaching business now.
“You can still live the dream of being a professional footballer at whatever level with the education behind you, even if it takes a bit longer.”
At Town, we are proud to offer the opportunity to play, train and learn alongside the club and Harrogate College.
Aimed at students aged 16-18, our education programme provides a BTEC qualification as well as the chance to train like a professional footballer every day.
This programme can lead directly into a Degree in a sports related subject such as a BSc (Hons) Physical Education, or provide the platform to go straight into the football industry.
Find out more