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PRO INSIGHT SERIES: "My Journey"


Manchester United hopeful reignited his love for the game by helping others 11,000 miles from home.

"It was tough not to make it, but it's helped make me who I am today. I wouldn't swap it for the world"



"My biggest fear always, and I used to lose sleep over this, was 'what after football?' I look back, and my goal was to always make it as a professional in England. But now, I wouldn't swap that for this"

It's nearing 11pm in Auckland, New Zealand, when Adam Thurston picks up his phone to reflect on his time spent at Manchester United.

He is over 11,000 miles from his family home, but the 28-year-old still possesses the same Stockport twang that has been in his accent since he was a child who only ever dreamed of playing for United.

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Thurston spent eight years at the club before he was released at the age of 16, one of the thousands of young people who every year are faced with the harsh reality of their childhood dreams crashing to an end.

Over a decade later, he is now living a dream he didn't even know he had. Settled down with partner Aimee and their eight-month-old twins, he has forged a new career in the Southern Hemisphere, still playing football, as well as coaching the next generation of young hopefuls, as they try to make strides in the game.




Thurston grew up playing for Cheadle and Gatley and got used to winning 'everything' at youth level. It was perfect preparation for an upbringing at United that started when he was eight.


"I used to get invited to The Cliff a lot. There used to be hundreds of us. At the time, I thought I was just training. But really, they are already looking at your skills and how far they think you can go. You just kept getting invited back until one day they didn't want you anymore."

Thurston was a boyhood United fan who, like many, idolised David Beckham and would spend hours practicing his set-piece technique in an attempt to emulate his idol.

Those are the carefree moments he remembers fondly growing up as a United fan. Though, even by the age of 12, he was starting to feel the pressure that his favourite past time was now becoming a lot more serious.

"You feel the pressure, even at a young age. When we got to U12s they moved us from The Cliff to Carrington, and that is when it sunk in that this wasn't just a hobby anymore. You'd see first-team players and realise that this was a massive club.


"You had eyes on you across every session, and there was pressure to do well every single time you played. I lost the fun I had when I was a kid. I think the reason I didn't get to the top is I just felt too much pressure when I was playing. I didn't enjoy it anymore."

The harsh reality is that only a handful of players from every age group will go on to have a future in the game at any level, never mind making it all the way through to the first-team.

Playing at United certainly gives players a better grounding than at most other clubs, something Thurston agrees with, though there is still plenty of work to be done to prepare youngsters for the likelihood that their dreams will one day come to an end.


"I don't think I ever thought I was going to play in the Premier League, but I always believed that football was the thing for me. I wasn't the best player, but I would say I was the hardest worker in the group. I always believed that football was for me. I remember from a young age, I always said I wanted to make a living out of football; I wanted football to be my job."


Thurston draws from his time at United within the coaching work he does now, and he is particularly keen to ensure he is there to support the players in the same way his former coaches used to look out for him.


"The coaches I had were brilliant and so caring. When you open the doors at Carrington, you walk down a long corridor, and it's got photos on your left and right of the lads that have made it. You see Sir Bobby Charlton, The Class of '92, Marcus Rashford. They are all there. When you see that, you just think, 'I've got to give it my all every session so that one day it could be me.'"


He missed an entire season with an injury at U15s level but came back with a bang the following year. He felt like he was playing the best football of his life, though it wasn't enough to convince United to keep him around any longer.


"I kind of knew I was going to get released. I sat down with my mum and dad in a meeting. It was with Brian McClair and Tony Whelan, who is a top guy.


"Basically, they said they could now sign players from anywhere across the world, so that was my level of competition now. It wasn't just about being the best in my local area. I wasn't quite at that level, and they thought it would be best for me to go elsewhere."


I had somewhere in the double digits of offers. I got rejected from them all.

Thurston was fortunate to have such a supportive family around him, and they were determined to help him find a new club as soon as possible.

While he was out with his mates, his mum was fielding calls from a range of different clubs, trying to organise trials for her son to get himself back on the football ladder.


"I had somewhere in the double digits of offers. I went to Leicester, Stoke, Leeds, Ipswich, Leicester, Crewe, Birmingham. I got rejected by them all.

I was a quiet guy. I was brave and committed on the pitch, but away from it, I just wasn't very chatty. I think that might have played a part, they looked at me and thought, personality-wise, I wasn't the right fit."


It was not until he was introduced to United academy graduate Danny Pugh that he finally managed to get back on track. Pugh gave him much-needed advice about his own time after leaving the club and forging a career elsewhere.


"He told me to just go off my own feelings. I had a few decent trials, and clubs asked me to come back, but it just didn't feel right for me.

"When I did end up going to Preston, I just had a great feeling about it. How they welcomed me, how they treated me, and the overall facilities they had as well.

"I was not in school anymore, so I trained twice a day. It felt unbelievable, but it was hard work. Those double sessions every day, cleaning the senior players' boots—it was all so tiring.

