When you were at school, you probably didn’t ever wonder too much about what your teachers got up to away from the classroom.
In fact, the mere idea that they had lives away from school, either in the years before you stepped into their class or the evenings after those lessons finished, probably never crossed your mind.
That couldn’t have been further from the case for pupils at Manchester’s Loreto High School, however – not only was their new maths teacher an ex-footballer, but he had come through the ranks at Manchester City, rising through the ranks alongside the likes of Joe Hart and Micah Richards to boot.
Nathan D’Laryea is now head of maths at Loreto, a far cry from partnering Nedum Onuoha at centre-back in City’s junior and reserve teams, and he’s always happy to speak to the football-mad kids there about his unique past.
“I think some of the staff told the students and then they all knew, and they went into an IT room and were looking at me on the internet and looking at my brother,” says D’Laryea, who retired from professional football in his mid-20s after a heart scare and a series of frustrating injuries.
“I don’t mind it at all to be honest, I’m happy to talk about it.
“We’ve got some young lads who say ‘I just want to be a professional footballer’ and it’s good then for me to speak to them and to say ‘don’t give up on your dream, but also be realistic’ – I try to do a bit of mentoring in that sense.”
Teaching, of course, requires a very different sort of hard work to football – something which D’Laryea is keen to stress to any other ex-pros who might be considering making the switch.
“Getting started was obviously a culture shock,” he says.
“The only work I’d done before was in professional football so that was a massive change getting into a routine, but I feel like I adapted to it very quickly.
“I was used to working hard when I played football, but not working long hours and having a lot of free time, then it went to me working long hours but also dedicating extra hours to ensure that I was doing a good job. That was the biggest shock.”
The school at which he now works was once the one to which City sent its academy players, though the club and the school no longer have their formal arrangement, but academic life wasn’t high on the list of priorities of most of D’Laryea’s old team-mates.
He was one of just three to take A-Levels during his time on the club’s books – his twin brother Jonathan and close friend Onuoha were the others – and looking back he senses he was always inclined to keep his options open, be it at City or at Rochdale, where he moved in 2007.
On top of that, D’Laryea credits coaching children in Bermuda – something he had the chance to do during his time on City’s books – with giving him a taste for working with young people: it’s something that has always been there in the back of his mind, even while he was trying to make progress in his football career.
Despite not fulfilling his dream of playing Premier League football, there’s still a sense that – in some way – D’Laryea is one of the more fortunate ones.
It’s no secret that only a fraction of academy players will make it all the way into the first team at a Premier League club, and many of those who struggle to do so will not have given themselves nearly as strong a back-up plan.
“I started off at Manchester City when I was nine and was there right up until I was 21 or 22, but I’d say for half of that time, even from a young age, I was injured,” D’Laryea says.
“So, even though I was progressing nicely, captaining the reserves and in and around the first team, part of me knew the injuries would probably cut my career short.
“My last game for Rochdale was the end of my first season there, it was in the play-off final at Wembley, but as I was going through my second year and constantly on the treatment table I knew I’d have to do something.
“So it was more at that point, as I moved into League 2 and was still suffering with injuries, that I thought I needed to do something else, I needed to think about a long-term plan.
“So even though I was still physically able to play football, I decided to officially stop professional football and went to university.”
Seems that Nathan D'Laryea's injury last night was a factured kneecap. Hope he makes a speedy recovery in time for next season.
— Hyde United FC (@hydeunited) April 14, 2010
A couple of former City youngsters have spoken to D’Laryea about going into teaching after retirement – Edinburgh City duo Marc Laird and Ashley Grimes are two who he mentions by name – and he is quick to note that, while he might now be relatively old for a footballer at 32, he’s still younger than a lot of teachers.
His career change took place with the help of Teach First, a charity which brings together enthusiastic teachers with pupils in financially deprived areas, and he feels his football background has made it easier for him to start off on good terms with the children he teaches.
“It just gives me an extra string to my bow in terms of being able to speak to the students,” he says.
“A lot of the time when I’m in the classroom I don’t see it as ‘oh, these are kids who are deprived’, I just see them as kids.
“But the first school I worked at, I worked at a school in Bradford and when you take the time out to help these students they really do appreciate it.
“Unfortunately in a lot of these inner city schools there’s a high staff turnover, so just by staying there and being willing to help the students, you really value it.
“I remember when I started in Bradford and at the school in Manchester, I didn’t tell them initially that I played football, but they find out pretty quickly and they do really like it.
“Obviously football is very interesting, but it’s just the fact that you’ve done something else, that you’ve had a different life, they do really like it.”
D’Laryea is still in touch with a lot of his former team-mates, especially those who came through with him at City, and he’s had time to reflect on the different paths they have taken.
For every Hart, who broke through and made his way into the England squad, there are those who kicked around lower- and non-league football after being let go by City.
One of those, Nathan’s brother Jonathan (who was relegated to the National League with Mansfield and has spent time with a few different clubs at National League North level in the 2010s), has also recently begun transitioning into teaching.
The contrast is perhaps stronger with his peers than with many other generation – his intake was among the last before City were taken over, initially by Thaksin Shinawatra and then by the current owners, and players who might have previously broken into the first team ended up being sidelined in favour of expensive new recruits.
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“Recently it was good, we had a catch-up where it was myself and my brother, who are obviously both into teaching, and we met up with Nedum and Micah Richards,” D’Laryea says.
“That was nice, because we haven’t all four of us been together at the same time in years,” he says.
“There’s times when people do get chances but then there’s things like takeovers and they do impact on the young local lads coming through and the chances they get – I remember hearing about clubs like Chelsea having 50 players out on loan – and you wonder about their chances of breaking through.
“My ultimate goal, even though my football career didn’t go exactly to plan, was to be a professional footballer. I wouldn’t say people should give up on that goal but they also need to be realistic and have an idea or be willing to do something else if it doesn’t all go to plan.
“A lot of people ask me if I miss football, and I do miss it, but I also really love what I’m doing at the moment – I feel like I’m doing alright.”
Time is running out to apply to teach in 2018 – you’ll need to get your application in by 2 May to be leading your own classroom in September. But for those thinking more long term, don’t worry, applications to teach in 2019 open soon. Start your application today at www.TeachFirst.org.uk
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