Alex Scott exclusive: ‘My journey in football has been very different… a lot of homework was done in hotels’
A concept from the Pixar-animated film Inside Out suggests we have five ‘core memories’ that can shape our lives. For Alex Scott, a conversation with his dad during a car journey in Southampton – and the significant events that followed – will go down as one of those defining moments.
“I remember walking into the house and my mum was crying her eyes out afterwards,” he tells SPORTbible. “That was tough.”
From his apartment in Bristol, the newly-crowned Championship Young Player of the Year is recalling the details of a “very different” journey in academy football. Growing up, Scott admits to having an almost non-existent social life because his weekends were mostly spent away from home.
After being scouted by Southampton at the age of eight while playing at a local summer camp in Guernsey, he would regularly jump on a plane with his parents and make the 45-minute, 120-mile journey from the Channel Islands to the port city of Hampshire.
Scott would leave primary school at lunchtime or even halfway through lessons so he could catch the flight for a Friday evening training session. He would then spend the next day catching up on schoolwork ahead of Sunday’s game. “A lot of homework was done in hotels,” he recalls.
“It was tough and obviously expensive as well. Southampton paid for the hotel every weekend but then it was on my mum and dad to pay for the flight each weekend. They didn’t have a social life on the weekend either. They didn’t want to be stuck in a hotel.”
With all those sacrifices in mind, it was confirmed in 2015 that the Guernsey-born midfielder had been released after four-and-a-half years in their youth system. His father, Noel, announced the news during that infamous car journey home from training, shortly after learning the outcome during a meeting with club officials.
The teenager cannot begin to imagine what was going through his dad’s head at the time. “It must have been hard for him,” Scott says. “Now that I’m grown up, I realise how hard that must have been for my parents. I understand why they were so gutted.”
Eight years on and with the beauty of hindsight, one of the most talked-about prospects in Europe says that outcome was a “blessing”.
At the time, it was tough to take for everyone. A failed spell at Bournemouth followed and in his head, the teenager didn’t want to become a professional footballer anymore. But soon, Scott would make the best decision of his life: a choice that moulded him into the player – and man – he is today.
From an early age, Alex Scott’s life revolved around football.
If it was raining outside during lunchtimes at school, you would often find him in the library, watching YouTube compilations of Neymar, Lionel Messi or Karamoko Dembele. Away from the playground, he would be kicking the ball around on a little patch of grass on his estate.
“My dad used to build goals for us to use and we’d play for hours on end,” he remembers. “If I wasn’t sleeping or at school, I was always out there playing football.”
Scott can’t stop smiling as he talks about the early years of his childhood. He remembers going to his grandparents’ house to watch El Clasico during the much-talked-about Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo era. His brother, a Manchester United fan, was a big fan of Ronaldo, although recently he’s “finally realised” that Messi is the greatest.
The 19-year-old says his inspiration growing up was Messi but like many others from that generation, the YouTube scene has also played a prominent part in his life. He still tunes in every weekend to watch the Sidemen; a group consisting of internet personalities KSI, Miniminter, Zerkaa, TBJZL, Behzinga, Vikkstar123, and Wroetoshaw, who was also born in Guernsey.
“They’ve said in recent videos that the young English players, like Declan Rice and Mason Mount, love getting involved in the YouTube scene because it’s the same for them,” he says. “They’ve grown up watching these YouTubers as well.”
Even though it was difficult for somebody from the island to make it professionally, Scott was showing promising signs from an early age. Guernsey FC manager Tony Vance, who would go on to play a crucial role in Scott’s career, spotted that potential almost instantly.
“Alex has always shown talent,” Vance said in 2022. “I remember him at five, six, seven years old. He was a tiny lad then but he looked like he had some talent. As do quite a few players on the island, it’s a bit of an untouched market.”
Vance often talks about the water around the island being like a moat. It can cause problems in terms of exposure, but at the age of eight, the ‘Guernsey Grealish’ was spotted by scouts at Southampton when he was playing with his mates at a local football camp.
