Five sporting stories about making and taking opportunities

September 9, 2023

One of the main messages of the Behind Every Kick programme is that opportunities are out there for young people if they can spot them and then grab hold of them. For this month's blog, we've selected five stories from the sporting world where people at the top of their game did just that.

Roy Keane

In February 1990, 17-year-old Roy Keane earned £30 a week playing in Cobh Ramblers youth team in the junior ranks of the League of Ireland. Cobh's youngsters were drawn to play one of the best teams in Ireland, Dublin club Belvedere, in a cup tie. The late arrival of the team bus meant the Cobh players arrived for kick-off with only a few minutes to spare. This less-than-ideal preparation resulted in the underdogs falling 4-0 behind. With the game a lost cause, many of Keane's teammates gave up. The young midfielder, however, continued tackling and pressing the opposition until the final whistle blew. 

After the game, the vice-chairman of Cobh told Keane that a scout from Nottingham Forest had been watching the game and that Forest wanted to invite Keane for a trial. In July, Forest, who were at that time one of the top clubs in England, signed Keane permanently. By the end of his first season as a full-time professional in England, the teenager played in the FA Cup final. Two years later, during the summer of 1993, Alex Ferguson signed him for Manchester United for a record transfer fee. At Old Trafford, Keane won seven Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Keane was also captain of the side in 1999, the season United completed their historic treble.

Keane playing for Cobh Ramblers

Rose Reilly

Growing up in Ayrshire, Scotland, in the 1960s, opportunities to play football for girls like Rose Reilly were almost non-existent. Women's football had been effectively banned by the Scottish FA since 1921. Reilly, however, dreamed of playing for her beloved Celtic. This led her to cut her hair short and play for boys' teams under the false name Ross. Such was her talent scouts from the Glasgow giants showed an interest in signing her. That was until they found out her true identity. Determined to forge a football career, the now 17-year-old Reilly wrote to The Daily Record newspaper and got them to sponsor her so she could travel to France, where, unlike the UK, there was professional women's football. 

Impressing during a trial with Reims, she was signed by the club. Within six months, AC Milan came calling. Reilly set herself the daily task of learning three words of Italian from the dictionary while living in a hotel near the San Siro. Reilly's decision to leave Scotland and play professionally led to her being banned from playing for Scotland. Her brilliant form for Milan resulted in Italy offering her the chance to play for their national team. She took it and was made captain. In 1984, Reilly scored as her adopted country beat West Germany in the final of the Mundialito, the precursor to the Women's World Cup. In 2007, she was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame and, a year later, the  Scottish Football Hall of Fame. 

Reilly celebrates with her Italian teammates

Jose Mourinho

While most of the world's great coaches played football at the highest level, Mourinho has a different story. As a young player in Portugal, he realised he wasn't good enough to make it as a professional, so he switched his focus to coaching. Mourinho studied sports science at university in Lisbon and coached youth players. Throughout this period, he searched for a way to break into the professional game. In the summer of 1992, an opportunity fell his way. Sporting, one of the top clubs in Portugal, appointed Bobby Robson as their manager. Robson had led England to a World Cup semi-final in 1990 and then won the Eredivisie two years running at PSV Eindhoven. Hopes were high that he could bring similar success to Lisbon. There was one slight problem: Robson didn't speak Portuguese. 

Jose Mourinho, however, was fluent in English. The young coach was hired as Robson's translator. Mourinho saw his chance and impressed Robson in their conversations with his knowledge of the game. When Robson left Sporting and was appointed by FC Porto, he made Mourinho his assistant manager. The pair led Porto to the Portuguese title in 1995 and 1996. Barcelona came calling for Robson. Mourinho went with him. A few years later, when Benfica needed a new manager, they offered the job to Mourinho. He was now a manager in his own right. After a short and unhappy spell with Portugal's most famous club and a successful stint at União de Leiria, he took over at FC Porto. At Porto, he won the Portuguese title twice, the UEFA Cup and, miraculously, the Champions League. In a stellar coaching career, he'd win further league titles and  European trophies with clubs in England, Italy and Spain. 

Mourinho and Robson at Barca

Montell Douglas

In 2011, Montell Douglas decided to retire from athletics. She'd been to the 2008 Olympics, competing in the 100 metres, having broken a 27-year-old British record for the event to qualify. However, in 2016, she made a sporting comeback on an altogether different track. GB Bobsleigh had identified her speed and power as a sprinter would translate to the ice and invited her to try out for the team. Despite having no background in winter sports, Douglas's desire and dedication allowed her to thrive in the discipline. She won a European gold medal and was ranked in the world's top ten. In 2022, she made history by becoming the first woman to represent Great Britain in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games when she competed in the two-woman bobsleigh event in Beijing. She'll soon be seen on television screens appearing as 'Fire' in the reboot of Gladiators. 

Douglas - a Summer and Winter Olympian

Martin Tyler

Think back to any of the greatest moments in Premier League history, and you'll find one man - or more accurately, one man's voice - associated with them all. Martin Tyler was Sky Sports' leading commentator from the start of the Premier League in 1992 until his retirement this summer. But how did he get his start in broadcasting? As a young man, Tyler was a semi-professional footballer who loved the game. He began writing articles for football magazines. This led to a London-based television station inviting him in to do research for their Saturday morning football programme. 

After a year of this, Tyler decided he wanted to be more involved and took a chance. One weekend, when Arsenal had a home game, he bought a ticket and recorded himself commentating on the match. He gave the recording to the boss at the television station, who gave it a listen and encouraged him to keep practising. By coincidence, not long after, another regional TV station found they were short of a commentator for one match and called up the London station, asking if they knew anyone who could step in at short notice. The London boss recommended Tyler. It was the foot in the door he'd been craving. Tyler turned that opportunity he'd carved out by taking a tape recorder to a football match into a career spanning seven decades. 

Tyler on the commentary mic