From AFC Sudbury's King's Marsh to Bradford City Valley Parade: Tyler French sees his dogged determination for a professional career in the game finally pay off
On the final day of January 2017 Tyler French’s dream was snatched away from him.
The AFC Sudbury defender was just making his way back to Suffolk following a six-week trial at Premier League club Crystal Palace when he got a call telling him to turn around as they wanted to offer him a deal.
He agreed to sign a two-year contract and thought his dream to become a professional footballer was complete.
The then 17-year-old even phoned his family in Long Melford to deliver the life-changing news.
But discussions on transfer deadline day between the two clubs broke down over a financial package to the non-league side, leaving him distraught.
It was hoped the Eagles might go on to complete the deal in the summer. They never did and AFC Sudbury, via first-team manager Mark Morsley, who was not around at the time, later admitted failings with the club’s handling of the situation.
But after getting his head down in the Bostik League while nursing some difficult mental scars, his dream came tantalisingly close again last summer as former Premier League champions Leicester City took him on trial.
He was asked to stay on and fly out with their academy for a pre-season tour to Prague, but it ultimately ended in more disappointment.
“When I came back they said I was nothing better than they already had for their U23s,” French told the Free Press in November, the first time the now 20-year-old had publicly opened up about the last few years.
Through it all though he re-stated his unwavering desire to keep chasing the dream he had had since he was a young boy .
In February there was further mental anguish for him as Morsley left him as an unused substitute for a series of matches while the club circulated an email to clubs across the country about his availability.
Morsley initially did not wish to comment on the situation before then saying it was down to a dip in form.
Tyler responded by strongly disagreeing.
But Morsley’s rationale of engineering a professional move for the lad he described as ‘the best young player he has worked with’, eventually paid off.
But only after two more trials – having also been with Ipswich Town for several months prior to Palace’s move – at League One clubs Barnsley and Charlton Athletic failed to see a move materialise.
With the downs a lot of people would not have come out of it like I have done. But I knew I had to and just kept striving for what I wanted to be and I am proud of myself and everyone who has helped me get there - Tyler French
So when he first pulls on the Bradford City shirt in League Two in August, after the Bantams snapped him up following his shortest trial involving one behind-closed-doors friendly on the first day of May, it will complete a tough journey to the professional ranks, during which his determination has shone through.
“It has not quite sunk in yet,” he said in the week he signed a two-year contract.
“It is all I have ever wanted to do as a kid.
“I have had my ups and downs and finally I get to put all that to one side and play professionally for a larger club.”
And asked if the setbacks had made it all the more sweeter the player who racked up his 100th Bostik League appearance for Sudbury in November quickly replied: “One hundred per cent.
“With the downs a lot of people would not have come out of it like I have done. But I knew I had to and just kept striving for what I wanted to be and I am proud of myself and everyone who has helped me get there.”
One of those he credits highest in finally making his dreams a reality is former team-mate and ex-professional Paul Hayes.
“Paul has been a major factor in my resurgence after the disappointments happened; just sitting me down and having chats with me and telling me I can do it. He has been a second dad for me,” he said.
“I also need to thank everyone at Sudbury for making it happen.”
His footballing journey started when he moved from Glemsford to Long Melford at the age of five.
It was at his new home village side where he honed his skills in their colts (youth) set-up for the next decade.
His father Tony French went on to play and then manage Long Melford, all the time with Tyler kicking a ball about at Stoneylands as he did so.
And there will likely not be any prouder parents watching on at Bradford’s Valley Parade.
“My mum and dad are massive,” he said. “My mum backs me all the way and so does my dad who comes everywhere with me, driving me about.”
Hadleigh United have also been rejoicing in his success having had him in their youth set-up.
But following short spells at Ipswich Wanderers and Woodbridge Town, it was AFC Sudbury’s academy coaches who played the biggest role in his development.
As part of the first intake of the full-time set-up four years ago, ahead of making his first-team debut at the end of that first season, French is now hoping his story will inspire other talented players at the club to never give up chasing their dream. And even if things do not take off for him at Bradford, you would be foolish to ever write Tyler French off.
More by this authorRussell Claydon