By Chris Dunlavy
WHEN Mark Ross quit Stockport County last month, the 28-year-old was ready to turn his back on football.
Now, thanks to Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy, the former Chorley centre-back could be set for a shot at the Premier League.
The academy – founded by England striker Vardy – opens its doors for the first time today, aiming to showcase 38 of Non-League’s leading lights.
Scouts from almost 100 professional clubs, including Chelsea and Manchester United, will attend the week-long camp as top-class coaches put the hopefuls through a series of training sessions and trials at Man City’s Etihad Stadium.
And nobody will appreciate that chance more than Ross – the last, and undoubtedly luckiest, man on the roster.
“When I left Stockport I was pretty down in the dumps,” he says. “It was the first time I’d not had a club and I was thinking about knocking football on the head for a little while.
“But I got chatting to Danny Lloyd, my mate at Stockport who is now at Peterborough. He’d been smashing the goals in and told me the V9 Academy had spoken to him.
“I said ‘Listen, have you got any contacts?’. He gave me a number and I rang up. Unbeknown to me, they’d been scouting for months and the line-up was all finalised.
“But when I spoke to the guy he said, ‘You won’t believe this, but a centre-back has just dropped out today’.
“It was one of those situations where your luck just comes in. I can’t wait to get started.”
Another who struck lucky was Curtis Coppen, a ball-playing defender for North Shields in the Northern League, and the lowest-ranked player amongst the 38 entrants.
“We were playing against Dunston in a League Cup game and won 5-0,” recalls the 23-year-old, who started life as a midfielder at Gateshead.
“It turns out one of the scouts from the V9 academy was there and they got in touch with me the following day.
“There’s a lot of National League players going so I know it will be hard for me. But until you test yourself against these lads you never know. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard there’ll be scouts from the MLS and Spanish sides as well as the big teams in England.”
Both men are tempering their expectations but, whatever happens, Ross says he will go away happy.
“I’m not putting pressure on myself,” he adds. “I just want to enjoy the experience. At the end of the day, it’s a week of living like a professional footballer. I never came through an academy so that’s a dream for me.
“And you know what? If there’s 60 or 70 teams watching, you play well and don’t get chosen, that tells you something.
“In Non-League, a lot of lads try and try, but get no feedback. You’re just guessing about your ability the whole time.
“This will give all of us an answer. It’s like the X-Factor. You go, you perform and you get told definitively whether you’ve got it or not.”
Three other players, Courtney Richards (Torquay), Blair Turgott (Bromley) and Matt Young (Chelmsford) complete the line-up.