A trial against Chelsea followed soon after – a game he remembers all too well.
“We got battered,” the teenager laughs. “It ended up 8-2 in the end but I managed to score. It was just a whole different world playing against those players. And then I remember going back to school the next week and playing school games, and it was two different sides of the spectrum.
“Jamal Musiala also played that day and he’s gone on to become one of the best young players in the world.”
Looking back, the Scott family sacrificed a huge amount of time, energy and money towards the academy process.
Living approximately 70 miles from the south coast of England meant spending hundreds of hours in hotels around Southampton – all in the name of becoming a professional footballer. A flight across the Channel on Sunday before an early-morning wake-up for school or work the following day was especially tough.
Alex recalls how it impacted his life away from the pitch. “My friends had their own life back home and I had my own life in Southampton. At that sort of age, you want to have a social life of your own. I was stuck in a hotel on a Friday and Saturday night, and all day [on] Sunday.”
Four years into his time at Southampton and the end was near. Scott is – and always has been – a midfielder but it got to the stage where he was being thrown on at right-back or left-back. “I was just getting thrown on to get some minutes here and there,” he remembers. “I kind of knew I wasn’t going to get a contract.”
Noel Scott went into a meeting with academy staff at Southampton in the summer of 2015 to discuss his son’s immediate future. Alex, meanwhile, had to play in an organised game without knowing if he was staying on or being released. After the full-time whistle, they quickly jumped in a car, where Noel delivered the news.
“My mum was very upset. That’s what I remember most,” Scott says. “My dad had already told her and she was just crying her eyes out when I got home. In my head, I thought it was coming but for them, they had to go through a lot.”
It didn’t take long for the news to circulate around school, either.
“I think I felt a little bit embarrassed as well,” he admits. “You’re going into school, all your friends, and even the teachers, know you as this football lad flying away and living the dream in England. And when you get released, it just comes to a stop. It was hard. People would take the mickey and say that you’re not good enough to be playing. You’ve got to brush it off and take it as banter.”
A spell at then-Championship side Bournemouth followed for Scott, who says he wanted to give it another go.
Unlike his previous experience at academy level, Alex and his family would travel to Bournemouth two or three times a month. During the week, he would play for local team St Martin’s in Guernsey, and then at weekends the midfielder would represent the Cherries at youth level.
But after going through the debilitating process of being released at Southampton, he was struggling to express himself on the pitch.
“I felt like there was a lot of pressure on me, especially after being released,” he says.
“I think if you ask any young lad getting released, it’s really not easy. It does hurt inside and it does damage your performance on the pitch. Looking at it now, you’re only 13-14 years of age. It really shouldn’t matter how well you’re performing at that age. You should just be enjoying your football.”
His parents could also see he was struggling to find any satisfaction from playing away from home. The time had come to tell his dad that he didn’t want to play academy football anymore – a daunting task after five years of hard work and dedication.
“I remember that chat with my dad,” he says, looking down. “I think I was a little bit scared at the time because you know dads; they want you to play in an academy set-up. They want you to be a professional footballer. So, at the time, I was a little bit afraid to say that I don’t want to do it anymore. But when I did, it was a massive weight off my shoulders.
“After that, it was important that I went back home and just enjoyed playing football with my friends again, playing at school and for my local team.”
Scott, who was 14 when he decided to leave Bournemouth, would continue to watch and play football, whether that be for St Martin’s or at school. But at this stage, he genuinely didn’t see a future in the professional game after so many setbacks. Time was running out.
“It was like the dream was almost over at that point because being from Guernsey, it was so hard to get off the island, especially back then,” he admits. “I did fall out of love with the game. In my head, I didn’t want to be a professional footballer anymore. I looked at different options after that.”
On the pitch, a fragile Scott returned to play for local side St Martin’s on a full-time basis after his second academy spell. It was a far cry from the facilities on show at Southampton or Bournemouth but home comforts would crucially build his confidence. In fact, he scored a goal inside 60 seconds on his first game back at Blanche Pierre Lane.
