Football prodigy Jacob Hatfield-Goodall is living every schoolboy’s dream.
The talented nine-year-old goalkeeper was signed by Sheffield Wednesday after impressing scouts with his skills.
But in a competitive industry where thousands of children are called and only a few are chosen, Jacob knows the road to becoming a professional footballer is a tough one.
Jacob was first scouted at the age of five. He has now been on the books at four different clubs in as many years, including Manchester City, Huddersfield Town and Blackburn Rovers.
His dad, Darren Goodall, said seeing his eldest son sign for Sheffield Wednesday made him immensely proud but admitted grass roots football is not always the bed of roses it can be made out to be.
Mr Goodall, of Liversedge, said: “It is dog eat dog. If one player shows a great deal of promise then the scouts are straight on to the parents. They are like vultures.
“Then there are the hours and hours and miles and miles you have to put in. But you do it because your child lives and breathes the sport and you want to see them do well.”
Jacob first began playing for Norristhorpe Juniors at the age of four and was coached by his dad.
Jacob and his younger brother Jude, who now trains at Barnsley FC’s academy, grabbed the attention of a scout at Manchester City and were invited to a satellite academy at Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre in Cleckheaton.
Mr Goodall said: “Lots of Premiership teams go trawling across the country as they have lots of money to spend.
If one player shows a great deal of promise then the scouts are straight on to the parents. They are like vultures.
“They get as many children in as they can and maybe will just find one who is good enough.”
After a short spell at the academy, the brothers left to train at their beloved Huddersfield Town in 2012.
Jacob was delighted to join the club he supports and quickly gained a reputation as a promising goalkeeper.
Mr Goodall said: “One night we threw a tennis ball 60 or 70 times between us and he did not drop it once. I told him he had good hand and eye coordination and he should give goalkeeping a go.
“Jacob was never as fast as players in outfield positions but had good feet, which is key for goalkeepers these days.
“I used to be a goalkeeper and was in the goalkeeper’s union so I could see he was talented.”
After a match between Norristhorpe and Elland in 2013, a scout from Blackburn Rovers offered Jacob the chance to train with the Lancashire club.
Mr Goodall said: “Goalkeepers are a rare commodity at that age. Academies struggle for goalkeepers big time and they invited Jacob to train at the club.
“He would train one night with Huddersfield and one night with Blackburn. You can train with who you want at that age.”
Jacob completed a 12 week trial and he was offered a pre-contract at Blackburn.
The youngster played for the club for the next 12 months but the two-hour round trip started to take a toll on the family.
Jacob then decided he wanted to play for a club closer to home.
Mr Goodall said: “It came down to logistics. Blackburn were fantastic with us and we have maintained a great relationship but it became a bit too much for us.
“You do not get financial support from the clubs and the costs of travelling comes out your own pocket. Jacob wanted to look elsewhere.”
In May 2014 Jacob played in a tournament in Ossett. Scouts from some of the country’s biggest clubs travelled to the tournament to see a sought-after player dubbed the “junior Lionel Messi”.
Mr Goodall said: “It was flooded with scouts from the likes of Man City and Man Utd. All the top teams were there because they had heard about another young lad who is amazing.
“Fortunately Jacob’s team played in same group and he played really well. Afterwards I was approached by four scouts from Man City, Barnsley, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday.”
Jacob handed in his notice at Blackburn and had trials at both Manchester City and Sheffield Wednesday. He was then offered his first 12 month contract to play for Sheffield Wednesday in May 2015.
Jacob trains three times a week and plays for the club’s under 9s side on a Sunday. He is trained by England women’s goalkeeper Leanne Hall.
Mr Goodall said: “Jacob is coming to the end of his first full season and will hopefully be offered another 12 month contract to stay at club.
“I am very proud of him because he never moans. He travels all over the country and trains really hard when he gets there.
“It has been a whirlwind couple of years but he is happy at Wednesday, which is the most important thing for us.”
Around 12,500 children are in the English academy system but only 0.5 per cent of under 9s at top clubs are likely to make it to the first team.
Mr Goodall said: “We have told Jacob to think ahead and understand that even though it is his dream, they could pull rug from under him at anytime.
“Some parents think when their children are called up they have made it but it isn’t like that. We want Jacob to enjoy his football and hope he stays at Wednesday.”