"We lived in a house, 18 lads together. The first and second year scholars, and they are some of the best memories, not only as a player but also as a young kid."


He won two youth titles at the club, and trained with the first-team, yet a senior contract never arose.

"Towards the end of my second year, a new manager came in, and he got rid of a lot of the pros. He cut the squad from 35 to 25; he didn't want a big squad. So we got rid of the reserves, which meant that we knew not many of us were getting scholarships. I was definitely on the fringes.


"I feel like I just missed out. The week leading up to the decision, I was training with the first team, and some of the boys were asking me if I'd be on the bench that Saturday. I didn't even end up getting into the squad. It was all touch and go, and I just missed out."


Thurston just wanted to play, and he'd get a real baptism of fire the following season. He signed for Hyde in the Football Conference, in what would be an incredibly difficult season.

The club would win just one match across a 46-match league season, taking just 10 points across the campaign and finishing with a goal difference of -81.


"I was 18 and I was playing every week, proper men's football. I had never had a sniff of anything like that before. I really enjoyed it, we were just so young. We couldn't see out wins or results. We were just so inexperienced."


He would go on to spend another season with FC United but was quickly becoming disillusioned with the lower levels of football and relished a new challenge to rekindle his love for the game.

Thurston was introduced to Danny Graystone, an English-born coach of South Adelaide out in Australia. They were happy to give him a chance if he could get there, but there were no guarantees of a contract.


"He paid for his own flight to the other side of the world, and five days later he was on the plane"


"I just wasn't really playing in England at that time, but I still felt there was a player in me and that I could do something, just not here. I went out there to Adelaide, and I just started enjoying my football again. It reenergised me and reminded me why I first played the sport."

He found the football in Australia to be physically demanding, though there was a noticeable drop-off in technical ability from the non-league football he had been playing in England.


Most of all, he relished the responsibility. He had gone from being just another English player in the lower leagues to being a notable name in Australia with a good reputation. It's been the same since he made the move to New Zealand three years ago.


"There was a little bit of pressure on me, but it was a good pressure. If people are open-minded, I would definitely encourage them to come and experience life out here.

"I was brought up as a small fish in a big pond, but now I am in a position where I stand out a lot more. There are definitely opportunities out here if you're willing to move and get out of your comfort zone. I didn't plan this; it's just a crazy journey that I've been open to.


"It didn't work out in England, so it was a case of what else can I do? I wasn't willing to pack it in. I have worked so hard my whole life for this dream, and my mum and dad have put so much time and investment into me. I've never really had the mindset of just packing it in. It's always been football. I was willing to do whatever it took."

Since moving to New Zealand, Thurston has also gotten involved with coaching and now runs The Pro Project, which works closely with ambitious players at all levels, and offers bespoke, individually designed training sessions that target the identified strengths and weaknesses of each player.


He's partnered with his current club, Eastern Suburbs AFC, with a key focus on player care as much as their own personal development.

Right now they are working with over 100 players in Auckland, and the dream is to branch that out even further and help as many like-minded, ambitious players who want to better themselves on and off the pitch.

It wasn't something he ever planned to do, but it has now taken his life in a completely new direction that he couldn't have ever dreamed about.


"My main focus is coaching, growing The Pro Project and nurturing other young players"

"I never set out to do it. When I started off, I was really positive, and then I fell out of love with it. I learned so many good things, especially from being at Man United about how I was as a player. I want to be able to pass on that same advice to other players now.


"I'm passing on those messages I was told as a young kid, trying to be that positive influence that can help young kids like me get the most out of themselves.


"It's always been football, and now that I've just had my operation, my motivation is to get back and play alongside some of these players I'm helping. It's the most rewarding job. It doesn't feel like work."


And while things might not have worked out at United as he had hoped, those eight years he spent at the club have played a key role in shaping him into the type of coach he is today.


"My message is for these players to express themselves in the same way I used to, back before it was too structured. I coach now exactly how I used to be coached 20 years ago when I first joined United. I still remember a lot from my early days, when they were really encouraging us to just have fun.


"When I used to walk down the corridors, it hit you that David Beckham had been here and was doing this, and he got all the way to the top. It was motivation. You've got to be the best version of yourself.


"It's so tough, and it's not surprising that these lads end up a bit lost and don't know what to do and stuff because you put so much time into it.

"I look back, and my goal was to always be a professional in England, but I wouldn't swap that for this. I feel like I live on holiday and I play football for a living.


If you are brave and you follow your dreams, then things happen.

"I'm looking to help former players, who might feel a little lost like I did and show them there is a way for them to coach and still play football.


"I've already managed to get a few lads out to New Zealand and Australia, and I'm trying to help out more people along the way."


Twenty years after first joining United, he had no regrets

It might not have worked out the way he had initially dreamed, but to still be playing the game with a fresh love for it and with a young family certainly isn't a failure.

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