Love Island star says he was embarrassed to be released from football club – but it’s ‘nothing to be ashamed of’

The day that Love Island winner Finley Tapp parted company with his childhood club – MK Dons – he cried.

He was 19 and his career was over before it had really taken off, or so he thought.

Having played in the academy at Milton Keynes from the age of eight and having received his pro contract at 18, he thought he’d made it. He was on his way to a long, successful, glittering career as a professional footballer.

He was part of the lucky 1% who make it. Except he wasn’t and the meeting to tell him his dreams were over took less than 10 minutes.

“I was gutted. My dad was working next door and I just pulled up in the drive and I just couldn’t say to him ‘it’s done’,” he says.

“All the young boys had the same meeting that day. It was one-in-one-out and we all congregated in the dressing room. It was my turn to go in and it was just a case of ‘we’re not looking to have you next year’.

“‘We don’t think you’re ready to push on into the first team, you need to get some experience under your belt playing men’s football’. But as soon as he said that they didn’t want me next year I just shut off.

“You don’t want to hear the reasons, it was just ‘they don’t want me’. It was tough, it was the toughest period I’ve had in my life and I’m only 23.

“All of my school pals haven’t even started their careers yet, they’re at uni, or doing apprenticeships or whatever and I’ve already hit such a hurdle at just 19 – it’s difficult to deal with.”

Finley now uses his platform as a Love Island winner, Instagram influencer with over a million followers and former pro footballer who’s been through the rejection process recently to mentor youth players in football clubs.

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He feels clubs could do more to encourage academy players to at least think about what they might want to do if they don’t make the cut.

“I didn’t want to go in there as a bitter person that didn’t make it but it’s important to say to these boys that it’s only a small percentage that do make it and it’s never too early to prepare yourself for the worst outcome, whether that’s injury or getting released,” he says.

“It’s about what’s next, what do I go into? What other things can earn me a career? I wish there was more in place preparing boys for the backup option. That’s massively important.”

While there are guidelines in place for clubs to have a duty of care to the young players that they drop from their programmes, Finley thinks there could be more aftercare.

“With Love Island we had a welfare officer checking up on us. It almost became annoying it was that persistent, it was ‘are you ok? If you need anything contact us’, so whether that could be something clubs could do, have a welfare officer not connected to the coaching staff.”

He admits he was hugely embarrassed to be released from his club, he couldn’t tell his friends face to face: “People know you as, ‘Oh there’s Finn, he plays football’ – it’s hard because your news is everyone’s news.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of because the percentages are so small, everyone goes through it, but it’s like they’re going to know I don’t play football and I’m going to seem like a failure. I think that’s a stigma we need to shake off.

“That one set back isn’t a failed mission, it’s just a little set back and you can go in any direction you want.”