Published: 06:00, 12 November 2020
A career in professional football was the dream for Josh Wisson when he was called up to the England Schoolboys squad almost five years ago.
For a while he thought it might become a reality when, after helping his country to Centenary Shield glory, he was given an extended trial at Millwall.
He eventually missed out on a deal with the Lions - the club he’d supported all his life - and then broke his wrist on his first day training with Leyton Orient.
By the time he regained fitness Andy Hessenthaler had been sacked as O’s boss and another opportunity was gone.
Wisson, who earned his England call-up while playing for hometown club Sittingbourne aged 17, went back to non-league with the Brickies and Herne Bay before joining Ashford United two-and-a-half years ago.
He misses the England days - captaining his country to a last-minute win against Scotland - but the 22-year-old old has no regrets looking back at what might have been.
Accepting the pro move wasn’t going to happen, he loves playing non-league football and is studying at the European School of Osteopathy in Maidstone.
“I really miss all the England stuff but you can’t keep looking back,” said the Nuts and Bolts midfielder.
“We were treated like professionals with all the stuff they gave us, we went to Spain to play Valencia and we went to training camps all over England.
“It was really good fun and a lot of the boys have gone on to play semi-pro, like me, and a couple turned pro.
“I was lucky enough to be made captain against Scotland, which was quite a privilege, and we won that game.
“I remember the last game against Ireland because we were 2-1 down needing a draw to win the tournament and we scored late.
“The captaincy was pretty special but just winning the Centenary Shield in general was a great feeling.
“I don’t think England Schoolboys had the same reputation as it did 20 or 30 years ago when Michael Owen and Jermain Defoe played but it was still a really big honour because they were basically saying you’re one of the best 18 boys outside of professional academies.
"You can’t ask for any more at 17 or 18.”
Wisson had interest from pro clubs after England’s Centenary Shield success - but Millwall was the deal he really wanted.
“I was confident I’d make it and had trials and interest from quite a few places,” added Wisson.
“Millwall then got in touch and I was like, ‘Yes, I want to go there because it’s the team I support’.
“I had a good two or three months and I gave a good account of myself, otherwise I wouldn’t have been there that long.
“But with Millwall I don’t think they have a lot of money to throw pro deals at scholars, so I was always on the back foot.
“I ended up at Leyton Orient after that and I broke my wrist on the first day.
“That was with Andy Hessenthaler and by the time I was fit, he was sacked, so that was over.
“I’ve had interest here and there but I really enjoy non-league football.
“You can have a social life and study and get a bit of money.
“It would have been lovely to go pro but I don’t regret anything.
“If you have a good career or a job alongside part-time football you get the best of both worlds.
“Unless you play right at the top of the game you’re not going to be set up for life. You’re going to have to do something after football.
“There’s a lot of boys who are still pursuing full-time football who don’t realise that.
“Each to their own, and I admire them for doing it, but if you’re getting to 24 and it hasn’t happened, you’re better off getting your head down and looking to the future.”
Wisson is certainly doing that with his chosen career in osteopathy.
Two months into his studies, it’s a field that should keep him involved in football long after his playing days are finished.
He said: “I left school at 18 to pursue football for a few years but when you get to 21 or 22 it’s time to look into a career and osteopathy is something that links in with sport quite well.
“I’ve gone to an osteopath all my life, so I know what they do and the benefits they can have, and I like being able to help people.
“It’s something that’s always been interesting to me.”
The student life means football is Wisson’s main source of income but that’s on hold with Ashford out of action due to lockdown.
Tommy Warrilow’s side are looking to push on from 11th in the early Isthmian South East standings when football resumes, having challenged for promotion in the past two seasons.
“It’s very frustrating at the moment,” said Wisson.
“We had the first lockdown in March and then we get playing for four or five weeks and it’s off again.
“As the weeks went on and you read the news it looked more likely but it’s still gutting.
"We had a training session on the day lockdown was announced and the lads all said, ‘See you in December, it might be a while.’
“We’ve already had a few postponements due to teams being in the FA Cup, so it feels like we’ve not really got going, which is not what you want in November.
“When we come back we’ll be playing Saturday-Tuesday for a while.
“This is my third season here now, which is quite a long time in non-league and I’m quite proud of the fact I’ve got almost 100 appearances.
“I really like it here and I’m never one who wants to changes clubs unless you really have to.
“It’s a nice club and I get on really well with the manager and the chairman and I’ve got a connection with the fans.
“I’m playing week in, week out and I wouldn’t want to move unless it was my time to go.
“Tommy’s a good manager, he’s pretty old-school, but I haven’t got a bad word to say about him.
“He’s been really unlucky since he came in.
"His first year we lost the play-off final, when we really should have won, and then last year we were second before the lockdown and I personally feel we would have got promoted.
“This year, we’ve lost some players because of budget changes from coronavirus, so he really has been unlucky, but I think he’s a great guy.”