Blackburn Rovers winger Tyrhys Dolan is still only 21. Yet he speaks with a maturity far beyond his tender years, when talking about the loss of his close friend, Jeremy Wisten. As a teenager in 2020, Dolan received the devastating news that Wisten had taken his own life - less than two years after Manchester City had released him and just weeks after his 18th birthday.
“Yeah, it still affects me in the same way, grieving is weird,” Dolan tells The Sportsman. “It happens just at random times really, for me. It's like, I struggle with it in my best moments actually. Like, if it's like a good game, or, like times where you actually feel at your best, like, you have that bit of sadness, because like, they don't get to see that if that makes sense.
“But it was a tough time, really, because that year was a crazy year for me as I'd just made my debut and I thought 'wow' that things for me have really gone well. And then to hear the devastating news, it was like everything fell apart from being on such a high. So yeah, that year was just just a year of different mixed emotions.”
Jeremy was a year younger than Tyrhys and a centre-back that joined City at 13, who wanted to be the next Vincent Kompany, Manchester Coroner’s Court was told. But in December 2018 he was released following a serious knee injury that limited his playing time.
“We went to Man City Academy together, went to the same school together,” Dolan explains. “So we built that bond from there. I was the year above him at Man City. So training wise, we weren't really together a lot of the time. It was mainly at school, and then obviously, outside of school. And that's when we all together pretty much know enough every single day, every single weekend as well. So yeah, that's where that's where the bond started.”
The news of his death came during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Dolan read a poem at his friend’s funeral in November 2020. He reflects on that day, and what it meant to him.
“For me talking, it was tough, but knowing that I've got all my close friends around me, his family were there, they gave me strength seeing them. His dad was super strong that day, like his dad was shedding tears, but not as much as anyone else because I think he was trying to remain strong for everyone else. For me talking, it was tough. I read a poem that I had and yeah, I spoke well, it actually got put out recently so a few people have seen it and I got quite a good response to it.”
The winger has also put his experience to good use and is now an ambassador for Go Again, a charity that focuses on mental health and talking about issues - with a particular focus on young footballers that have been released at a young age.
“My agent actually put that forward to me and when he put it across to me, it was a no-brainer to get involved in something that is so close to me and so close to home,” Dolan explains.
“It's only right that I got involved and did what I could to help the charity and it's a great thing you know, it's for people who are coming out of jobs or football and they just need redirecting. For me, it's just mainly having that conversation with people. I've always said to people, my social media is open I'm always open to have that conversation and a few times I've been having conversations with players who have just been released and I'm speaking to them and just kind of sharing my journey with them and and how it can help them and it's not just for people who have been in football, it's for everyday life. So yeah, I think it's a really good cause, helping people.”
Official statistics revealed that 97% of former elite academy players now aged 21 to 26 years old failed to make a single Premier League appearance, and Dolan believes clubs still need to do more when it comes to looking after their former youngsters.
“Yeah sort of because I've seen from Jeremy, he feels like he didn't really get much support. When I've been released from clubs there's not much after that you actually hear. I feel like now it's getting better. It's a step in the right direction but still nowhere near where it needs to be because I think that more can be done but it's a step in the right direction because more people are getting onto it now and trying to make a difference.”
You can learn more about the Go Again charity here.