This is the story of a footballer who walks away from the sport after failing at the top level – but who is lucky enough to return to what he loves and find himself in an unexpected place.
Sam Hewson has worked his way up from the Manchester United bench to working in a factory, but is now a multi-trophy winner in Iceland and, after more than 10 years in the land of geysers, has no plans to return to his homeland.
The midfielder joined United’s academy aged nine and rose through the youth ranks to captain the under-18s and lead his side to the 2007 FA Youth Cup final.
The final was lost to Liverpool, but Hewson’s development has been remarkable nonetheless and it looks like he has a future at Old Trafford.
In the following season, the young talent signed his first professional contract with United and played regularly in the second team, reaching the representative team in December 2007.
Sir Alex Ferguson called up Hewson for the Champions League clash against Roma in the group stage, but left him on the bench and so the midfielder did not log a single minute with the first-team outfit.
The following season he remained in the second team before being loaned out to lowly Herford and Bury before his contract expired and United gave up on him.
At the time, Sam Hewson was only 21 years old, but he had to overcome the disappointment and somehow continue his career.
The player chose to sign with fifth-division side Altrincham a few months later, and what happened after leaving Old Trafford is a good lesson for any young footballer fighting for his place in the big game.
“It was a big shock to leave United because I had been there for over 10 years and I generally didn’t know anything about football other than this club. But I knew that one day it could happen if I didn’t break into the first team.” , says Hewson.
“I had a lot of minor injuries when I left United and that didn’t help at all when I was looking for a new club. A friend of mine was working in a factory and asked me to help out and I agreed – just to see if it was for me.”
“Work wasn’t a problem for me, but it gave me new motivation to come back to football. I signed for Altrincham because I needed to play and get back in shape after my injuries. I enjoyed my time there, it’s a great club.”
Hewson never got a real chance at United but fondly remembers his time at school where he competed in the same age group with the likes of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.
“It’s every kid’s dream to be a footballer, especially in a big team like Manchester United. And it was for me, it was a great privilege to captain the FA Cup final for the youth. It’s a very prestigious tournament in our age group and United traditionally perform well in it”.
“When I found out I was selected for the match against Roma, of course I had a great feeling. I had been working for this moment and I knew it would be a very valuable experience to spend time with the first team,” Hewson also recalled.
He has wonderful impressions of the first team of Manchester giants in this most promising period of his football journey.
“Yes, the stars in the lineup accepted me very well and helped the young guys integrate into the group.”
As well as already being tied down to a professional contract, Sam Hewson also made his debut for the England under-19 team at the time.
“It was my proudest moment, and so was my family. Playing for my country is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little boy.”
Although he patiently waits for a chance from Ferguson, it never comes and instead Sam tries his hand at men’s football in his loan spells.
“It’s good to be dropped, it helps you develop as a footballer because you’re playing against proven professionals week in and week out – and that’s not always the case in the reserves,” reports Hewson.
“That’s how I managed to get a routine and learn more about football, the game was different there, with more physicality and speed. There is no one waiting for you to adapt. I enjoyed the experience, although a lot of my game is based on that the ball is on the ground”.
The period after “Old Trafford” is not easy, but it makes Sam Hewson take a radical decision and leave his country.
After being without a team for a while and then spending 6 months in Oltrinkam, he surprisingly headed to Iceland and Reykjavik-based team Fram.
In the “ice country” Hewson finds his right place, there come the titles, successes and last but not least – love.
Two-and-a-half seasons at Fram (with one Icelandic Cup to his credit) was followed by a successful spell at FH Hapnarfjörður, which saw the Englishman win two Icelandic titles, the League Cup and the country’s Supercup.
It was there again that Hewson met his Icelandic girlfriend and while at his third local club, Grindavik, became a father for the first time.
But how did he come to the north in the first place?
“At the time, an agent called me to ask if I wanted to go play there. I needed something different and exciting, so I didn’t think too much about it. I decided that even if it didn’t work out, I’d get some extra experience.”
“I’ve been here for years now and I’ve got used to the way of life. My biggest achievements are not only winning the equivalent of the FA Cup, but also the titles, which were about to become three in a row.”
Today, Sam Hewson is happy away from Old Trafford and big football.
So far he has followed through on his threat not to return to England and, although now 34, remains active as a playing coach for third-division side Trotur Reykjavik.
And even if he didn’t realize it at the time, it was the separation with Manchester United that clearly led him to the right path in life.