Kissock: How I went from breaking Rooney Everton record to driving cab
In 2006, John-Paul Kissock broke Wayne Rooney’s record to become the youngest Everton player to appear in the club’s reserve team, and his career looked to be on the same trajectory as the former England star.
Yet three years later, the native Liverpudlian was driving a taxi for a living, having been let go by his beloved Everton.
Told by David Moyes he was free to find a new club in 2009, Kissock returned to the first-team changing room at the Toffees’ Finch Farm base and promptly burst into tears.
“I tried to hold it in, but I soon broke down,” Kissock says. “It was a sink or swim environment at Everton, but that did not make it any easier, and it didn’t mean I was any less devastated.
“Both Phil Neville and Tim Cahill saw how upset I was and they looked after me. They were both great with me.”
He started driving cabs just months after taking his place on the bench for a famous Merseyside derby FA Cup win in January 2009.
Down and out, Kissock was encouraged by family and friends to get back into football. He played for local sides Newton and Formby before enjoying a career at National League clubs including Southport, Luton Town, Ebbsfleet United and Whitehawk. At Luton, supporters dubbed him ‘Messi’, such was the pint-sized midfielder’s dazzling skills.
Today, the former midfielder is back in his native Liverpool, working for his brother’s property business, having seen a spell as player-assistant manager at Whitehawk come to an end during the first lockdown.
His trials and tribulations are a long way from his early years in the Liverpool suburb of Fazackerley, where he grew up in an Everton-mad family.
Kissock was scouted by Everton at a young age, joining the Toffees when he was seven and rising through its ranks. He points to Neil Dewsnip – now technical director at Plymouth Argyle – and Gary Ablett, who sadly passed away in January 2012, as his most influential coaches, along with Kenny Swain, whom he worked under in the England youth system.
At just 5’6″ he looked up to players of similar build, with Barcelona trio Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta starring in Catalonia at the time.
“When I was coming through, it was all about height and physicality and based on athleticism, with midfielders encouraged to be box to box,” Kissock, now 31, says.
“Once those three started coming through, they were a big influence, because it showed that you didn’t have to be big and physical to have an impact on games.”
His progress was such that he appeared for the England Under-16s team at just 14 and the Under-18s at 16, attracting national attention in the process.
“I am quite a shy person, so I didn’t like the limelight,” Kissock says. “It was all a bit overwhelming for me at the time, whereas others I was close to who were making a name for themselves, such as Jose Baxter, embraced it.”
Kissock, who remains close to Baxter and Everton legend Leighton Baines, was called up to the first-team squad a number of times, named as a substitute for UEFA Cup and FA Cup matches as well as Premier League games. But he never got off the bench, something he pins on Moyes.
“Moyes is what I call a great manager, defensively,” he says. “He likes a bit of solidity, which was not good for me because of the kind of player I was.
“Moyes’ priority was defence first, but I’d try and get it off the back four and make runs to try and create something, and play my game, as Neil and Gary let me do.
“He didn’t like that. I found his way a bit more difficult and I think he became frustrated with me.”
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Kissock took in a loan spell at Scottish Premiership side Gretna, playing against Celtic and Rangers, before heading back to Goodison Park ahead of the 2008-09 season, a campaign which ended with Everton losing 2-1 to Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
“I’d actually been on the bench in the previous rounds, but I didn’t get on the pitch,” he says. “To be honest, not being in the squad for the cup final annoyed me massively.
“Looking back, we had Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar, Mikel Arteta and Tim Cahill in midfield, who were all brilliant, and I obviously wasn’t as good as them.
“I still thought I deserved a chance, like Jose [Baxter] and James Wallace were given. I felt as I was as good as them.
“Jimmy Lumsden, who was one of the coaches, really liked me and kept telling me to go and knock on Moyes’ door, but I just didn’t have the confidence.
“Moyes wasn’t the type of manager to put his arm around you. Some days he would walk past me and not even let on to me.”
The end came when the Scotsman called him into his office to tell him he was free to leave.
“Obviously I knew it was meant to be, but I was still devastated,” Kissock says. “I felt that I had let people down.
“Mental health is talked about much more openly today, but back then I suffered with anxiety. It is the hardest industry for young lads, especially when they’re let go by their clubs and have nothing to fall back on.
“I had no qualifications, so when I left Everton I went from being on good money to having no income. I was wrapped up in cotton wool and I really do think a lot more needs to be done to help those who are let go. Maybe they should be put through a bricklaying course or learn plumbing.”
After leaving Everton, Kissock spent four months back in Scotland with Hamilton but, his love for the game diminished, he began working for a taxi hire firm before resurfacing at Newton of the West Cheshire League and then Formby, who plied their trade in the North-West Counties Football League.
Evidently too good for that level, he was snapped up by Southport before moving to Luton, where his impressive performances led a call up to the England C team.
He went on to play for Ebbsfleet and Welling before heading to the south coast with ambitious Whitehawk, whom he joined for a second time in January 2019.
Appointed player-assistant manager for the following season, he thoroughly enjoyed his time with The Hawks.
“The board had put real investment in to try and get into League Two,” says Kissock, who based himself in nearby Brighton. “It was a fantastic time and was run like a Premier League club – how they never got into League Two I will never know.
“I loved immersing myself in the coaching side and loved living in Brighton, which is a really buzzing place.”
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A dad to a young daughter, Kissock was commuting regularly between his native Liverpool and Brighton, a near 10-hour round trip.
“We had a great bunch of lads who brought into the way we played, but the travelling was really getting to me,” he says.
“The league was cancelled when the first lockdown happened and my brother, who owns a successful property business, suggested coming back to Liverpool to work for him. I miss football like mad, but I think I made the right decision.”
He remains a huge Everton fan and, pre-pandemic, was a regular at Goodison Park.
“I have never been a bitter person and I had some great experiences,” Kissock says. “It never happened for me at Everton, but I don’t have a bad word to say about anyone there.”
By Simon Yaffe