A two-year spell playing grassroots football changed everything.
“That was probably the best decision I’ve ever made: playing local football,” he says. “There was no pressure on you. You just could go out there and enjoy yourself. I loved it. I think to be playing at a level where it didn’t matter as much as academy football was huge for me and my development.”
Away from the pitch, Scott spent six months at college when he finished secondary school. He embarked on a level two sports degree – a course similar to the one you complete as a YTS scholar – but he still had “no idea” what career prospects were on the horizon.
Still, after missing so much of his childhood after travelling from Guernsey to Southampton every week, he was now able to meet new friends and enjoy a social life. “I was going to house parties and doing stuff that a normal kid does growing up,” he smiles. “It was great.”
Alex played some of the best football of his short career after rediscovering his love for the game at St Martin’s. As a result, he was being admired from afar by a number of clubs, including Guernsey FC, which is the most high-profile side on the island by some distance. A successful trial followed.
Scott knew playing for an Isthmian League side with grown men was a step up at 15, so he spent his spare time in the gym, working on his physique to “get up to the standard and compete” in that ultra-competitive environment. That being said, Scott was still making an impression, despite his skinny frame.
Guernsey under-16s and the first-team would often train on the same nights but senior head coach Tony Vance would often get Alex involved in sessions after spotting his potential early on.
“You’re not allowed to play until you’re 16, so I was just almost training to get ready for when I was 16,” Scott remembers. “I did the pre-season with them leading up to my 16th birthday. I was training all the time with them. When it came, I didn’t know I was going to be playing at all.”
Around 45 minutes into our chat and another ‘core memory’ crops up in conversation. The teenager was too young to be communicating with staff during the early stages of his time at Guernsey, so his first senior call-up was delivered over the phone by his dad, Noel.
Two years earlier, he was forced to tell Alex about his release from Southampton during an awkward car journey. This time, the circumstances were very different.
“So… there are little islands around Guernsey and I was on one of them after getting a little boat there,” Scott smiles. “I was chilling on the beach with my friends and my dad called me saying, ‘Look, you need to get home. You’re going to be travelling with the Guernsey lads tomorrow.’
“I had to get back in half an hour, so I hopped on the boat home and packed my kit together. At that point, Footes Lane was having its athletics track redone, so all of my games were away from home. That’s a case of travelling on a Saturday morning at around 5am.”
In the coming days, Scott would go down in the history books as Guernsey FC’s youngest-ever senior player when he featured against Haywards Heath Town at the age of 16 – a record-breaking achievement that became headline news across the island. He would go on to make a further 14 appearances for the Green Lions in 2019.
That exposure to non-league football at such a young age continues to play a crucial factor in his development.
“It was massive for me to learn a different type of football, a different way of playing,” says Scott four years on. “All the players were physically much, much stronger than me. I’d like to think technically I was ahead of some of them, even at that age. But I needed to learn how to position my body and move the ball, which at times I didn’t do well. But that was all part of the learning curve.
“I think it could have been easy for the manager at Guernsey to leave me out some weeks because maybe I didn’t play well or the game didn’t suit me at all. I got bullied at times but thankfully he kept me in. He trusted me. He’s mentioned to me since that the players were almost making him play me. They were forcing them. They were saying, ‘No, you’ve got to play him’. That was nice to hear.”
Years later, Tony Vance says Scott needed to “refind himself” after a number of setbacks in academy football. Guernsey FC certainly gave him that platform.
Four months after making his debut in the famous green and white, Championship side Bristol City expressed an interest in signing the player thanks to first-team manager Vance, who was sending video clips of Scott to Brian Tinnion, the head of recruitment at Ashton Gate.
A friendly against London-based side Yate Town was organised to take a closer look at Scott in action and the rest is history. After just 30 minutes, he grabbed the perfect hat-trick by scoring with both feet and his head.
