SCHOOL leaver Rhys Davies has the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps and live every schoolboy’s dream as a professional footballer.
The 16-year-old has signed a two-year scholarship with English Football League One side Shrewsbury Town.
Rhys, who has just completed his GCSEs at Gwernyfed High School, will now move in with a family in the area as he trains everyday with the club and learns every aspect of the professional game.
Dad Gareth, 43, undertook a similar journey more than 25 years ago when he signed as an apprentice with then Division Four side Hereford United.
Gareth’s professional career took in spells at Crystal Palace, where he played alongside current Wales manager Chris Coleman, former FA Cup winners Cardiff City, Reading and Swindon.
“It will be what I went through only slightly different as Rhys will still have to do education, tied in with football, but we had to do all the crappy jobs, they don’t and are pampered. We did boot cleaning, toilet scrubbing and cutting the grass,” said Gareth who lives in Bronllys.
“Rhys will go to college one day a week. It is a different world now they teach all the analytical side of the game, individual player development and team develop. Years ago it was crash, bang, wallop with a bit of creativity.”
Football runs in the family as Gareth’s cousin is Builth Wells-born former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Sheedy who made his name with Everton after also starting his career at Hereford.
Proud Gareth, who works for the Football Association of Wales (FAW) Trust in coach education, said Rhys will also have the opportunity to coach younger players at Shrewsbury. “I did my knee in at 26 and retired at 28 and wasn’t able to play again but I was lucky enough to get a job in football but plenty of ex-footballers never get that opportunity.
“I left school with one GCSE and I’ve made sure Rhys hasn’t made the same mistakes I did. He is also a far better footballer than I ever was and is a left footer.”
Rhys, who has also played for local sides Rhosgoch and Hay, has most recently been playing for Hereford FC.
Gareth said Rhys had previously had a two year contract with Cardiff City. “He left after 12 months as he wasn’t enjoying his football. He had no social life and was forever travelling. He went to Chelsea away and was out of the house for 16 hours. He said ‘Dad, I’m not enjoying this’. I said let’s go back to Hereford.
“He’s had a few clubs interested in him and I encouraged to go to Shrewsbury because of the size of the club and the opportunity to get in the first team at a young age, if he’s good enough – that’s the big question if he’s good enough.”
Gareth said Rhys’ ambitions are to become a professional footballer, and will now play for Shrewsbury’s under 18’s side and also have the possibility of playing for the reserve team, and to play for Wales.
Gareth was capped at under 21 level and in his current role has helped some of the biggest names in world football, including former Arsenal star Thierry Henry, study for their coaching badges with the FAW Trust. But if Rhys doesn’t go on to become a pro Gareth said he would like to work in sport.
Rhys has also referred local junior football and ran the line at the South Powys youth cup finals in Hay. He and brother Ryan, 13, also helped coach a refugee football team at an event at Talgarth FC last summer. “I just try to encourage them to experience different things and make them more rounded,” said Gareth.
Steve Saunders Hereford FC coach said he was pleased to see Rhys have the chance at with a Football League side. He said: “I’m delighted for Rhys. His hard work, dedication and willingness to improve over the past seven years with us has paid off. Last season his leadership really stood out and benefited the team. I wish Rhys all the best at Shrewsbury Town where I’m sure his undoubted talent will be developed further.”