Ambition at Millfield: Interview with Tom Whelan

Tom Whelan, now signed to a professional association football club, tells Jo Golding about the support he received at Millfield

Q. When did you join Millfield and what was playing football there like?

I joined in year 9 and went to the end of sixth form, playing football every year I was there. I’d played football before I went to Millfield, so I was quite used to it by then, however, we trained most days at Millfield which you don’t normally get at that age really. You normally start training every day at 16 years old. I enjoyed a few other sports there like rugby and cricket but they were more of a hobby, whereas football was much more serious.

Q. Did you get additional support to develop as a player?

From a young age they give you everything you need. You have the gym, sport science, management and the food that was made was normally quite healthy.

Q. Was there a particular coach who guided you?

There was obviously Terry Akhurst, who is the first team manager, but I was also a boarder in Walton house and my houseparent, Mr Watlin, was the second team football manager, so he gave me a lot of support. It was perfect for me because he would always give me leeway when I needed to miss a few things to go and play football – he always understood. 

It could be hard at times to balance my other studies with football but everyone’s in the same boat, which helps.

  They’re probably the best school facilities in the country; they’re better than most professional football clubs  

Q. What did you think about the school’s facilities and reputation?

The facilities are second to none. They’re probably the best school facilities in the country; they’re better than most professional football clubs. 

As soon as you mention Millfield to anyone they always think about sport.

A lot of money gets spent on sport there and a lot of successful sportspeople have been there. I went there so I could carry on playing football but also get the schoolwork in, which is just as important – at the time it didn’t seem important, but it does now looking back at it.

The Butleigh Astros at Millfield have Musco LED technology floodlights

Q. Did you take part in any international tours during your time there?

I went to South Africa twice and I went to Lisbon. The first team manager is South African so we kind of went back to his roots. They were good, not just for football but for other things as well. Before I went to Millfield I lived in Spain so it wasn’t that new to me but for the other lads it was an eye-opener.

Q. How would you sum up your time at Millfield?

It was a tough start but I ended up loving it and I’ve got mates that I met there that will be mates for the rest of my life.

Q. You signed for Yeovil Town Football Club in July. How has your experience been so far and what are your career goals?

It’s been up and down. It was a big high to sign for them, however, I haven’t played as much as I’ve wanted to yet – but that’s football, that’s what happens. 

In the future, I want to play in the Football League, which is one step up from Yeovil. Whether that will be at Yeovil or somewhere else I don’t know.

Q. What sporting achievement are you most proud of?

I’ve had a few promotions with Salisbury but playing in a friendly against Liverpool for Bury last pre-season is probably one of the standout moments as I support Liverpool.

Q. Why is sport such an important part of your life?

I’ve played ever since I was little and I’ve never really known any different. It’s always been a part of my life. I like that it keeps you fit without you really knowing. If you didn’t play sport you’d probably have to go to the gym after work, whereas playing football it’s like two birds with one stone.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring footballers?

Play as much as you can, as many games as you can at whatever level, and just try to work your way up. 

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