“We’d been over to watch him and had seen footage, so we knew what he was about,” Tinnion recalls. “But when you see him live, you’re thinking, ‘Wow, he’s got some ability this boy.’ The decision to sign him was virtually made during that game.”
It didn’t take long for the Robins to snap him up, despite an offer from former club Bournemouth. A week later, Scott was already settling into a new life in Bristol. He remembers his mum, Steph, being nervous about handing him over to another family she’d never met, but it was a process that ultimately helped him mature and grow.
“It all happened so quickly,” he says. “I went for a week’s trial, stayed in digs, trained with the under-18’s and then on Tuesday, I got told I was going to train with the under-23’s. I remember coming to the training ground and they said, ‘You’re actually training with the first team.’ That was just crazy in itself.”
City manager Nigel Pearson and his backroom staff were convinced the Guernsey-born midfielder was good enough to mix with the first team. Pearson has since praised the player’s temperament and maturity, even saying he is “destined for the very top”.
But looking back, Scott remembers being unsure of whether he made an impact.
“I was nervous when I was on trial and training with the first team,” he says. “I actually thought I struggled to be honest. I thought I was miles away from this level so I didn’t expect to get a chance and come play with the first team so soon after that. But it came naturally over time. You just get used to it.”
To this day, the majority of players at Bristol City have progressed through an academy system. Scott, however, believes his experience at Guernsey gave him somewhat of an edge.
“It definitely helped me out here at Bristol,” he added. “When I first came here, they said I didn’t need a loan move. Playing at a senior level is so important for young lads nowadays and I’d already done that. That trust from the manager and the coaching staff here has been massive for me. I’ll be forever grateful to Nigel Pearson for giving me that chance at 17.”
After training with the first team on a daily basis, Scott received a call-up to play for England under-18’s in March 2021, a “surreal” moment in his life to date.
“I was playing with lads who I’d grown up watching on YouTube when I was at school,” he said. “Karamoko Dembele, Louis Barry. They were proper big back then. All my friends from school at the time were asking me, ‘What are they like’ because they were seen as the wonderkids when we were growing up.”
Before travelling with the England squad in March 2021, City boss Pearson pulled Scott to one side. He remembers that conversation well. “He told me I was going to get my chance before the end of the season. That’s when it really hit me. I knew I was going to make my debut. I was just waiting for my time on the bench.”
A month later, on April 25, the midfielder was sitting on the Ashton Gate bench when the Robins were dominating in the opening stages of their Championship clash against Luton Town. In fact, they were 2-0 up at half-time and looked in control. “I thought I’d get on because we were cruising,” he remembers. “I was thinking, ‘Yeah, this is it.'”
But two quickfire goals from James Collins and Elijah Adebayo in the second half handed Luton a lifeline. Scott was convinced he had “no chance” of getting on in the final stages and then, much to his surprise, Pearson called his name in the 70th minute. This was it.
Scott, sporting the now-iconic ‘socks rolled down to his ankles’ look, replaced fellow midfielder Henri Lansbury.
“Within about a minute, we were 3-2 down. It couldn’t have gone any worse!” Scott laughs. “But that was just a great experience to finally get my debut. I was absolutely blowing, mind. And I was on free-kicks and corners, which was a bit surreal as well. I remember there being a free-kick on the edge of the box and all the lads said, ‘Go for it.’ They had that belief in me.”
At the time, COVID restrictions meant his family were unable to attend but that didn’t stop Noel from giving out some fatherly advice over the phone.
“My dad actually rang me straight away, probably telling me things I should have done better! I was just so happy to get on. It felt like a long time coming, even though it was probably only a couple of months. I think at that age, I was just grateful to be in and around the first team, let alone make my debut.”
Scott pauses for a second before looking around to the corner of his room. “It was a special, special moment for me. I’ve still got the shirt in a frame just here. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.”
After appearing in a further two games before the end of his debut season, including a start against soon-to-be promoted Brentford, the versatile Scott would become a first-team regular at Ashton Gate throughout the 2021/22 campaign, making 39 appearances in all competitions.
