Stupid Youth and Second Chances

Posted on December 3, 2013

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On 1st September 2012, a highly promising, young footballer made a grave mistake that was to have the most dire of consequences.

Driving his grandfather’s Mercedes C220 saloon through Brackley (Greater Manchester), Manchester City youth player Courtney Meppen-Walter was travelling at 55mph, almost twice the 30mph limit and accelerating before he smashed into the side of a Nissan Micra which was emerging from a side street.  The Micra had been carrying four occupants, Mr Kulwant Singh, Mrs Ravel Kaur and the latter’s two teenage sons.  The collision proved fatal for Mr Singh and Mrs Kaur who pronounced dead at the scene.  The two young teenagers were seriously who were sat in the back of the car were also seriously injured.

The then 18-year-old City player had allegedly been racing a friend in a Volkswagon Golf moments before the collision and according to a BBC report; the two vehicles had been “jockeying” and “playing games” before the fatal accident.  However, this accusation was later proved to be false by the Lancashire Police investigating the incident.

Despite this, Meppen-Walter admitted the two charges of death by careless driving in court on 7th February 2013 and was given a 16 month prison sentence, with a minimum of 8 months to be served and banned from driving for 3 years.  His attorney, Gwyn Lewis told the court how Meppen-Walter was “truly sorry” for what had happened.  Lewis also stated;

“The incident was over in a flash.  He stayed at the scene and tried to assist but it was already too late.

The probation report says he’s a young man who wished he could have those 10 seconds back, but of course he can’t.”

What was essentially a couple of seconds of stupidity behind the wheel, ended in tragedy as many lives were destroyed by the accident.  Families had lost loved ones and a young man had destroyed his football career before it had really begun.

The story did not end there as it took a strange twist.  Meppen-Walter was to serve a minimum of 8 months of his sentence but he was mistakenly released after serving only 5 months.  The early release was apparently down to an administrational error as Mepen-Walter had been classed as a “minor offender” by prison staff.

The Manchester Evening News reported that Meppen-Walter had been told he would be released on electronic tag after serving 4 months of his sentence rather than the minimum 8 months ordered by the court.  The former City player had celebrated his early release at home with his family before being voluntarily taken back into custody only hours after his initial release.

The whole debacle raised some serious concerns over the rigour of the processes at HMP Lancaster Farms but also helped to add further agony to the lives of the affected parties.  This was further exacerbated by letters written by Meppen-Walter to friends in-which he compared the prison sentence to an injury lay-off during his football career, which is ill-advised to say the least.

Meppen-Walter was eventually released legitimately in October 2013, over a year after the accident and would now start the journey on the long road to rebuild his football career.

The 19-year-old defender had his contract terminated early by Manchester City, who were actually due to release him in the summer.  After serving his jail term, he was handed a life-line by League One side Carlisle United, who offered him a two-week trial at the club.  The Cumbrian’s manager, Graham Kavanagh spoke about the clubs decision to offer him a trial:

“This was a difficult decision for us, as you can imagine.  He comes with a heck of a lot of baggage and that’s something that we really had to consider.

“He was involved in a horrible incident a year or so ago and two people died as a result of it.”

Kavanagh went on to say:

“He was sent to prison and has now been released. Obviously you have to have it uppermost in your mind that two people did lose their lives and your thoughts are with them and their families.

“Also to be considered though, is the fact that he has served his time and I’m sure that it’s something he wishes hadn’t happened.”

Kavanagh has made the brave decision to take Meppen-Walter on trial so soon after his release from prison and he is mindful that the club may face criticism for his decision.  Despite this, Kavanagh and Carlisle have shown a certain measure of faith in the youngster as they were willing to offer him a chance so soon after his release.  It is a golden opportunity for Meppen-Walter to rebuild his fledgling football career and a second chance which he is incredibly lucky to have.

Meppen-Walter training with Carlisle United

Meppen-Walter training with Carlisle United

There is no doubt that it will be incredibly difficult for the former England under-18 captain to successfully get his career back on track.  Players who have faced similar situations have managed to make a return to professional football.  Port Vale striker, Lee Hughes spent 3 years in jail after causing death by dangerous driving in 2003 and managed to forge a relatively successful career with various clubs in the Football League.

Meppen-Walter has clearly recognised the severity of his mistake and he is currently taking small steps back into the professional game.  He recently signed a short term, one-month contract after his trial period to extend his stay at Brunton Park until 27th December.  His manager, Kavanagh now believes he is ready to play in the Carlisle reserve side.  Speaking to the clubs website, he stated:

“Courtney has kept his head down since he joined us two weeks ago and we now want to give him the chance to get into game situations with some of the reserve games we organise.

Kavanagh went onto to talk about the future for Meppen-Walter at Carlisle:

“It isn’t cut and dried that he will be with us long term at all, but he has worked hard and he has improved every day. This gives him the opportunity to step things up a little bit. We’ll continue to work him hard this month and we’ll take it from there.”

It is still to be seen whether Meppen-Walter can recover his career in professional football after a truly dreadful and tragic incident.  It is still very early days but the young defender seems to be taking steps in the right direction, a lot of hard work and a humble attitude could one day take him back to the top level.

The tragic events of 1st September 2012 will follow the young man for the rest of his life and he will have to learn to deal with the ridicule of football fans during every game he plays in the future.  Much like Lee Hughes, it will be a case of incessant abuse and constant reminders of his past as well as the intense media scrutiny.  However, if Meppen-Walter can deal with this added pressure then there is every chance he can take advantage of this second opportunity and become a success on the pitch once again.

Out of all of this, there is a very serious lesson which young people should heed from Meppen-Walter’s tragic experience.  Speed kills.

By Jamie Allen

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Posted in: Football