Former Ilford schoolboy turned professional coach now leading UEL’s football team

UEL's head of football, Ryan Gordon. Photo: UEL

UEL's head of football, Ryan Gordon. Photo: UEL - Credit: Archant

Like many young boys, Ilford lad Ryan Gordon had dreams of becoming a professional football player and banging in goals in front of thousands of adoring fans.

And like so many others, Ryan’s dreams didn’t quite come true.

But, now that he’s Head of Football at the University of East London (UEL), he can certainly tell himself he got closer than most.

Born in the 1970s in Forest Gate before moving to Ilford as a youngster, he was a keen player while at school.

In his first match for his primary school St Peter and Paul’s Primary School in Gordon Road, he scored seven goals and caught the football bug.

As a young teenager he played for Sarvic, a team in Barking, and by the age of 16 was playing for his county.

At the age of 18 he signed for Grays as a semi-pro, played for Dagenham and Redbridge, had trials at Watford and was very close to signing for Wimbledon.

Most Read

But despite his talent, the much longed-for professional contract never came.

In retrospect Ryan doesn’t blame anyone but himself.

“Football is a tough game,” he says. “People don’t realise the work you have to put in.

“Looking back can I say that I gave it my all? I probably didn’t – I got distracted.

“I liked to hang out with friends when really I should have been going to bed early and going out for long runs.”

Despite this disappointment Ryan was clearly developing a footballing brain.

“Playing for Sarvic, I remember I used to write down what games we played, who played in what position, what goals we scored, how many we conceded.”

At 26, Ryan made the hard decision to give up his dreams of being a professional player and instead focus on becoming a coach.

His first job was at Ilford Football Club, Cricklefields, where he worked as an assistant before becoming first team coach.

That was followed by roles at Arsenal’s academy, AFC Wimbledon, Barnet Academy, Luton and Norwich.

But Ryan felt he needed something more to advance his career.

“I went for a job at West Ham and I didn’t get it – I realised that to really make an impact, I needed a degree.

“I wasn’t academic at school - I was going to be a professional footballer and that’s all I was interested in.

“But I later realised that academia plays a huge part in securing a job.”

In 2013 he enrolled at UEL to do a BSc in sport and exercise science.

But three years later, at his graduation ceremony, he realised he wasn’t quite done with education just yet.

“I remember sitting at the ceremony, looking around and thinking, ‘there are hundreds of people here graduating, how am I different from everybody else’? I thought, ‘I need to do more to distinguish myself from others’.”

So Ryan re-enrolled to do a Master’s in applied positive psychology and coaching. And he thinks these qualifications now make him a better coach.

“It’s given me a depth of knowledge, it gives me confidence, I can actually link the practice back to the theory.”

Ryan started his role as Head of Football at UEL in 2017.

Had he realised his dreams of becoming a professional footballer, he would now be retired and trying to break into his second career. Instead he is reaching the pinnacle of his working life.

He added: “What I’m able to do now is put the passion, the science, the psychology side of it, combine that with my experience and go out and say, ‘this is my philosophy, these are my core beliefs in how the game should be played’, and have the courage and ability to execute that.

I would’ve loved to have been a professional player – what a feeling that is, playing in front of 30,000 fans.

“But I think that my ability as a coach is my calling.

“That’s my God given gift. I’m in my purpose, and because of that, I’m content.”