From Walsall FC footballer to mentor: Aaron Forde on helping youngsters choose the right path

Aaron Forde was on the cusp of first team football at Walsall.

Aaron Forde and Foundations for the Future are working with the police
Aaron Forde and Foundations for the Future are working with the police

Appearances on the subs bench as a teenager suggested a bright future but a combination of bad injuries and sheer bad luck put an end to his professional dreams.

And, yet, he says, he has no regrets. Aaron, after all, is an example to young professionals who suffer heartbreak that it doesn't have to signal an end to your hopes and aspirations.

Now at Tamworth, Aaron is still making his mark in the beautiful game, albeit on a smaller scale to the Saddlers.

And, more importantly, he's acting as an inspiration to young people, steering them away from knife crime, drugs and other serious issues, in Sutton Coldfield, Erdington and beyond.

"I started my career with Wolves academy and, when I left, Walsall offered me a scholarship straightaway without having to go in for a trial," he recalls. "It suited me at the time. I actually wanted to go down south and had some offers but my dad wanted to keep me close to home and keep an eye on me.

"So I went to Walsall and it was great. I actually went straight in, training with the first team and I did really well.

"I found myself as a first-year scholar but playing pre-season games with the senior squad, behind closed doors.

"I had big hopes of breaking through with Chris Hutchings and Martin O'Connor."

Then disaster struck.

"I had a knee problem which I struggled with," Aaron recalls. "In January 2009, it was discovered my patella tendon was in a degenerative state.

"So it was like I had an old man's knee in a young man's body. It's an issue where red blood cells get into the tendon and it makes it achy and sore. There was no way of managing it. I was only 16 at the time."

It kept him out of the game for eight months but he did find treatment. He admits it was a period which knocked him for six.

"I'd been doing really well and that stopped me in my tracks," he recalls. "Then Mick Halsall, who had signed me left as well to go to Wolves - from where I had left! So I was left really disappointed and devastated."

Treatment eventually worked and he bounced back.

Aaron Forde in his Walsall days

"Dean Smith came in Head of Youth Football in the summer of 2009 and I did well with him," says Aaron. "I got fit and back with the first team and got handed a squad number.

"I made it on the bench four times and things were looking great and I thought I was doing well. I was captain of the youth and reserves at the time.

"At the end of my second year, I was told I was quids in for a deal but I broke my leg in a youth team game. It spiralled out after that and things just didn't work out.

"I got fit again and carried on going to the club and training but they didn't offer me anything, even though they said they still wanted me around.

"So in the end, I left because I needed to earn some money. I dropped out of the pro game and the rest is history really.

"I became a bit depressed and thought: 'I have not made it and have no money'. I hadn't earned a contract and felt the game had owed me something. It left me frustrated and I thought 'that is me done with football'.

He wasn't done with it but admits he lost his desire for the sport.

"I bounced from Hinckley to Redditch to Rushall to Stratford ,Halesowen and Romulus," he recalls. "I then moved to Stourbridge and started to focus again.

"I wanted to prove something to people and myself and I have managed to do that, having success at Stourbridge and now Tamworth."

But it's off the pitch that Aaron has really made his mark.

"I look back now and Walsall was a great experience," he says. "And yet, leaving the professional game was the best thing that happened to me.

"Football at that level was not for me as an individual. I don't look back with regrets."

It’s away from the football field where Aaron's most rewarding work can be seen now be seen.

He is the co-founder of Foundation4thefuture – a Community Interest Company – which works with troubled youngsters and helps gives them guidance, providing education, community support and mentoring.

“It’s something I set up with my best friend, Calum Dwyer and I have found my calling and that's what I was meant to do," he adds.

"We work all over the region now, including Birmingham and the Black Country.

"My mom got me to do an apprenticeship with a sports coaching company after leaving Walsall and it was the best thing I ever did.

"I stuck at it and it gave me an introduction into the industry I am in now, making a lot of contacts.

"As a sports coach in schools, I built up a good relationship with pupils, particularly those who had issues with behaviour.

“With Foundation4thefuture, we work at mentoring these youngsters, providing behavioural support and try to make them realise their potential and what can be achieved through hard work.

"We work with all children really but some may have come from difficult backgrounds or had a tough upbringing. They might have anger management issues or behavioural problems.

“We work with them one to one. A child might be on an exclusion list, falling off the rails.

“We have a chat with them and unpick why they are making the choices they are. We try to make them understand the route they will go down if they make the wrong choices.

"It is about trying to make a difference and it's something I find very rewarding.”

Aaron Forde at Tamworth. Picture: Tamworth Herald

Among the charity's latest work is a link up with officers from Sutton Coldfield and Erdington Police.

The new partnership aims to help young people in north Birmingham at risk from County Lines.

This is a form of criminal exploitation where urban gangs persuade, coerce or force children and young people to store drugs and money or transport them to other areas.

Aaron, a former Romulus and Sutton Coldfield Town midfielder, said: “We are looking forward to working with the teams at Sutton and Erdington Police.

"If there are young people on the system or who have been identified by Sutton or Erdington Police as being involved in County Lines, they will be given access to 12 weeks of mentoring support from us.

“The aim is for us to support these young people, with the barriers they are facing, and give them pathways and strategies to come away from being involved in County Lines.

"But we also want to tap into the skill-set that there is there and provide them with opportunities.

“We want to tap into the strategic side and tell them, actually, if you put your mind to it, you can actually earn money legitimately, by putting your head down and working hard.”

Aaron added: “We work with all children really but some may have come from difficult backgrounds or had a tough upbringing.

"“They might have anger management issues or behavioural problems. We work with them one to one. A child might be on an exclusion list, falling off the rails.

“We have a chat with them and unpick why they are making the choices they are. We try to make them understand the route they will go down if they make the wrong choices.

"It is about trying to make a difference and it’s something I find very rewarding.”

For more information in Foundation4thefuture and their work with young people visit foundations4thefuture.co.uk

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