Growing up, Jacob Walcott was one of the stars of the Reading academy, playing for England under-17s and looking forward to a bright future in the game. However, fast forward ten years and he is no longer even playing the game he used to love.

“Could I have achieved more in the game? Absolutely, there’s no question,” says the former forward. “But thinking about it, I was able to do something I loved for a living, I represented my country, met some great people and had money-can’t-buy-experiences.

“How many people can say they’ve done that?”

It’s a point you cannot argue with and it’s nice to see the 26-year-old appreciate the memories he has taken from the game, even if there could have been so many more.

Going back to his early days, he joined the Reading academy as a 13-year-old, making his way through the ranks, first signing scholarship forms and then turning professional at the age of 18 in 2010.

Before he had even signed his first professional deal however, he had caught the eye of the FA and had represented England at under-16 and under-17 level, playing alongside some of the national team’s future stars. It was a time Walcott remembers fondly.

“Playing for England are some of the greatest memories of my life, let alone football career,” he says. “I always considered it a complete privilege to put on this country’s shirt.

“There were always decent players in every squad, some went on to do great things in the game; Wilshere, Shelvey, Lingard to name a few and there were others that didn’t reach those heights but have still made a good living from the game.”

He went on to make fifteen appearances for the under-17s, scoring four times as he continued to show the potential to become a Reading first team player. With his national youth team accolades, the forward was hoping to make the first team breakthrough with the Royals but he recalls that despite the fact he had played with and against some of Europe’s most promising players, he was not given any special treatment at club level.

“Reading always did a good job of keeping all the young international players grounded. Whether it was English, Welsh, Irish or Norwegian players, we were never treated any different to anyone else which was a necessity.”

After agreeing his first professional deal with the Royals, he joined Conference South side Staines Town making five appearances as he got his first taste of senior football.

Of course, it’s not unusual for young players to get experience out on several loan deals and players like Harry Kane have learnt their trade at a lower level before breaking through into the first team. So, on Walcott’s return to Reading, it was not surprising that the management wanted him to look at earning game time elsewhere once again but what did surprise the young forward was the deal that was offered to him.

“It was an ordinary day, I came into training as normal, I was running out to join the rest of the lads and the gaffer [Brian McDermott] pulled me aside and said, “How would you like to go to Holland?””

“I was a bit taken aback obviously then he went on to explain that he knew the manager at Telstar [Jan Poortvliet], that it would be a great opportunity for me both on and off the pitch – I couldn’t really digest it all so I just agreed to his face then went and trained.

“The thing that tempted me was the opportunity, the challenge. I wanted to progress in the game and saw this as a key move to show people in football that I was willing to do whatever it took to achieve my goals – besides, if you’re a young player and you refuse a loan move, that is horrendous and would be extremely frowned upon.”

So, with the loan move to second-tier club Telstar formally agreed to afterwards, the young forward was set to move to Holland alone at the age of 18. A daunting prospect to some but having moved around a lot growing up with his father in the army, Walcott was not fazed by the idea, especially as he had moved down to Reading three years earlier. He was focused on showing everyone back home what he could do and show them he was ready for the step-up.

Joining the club in January 2011, it was a tricky first month abroad for the England youth international, despite the fact he had moved around lots in his youth. It was just not just settling into a new club that he would have to get used to but also settling into his new environment away from football. It was fair to say his time after training was not as glamorous as you might expect from a professional footballer.

“Between both clubs and my agent at the time everything got sorted: the flights, hotels, contracts, appearance fees, all I had to do was show up to be frankly honest.

“The first initial month was the toughest: a different culture, a different dressing room, the fact that most of the time people at the club spoke Dutch – even during pre-game chats so I sat there without a clue as to what was being said. I was also in a hotel with no internet and the phone couldn’t make outbound calls, so I used to get back and just watch Prison Break on repeat!”

It seemed the binge watching had paid off though as Walcott made an instant impact in the Telstar squad. Under the guidance of former Dutch international Poortvliet, the forward went seamlessly from Conference South football to playing in front of thousands of fans against the likes of Sparta Rotterdam and Eindhoven. After a few appearances finding his feet, he scored his first ever senior goal to secure a draw against Fortuna Sittard before following that up with his second in a victory over Sparta in the next game week. There was a big difference from the style of play for the youngster was used to but he didn’t let it show.

“It was a complete different style of football than I was used to. I’d been on loan to Staines Town right before that move and the contrast was astonishing. In Holland, it was generally much slower, less physical and there was more emphasis on passing and moving to the point where if there was an open goal in training, you’d pass it to someone else to score.

“In terms of standards, I thought it was of a good quality – I mean crowd sizes and TV coverage aside – the actual football was decent, and I felt as if I learnt a lot both on and off the pitch.”

Walcott went on to make 14 appearances in total during his loan spell with Telstar, scoring twice as he impressed his manager and those watching back at Reading.

However, on his return back to England, he found his path to the first team blocked and struggled to make the breakthrough.

“Of course [that was a disappointment] but disappointment is a fact of football and life and I was always taught by my coaches that there are more lows than highs in professional football- it’s only now looking back so I see what they were talking about.

“No matter what it is I do, I always want to be at the top and be the best at it. If I swept the streets, I’d make sure my street was the best. If I could paint, I’d want to be the best painter. I think it’s a competitive streak in me that will never disappear, so yeah, coming from the academy, to scholar to the reserves I wanted to go on and make a name for myself at first team level.

“I always thought I would get a chance in the first team, I think every player does – it’s that ‘professional’ jealousy where you see someone ahead of you and you want to take their place. I felt the closest I came was when Brendan Rodgers was gaffer – until he got sacked – just my luck!”

So, after six years with the Royals, Walcott was released by the club. He had had a spell on trial back in Holland with FC Utrecht and later back home with Stevenage before release but neither brought about a permanent deal.

Since leaving Reading, Walcott has played in non-league for North Leigh, Oxford City and Banbury United but now at 26, no longer plays the game. In recent years, he has been working as a project manager and business analyst whilst studying for a degree in Business and Management with the Open University. He may now be focused on life outside the game, but he is eyeing a return one day.

“I’m not playing football at the moment, but I feel I will return to the game in the near future in some capacity – whether that’s playing, coaching or I’d quite fancy the agency side of the game, but we shall see.

“Off the pitch, I’m working on a few ideas that will hopefully come to fruition sooner rather than later!”

From the outside, many might feel that Walcott has a bitter view on football having never been given his chance in the first team at Reading, but his opinion is quite the opposite. He cherishes the opportunities he was given, and many would love to have got the chance to play in front of thousands and fans and represent their country.

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