He started games at right-back, in defensive midfield and even as a second striker but his main asset was linking play and creating chances in the final third. Soon, he would flourish in a more attacking role.
“I was playing wing-back quite a lot last season and for me, that was just a whole new experience. I’ve never played so defensive in my life and to do that in the Championship at 18 was tough at times but I was just happy and grateful to be playing every week.
“This season, I was given the freedom to play and that’s when you’re going to get the best out of me.”
The 19-year-old says he has loved every single minute of the most recent campaign. In fact, Scott followed in the footsteps of Jude Bellingham, Ollie Watkins and Michael Olise last month, when he was named the Championship Young Player of the Year after an exceptional year.
Scott puts his form down to a number of things, including that trust from his teammates.
“Recently when I’ve been playing as a No.10 the more senior players have just said to me, ‘Just go and do what you want. We’re going to be here to mop it up.’ They don’t care if I try to beat three players and lose the ball because they know that when it does come off, and there’s a goal there for someone, or creating a chance, it’s worth it,” he says.
“To be given that freedom to enjoy my football has been huge for me this year. I think I’ve done decent. I would have liked to have scored more goals and that’s something I want to take into next season.”
As a result of his displays in the Championship and beyond, there has been a huge amount of interest from a host of top clubs. Back in March, City boss Nigel Pearson insisted only a bid over £25 million would be enough to entice him away from the Robins – which would be a club-record transfer by some distance.
Scott, however, is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“Yeah, it’s a good feeling,” he says after being asked about the transfer interest. “I think there are Premier League clubs interested. Obviously that’s a nice feeling to have but for me, I just ignore it as much as possible. I won’t read anything on Twitter and I’ve let family members know to not read anything you see because half the time, it’s not true.
“People can get ahead of themselves, especially my friends. For me, it’s just about focusing on my football — then we’ll see what happens after that. I don’t want to put a specific time on when these things will play out. Of course I’d like to play at the highest level one day.”
Back in February, Scott was introduced to a level he’d never experienced before, when Manchester City sealed their place in the FA Cup quarter-final with a hard-fought 3-0 win over Bristol City. It was, in his own words, the toughest game he’s ever played in.
He recalls Kevin De Bruyne being at a different level to the rest. “Rico Lewis and Kalvin Phillips played in midfield as well and I was just on the swivel the whole time. I couldn’t get near them,” he grins. “Thankfully, I got a few touches on the ball — a lot more in the first half compared to the second.”
Scott is doing himself an injustice. The teenager was a serious threat in spells against the newly-crowned Premier League champions; so much so that Jack Grealish described him as a “top top talent” after the full-time whistle – a compliment that meant so much after years of appreciating his game from afar.
“I managed to speak to him [Grealish] a little bit after the game,” he says. “I’m always asking Andreas Weimann, who played with him at Aston Villa, about what he was like at my age, so when they were chatting about their Villa days in the tunnel at full-time, I was a little bit starstruck.”
Scott laughs when he tells the tale of his Bristol City teammate who tried to nail Grealish once and they came out with a dead leg. “Those legs are just so strong,” he laughs.
Kalvin Phillips also complimented his performance on the night. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re flying’. When players like that take that little bit of time to give you advice and say things to you. It goes a long way. I was really grateful to him for that.”
Half an hour after the full-time whistle and a ‘full circle’ moment happened for Scott, when Pep Guardiola mentioned his name during a post-match interview. Growing up, he would often watch Guardiola’s Barcelona team dominate European football from the living room of his grandparents’ house in Guernsey.
Now, one of the greatest managers of all time was describing that person as ‘an unbelievable player’.
“It was one of those moments that you almost have to brush off and act like you’re not bothered but really, you’re absolutely buzzing about it inside,” he smiles. “If you said to me three years ago that Pep Guardiola was one day going to praise you like that, I’d have just looked at you and laughed.”