“When my football career came to an end some years ago now it was a really challenging time. A lot of ex-professionals find that transition out of the professional game into something new (challenging) and I didnt know what I wanted to do so I went down the coaching route; did my qualifications and got a job at Cambridge United within their academy.
“At that time, I probably still had some mental challenges from not accepting my football career was coming to an end and for a few reasons did not enjoy that as much as I thought I would and made the decision that working in professional football was not something I could see myself doing long term.”
Chadwick retired from football in 2016, bringing to an end a 17-year career which saw him feature across the English footballing pyramid taking in clubs like West Ham United, Stoke City, Norwich City, MK Dons, Cambridge United and of course Manchester United along the way. While football is awash with players who go into the coaching route at the top level, the 42-year-old explained how his love for the game would ultimately manifest itself away from the EFL and Premier League.
“At a similar time, two of my colleagues from Cambridge United James Cutting and Jonny Martin were setting up the Football Fun Factory,” Chadwick continued in conversation with MEN Sport. “I had a chat with them about it and it really captured my imagination of what football was for me as a child in my early experiences, joining a grassroots team when I was seven or eight.
“I couldnt remember any tactical or technical information I was given back then but I could remember how much fun I had playing the games. The thought of doing that in my local area and then growing that to give children the opportunity on a mass scale was something that really interested me.”
The Football Fun Factory&aposs ethos is a clear one. Children&aposs football should not solely be about development and progression but about discovering a love for the game. Having been created in 2017, Chadwick initially joined the project as a head coach running sessions at the school he and his children attended.
“It really gave me a sense of pride that I was giving something back to the community,” the midfielder added, however this was only the beginning for Chadwick and the company.
The former United man now holds the title of director and has overseen the expansion of the project to a stage where they have more than 80 head coaches across the UK and Ireland providing all-access football coaching for children. “I wanted to use football as a vehicle to develop positive life skills just as much as football skills,” he explained.
“I dont think I would have become a professional footballer without those very first positive experiences and the reason for those experiences was because of the work of the coaches.”
Chadwick credits the Football Fun Factory&aposs philosophy to his time at United and how Sir Alex Ferguson ran the ship back in the late 90s and early 00s. “In terms of when I signed for United many, many years ago when I was 14 it was very different in terms of the set-up and how academies work,” he recalled.
“Back in my day, you didnt sign for a club until you were 14 and you signed schoolboy papers, after two years they decided whether you got a Youth Training Scheme contract. A huge amount of the ethos from the Football Fun Factory comes out of the lessons I learnt at Manchester United.
“When I went up there for the first time at 14 years old I was an incredibly introverted, shy young man. I was obviously excited about going to Manchester but nervous at the same time.
“What I experienced was the most incredible environment, culture. Everyone was so enthusiastic, everyone was so happy to see you, everyone knew who you were and it was them early experiences which blew my mind and made me fall in love with the club for what it was.
“You felt like you were part of something special immediately and some of the lessons on environment and culture which was learnt there is something we try and replicate at the Football Fun Factory but in a very different way where we are looking to replicate the first impressions with children which is so important.
“I remember when I signed as a schoolboy I signed the forms and went up to Sir Alex Ferguson&aposs office before a game against Bolton and was brought down to the first team dressing room. These were experiences as a child which I still remember as if it were yesterday. It was one of those experiences I will never forget and linking back to the Football Fun Factory, it is entirely different, but we are wanting to give children memories that are going to last them a lifetime which is what I received in my early experiences at the club.”
Chadwick is well aware of the work that still needs to be done in grassroots football to create a sport which is enjoyable for all, as he concludes: “There is so much good work that goes on in grassroots and academy football but at the same time there is quite a lot of poor practice where children do not have that incredible experience they deserve.
“Sometimes it gets a little too serious, too early, you only have to walk through a park on a weekend and see coaches and parents shouting at the side of the pitch desperate for their children and childrens team to win a game when in reality that result means nothing if it affects the enjoyment of the kids.
“The size of the football industry and the amount of it on the telly means it is filtering down to the grassroots. They see the managers and players bawling on the sidelines and perhaps they feel that is what they need to replicate when it comes to childrens football.
“I feel we have got lost to a certain extent. Kids start playing for the enjoyment and if we can strengthen that, regardless of how far they get, they will have a lifelong affinity to it and when they get to be an old sod like me, they shall still absolutely love the game like I do.”
Further information on the Football Fun Factory can be found here. Sessions in Sale and Altrincham are run by Joe Quigley, Stalybridge, Droylsden and Saddleworth with Dan Bollington and will be beginning in Chorley with Jonathan Wolstenholme by January 2024.