Former Port Vale midfielder George O’Callaghan has spoken about a lack of “guidance” and “bullying” during his seven year stay with the Valiants which began back in the mid-1990s
Who was George O’Callaghan?
Vale games: 40
Vale goals: 4
Time at club: 1995 – 2002
The Irish midfielder joined the club aged 15 after a trial and stayed at the club for a total of seven years including five as a first-team player. He won the club’s young player of the year award and made a total of forty appearances, scoring four times. After leaving the Valiants he also had spells at Cork City, Ipswich Town, Brighton & Hove Albion, Tranmere Rovers and Yeovil Town to name just a few of the clubs he played for.
Vale is a vastly different club nowadays from the one O’Callaghan encountered but his interview gives an insight into life as a youth teamer during the mid 1990’s.
Speaking to the RTE Soccer Podcast, O’Callaghan said “My family were all hurlers (but) soccer became my first love.
O’Callaghan moved to England aged 15 and added: “I was very young and especially coming from where I came from which was essentially a country village… I was so skinny so I suppose there was a lot of what you call ‘bullying’ in the changing room (so) what I learnt was I just had to train harder and have a better touch than anyone. So if they slagged me off I could reply ‘at least I can control the ball, you can’t.'”
Expanding on the ‘bullying’ allegation he said: “I think you just have to deal with it. You had no other choice. If you didn’t do one of the pro’s boots properly you could end up locked in a skip for half an hour – things like this… I was lucky that I just let it go. Back then it was just accepted and that was the way it was.”
If you didn’t do one of the pro’s boots properly you could end up locked in a skip for half an hour…
He continued: “It was really difficult. I suppose looking back I just had no guidance… the club basically had 18, 19 YTS players, we were basically full-time cleaners (and) I was the only one to came through out of the whole batch.
“At the weekends the games would finish and you wouldn’t see anyone and I would be living in digs by myself because all the other lads would go home. So that was difficult. Back then there was no structure whatsoever.
“Ultimately I do take responsibility for my own actions but I do think that structure was craziness.”
The situation O’Callaghan describes sounds a long cry from the current scene where former youth teamers James Gibbons and Nathan Smith are regular first-team performers while Ryan Campbell-Gordon has won national recognition for his conduct at the club.
A colourful character
O’Callaghan’s career included winnign the League of Ireland Championship in 2005 and a memorable managerial spell in Malaysia which saw him sacked for reportedly missing training sessions.