From collecting glasses to coaching in China, JP Austin reveals his football story

Thursday 14 Dec 2017
With former Barnsley, Watford, Crystal Palace and England U21 player Bruce Dyer after a day at his 'Love Life Soccer Schools' when my team of kids won the trophy

It was 2012 and I was working as a glass collector in a bar in Barnsley when Manchester City won the Premier League title, thanks to Sergio Aguero’s last-minute goal.

On one side of the bar was the City fans and on the other were Manchester United fans and when Aguero scored that goal, the whole atmosphere in the room just went up and a wall of sound hit me.

It was then I thought: ‘I should do something with my life’.

That was the first time that football really made an impact on me and kick-started my coaching journey.

Growing up, football had always been there but with no real facilities in my area, it was never something to really pursue or have fun doing.

I ended up studying media and digital film at university and found I was having concentration issues. Then I found out I was dyslexic, which no-one had ever picked up on before.

I started off helping out with the Barnsley FC Community Trust and here I am at a disability football event


During that time I had helped to form a university football team, but my course tutor suggested that I’d be best dropping the football as I’d probably have a better chance of a career in the media.

I was going to just graduate and see what was out there, which seemed like an intelligent plan. But it didn’t go well from there, I ended up leaving university and working at the pub for very little money.

I was soon unemployed and at the job centre one day when I still remember seeing it stand out: a yellow sheet of paper, advertising a sports course at Barnsley FC’s Community Trust. I signed up straight away and every week, I was excited to go down and do it.

Eventually, I asked the club about volunteering and getting involved which they were happy with and I saved up until I could pay for my FA Level One coaching badge, which meant I could assist with sessions.

I then saved up again to do my Level Two and I just tried to expand and learn by reading, studying, attending coaching conferences and getting involved in everything I could at Barnsley, any project, any group and anything I could learn.

I worked with toddlers to OAPs, on football projects for disabled football and to me, it wasn’t a job, it was a way of life. You have to keep going.

I saw a quote from Jamie Carragher once, saying that people who go to football are going to be a part of something bigger than themselves. That’s true, everybody has made that decision to come and take part and have fun.

And then I saw an advert to go coaching in China so I applied for that. For a couple of weeks, I heard nothing but then I had an email asking me to go on an assessment day at Manchester City FC.

I went through the day trying to pick up what I could and speak to people involved and when they said they’d let the successful candidates know at 9am the next day, I was refreshing my phone every 15 seconds, until the email came through to say I’d been successful.

Greeted by Wang Lei, a teacher and former footballer, and Mr. Zhao Li Hong, who was of the key figures at the school where I based, I was given a letter of appointment to teach football in China on my arrival and they both helped me so much in my time there.

Here I am presenting a signed photo to Tony Wong at Huddersfield University, to help aid children in China


I was based in Taiyuan, in the Shanxi province and I was working at Shanxi Experimental Secondary School, coaching youngsters and helping the teachers to learn how to do PE classes and school team training. At weekends, I organised football camps for local youngsters.

At first, it was hard because of the cultural differences, but now I think about the guys I met out there every day and what I did with them. I was using football to make a difference for me and other people and it’s a great feeling.

Football’s a great communicator. In China, not many of the kids spoke English, but when I took a football out and dropped it on the floor, they understood and had fun.

I want to see people get the same opportunity that I got and I want to see people getting help. I’ve since been involved in a lot of charity events.

When I got back, I donated a signed photo of Sir Geoff Hurst’s World Cup Final goals to the University of Huddersfield for a charity to help under-priveleged children in China. It’s just a small thing I like to do to try and give something back.

The educational support that I’ve had from the FA has been great too. The FA Licenced Coach’s Club gives you such a good network and helps keep a record of your training. Often, when I’m enquiring about projects and work, I can see exactly what I’ve worked on and where I can go from there.

I must also mention some others who have really helped me along the way…Laurie Handley, a volunteer at Barnsley FC for over 40 years who works with young fans, and his wife have been doing so much for kids in the Barnsley area and have been a great help for me.

There’s also my friend’s father, Eamon Clinton, who has given me lots of advice on becoming more professional in how I do things from his experience in football and business.

Since I’ve been back from China, I’ve been taking on work when I’ve felt that it’s beneficial and I’m looking at options for me in places like Beijing, North America and of course, the UK.

It’s been a real journey so far and one I’ve been proud of. Football has changed my life for the better and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.

Are you inspired by JP's story? Football really is a game 'For All'. Why not get involved in football, whether that's as a player, coach, referee or just a spectator? Click here for more details. 

By JP Austin